Yuma, Arizona - I recently read a piece by Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in JAMA entitled: "Sodium reduction - saving lives by putting choice into consumers' hands." In it, he lists grim statistics about the health problems caused by too much sodium:

  • High blood pressure is the leading cause of death from heart disease and stroke in the U.S., contributing to more than 1,000 deaths a day.
  • Nine out of 10 U.S. adults and children consume too much sodium. Average sodium intake is about 3,400 milligrams (mg) daily — well above the 2,300 mg recommended in the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • It is estimated that a decrease in sodium intake by 400 mg daily could prevent 32,000 heart attacks and 20,000 strokes a year. Reducing by 1,200 mg daily could prevent up to 500,000 deaths and save $100 billion in health care costs.

Frieden rightfully points out that most of the sodium in our food is put there by food manufacturers. However, he also notes that consumers can make better choices.

So let's look at some traditional holiday foods and what you can do to cut back on sodium:

  • Appetizers. Skip the crackers and cheese. Two ounces of the average cheddar cheese (about the size of 4 small dice) start you off with 350 mg sodium; crackers will easily add another 125 mg or more. Instead, go for fruit and veggies, which are naturally low in sodium.
  • Turkey. Choose brands that don't have added salt solutions. Also avoid pre-brined and smoked birds. Compare sodium values for each of the following 4 ounce servings: about 100 mg (no salt added turkey), 480 mg (pre-brined) and 1,100+ mg (smoked).
  • Ham. A 4-ounce serving of cured smoked ham has about 1,350 mg sodium. The same serving of pork loin roast has 67 mg.
  • Sides. Half a cup of prepared stuffing mix has about 430 mg sodium. Au gratin potatoes have about 525 mg a serving. Grandma's green bean casserole starts at 600 mg. You can replace these holiday favorites with lower sodium versions. Mayoclinic.org has recipes for stuffing with cranberries (217 mg sodium a serving), honey-glazed sweet potatoes (42 mg sodium a serving) and holiday green bean casserole (34 mg sodium a serving).
  • Dessert. A slice of pumpkin pie has about 500 mg sodium. Look for equally festive but lower sodium options. Mayoclinic.org has recipes for sweet potato butternut squash pie (110 mg sodium a serving) and pumpkin hazelnut tea cake (73 mg sodium a serving).