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It's a slippery slope watching our sodium intake
Ask the Nutritionist
By Karen Collins | Columnist
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Published: 9/15/2010 12:00 AM

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Q. I heard that a new report shows grains and vegetables to be some of the top sources of sodium. Does that change the recommendation to make these foods major parts of our diet?

A. No, the federal report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies the top sources of sodium in the U.S. diet, most of which are processed foods, not fresh vegetables or basic whole grains such as brown rice and rolled oats.

The report groups foods into categories, each of which includes foods that are higher in sodium and foods that are low in sodium. What the report shows is that in choosing the mostly plant-based diet that we know can lower risk of cancer and heart disease, it's important to make healthful choices within these food categories.

The report shows where most Americans are getting their sodium; that means it reflects both how concentrated in sodium a food is and how much of it we eat. For example, the report shows that the food category that supplies the most sodium in the average American diet - 37 percent - is grains. This reflects our high consumption of frozen pasta meals, convenience grain mixtures, crackers, cookies and breads.

If we choose moderate amounts of whole-grain bread and cereal along with pasta (without the high-sodium sauce) and unprocessed whole grains like brown rice, bulgur, quinoa and others, sodium consumption would be drastically lower.

Vegetables were ranked as the third leading source of sodium in our diet, supplying an average of 430 milligrams of sodium daily. But fresh and unsalted frozen vegetables generally contain no more than 10 mg per half-cup serving. The problem here isn't that we're eating large amounts of vegetables! It's that when we do eat vegetables, it's largely in high-sodium sauces and soups; and the category includes potato chips and French fries, unfortunately some of our most frequent vegetable choices.

If we choose unsalted vegetables and flavor them with herbs, spices, lemon juice, flavored vinegar, garlic, olive oil and other low-sodium options, sodium content will be low.

Don't abandon the New American Plate approach to healthy eating, in which vegetables, fruits and whole grains supply at least two-thirds of your plate. Just focus on healthy choices within each of those categories, too.

Q. My friend got an e-mail from a famous hospital that said by avoiding meat, we can free up more enzymes to attack and destroy cancer cells. Is that true?

A. No. What you are describing is part of a hoax e-mail supposedly coming from the cancer treatment center at Johns Hopkins Hospital, but it does not.

Excess consumption of red meat (beef, pork and lamb) is linked to increased risk of colon cancer, but the potential reasons scientists have identified for the link have nothing to do with body enzymes, and that link does not mean that cancer survivors need to avoid all red meat if they want to include it in moderation. The hoax e-mail that includes this false statement includes other misinformation as well. Unfortunately, we have to remember that even when something on the Internet is attributed to a source you trust, it's always best to go directly to the website of that trusted source to verify information.

When you receive information about reducing cancer risk or helping cancer survivors, it's always a good idea to double-check the advice with an authoritative expert source like the American Institute for Cancer Research or the National Cancer Institute


• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research. Learn more about the group and its New American Plate program at