HEALTH & FITNESS - Survey finds most people watching sodium intake

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According to a new Foster Farms-commissioned survey of 1,000 West Coast consumers, 77 percent of consumers report watching their sodium intake at least some of the time. But while it's common knowledge that high sodium intake affects blood pressure, even the most health-conscious shoppers don't realize the extent to which sodium and salt can impact overall health and wellness. The following tips can help consumers avoid sodium and reap the benefits of better health.

Count sodium, not calories: Some foods are low in fat but high in calories and some foods are low in calories but have an ingredient list full of unhealthy chemicals and fillers. Forget counting calories and fat and use sodium as your guide for easier, healthy food choices. Sodium acts as a preservative and as artificial flavoring so if food is high in sodium, it's a telltale sign that it's overprocessed and unhealthy. By choosing foods naturally low in sodium, you will be relying more on fresh ingredients that are also naturally low in calories and fat.

Banish bloat: Did you know that your weight can fluctuate by three to five pounds on a daily basis? Too much sodium leads to water retention, causing extra pounds on your body. By simply reducing your sodium intake, you will feel less bloated and be literally lighter on your feet. Try limiting sodium intake for just one day, and notice how rings feel looser on your fingers at the end of the day. Now imagine that effect on your waistline.

Skip salt, lose the fat: Too much sodium can lead to more fat. High sodium diets are linked to higher insulin levels in the body, which encourages fat cells to accumulate more fat and eventually replicate. So not only does sodium cause fat cells to store more fat, it also leads to more fat cells in your body.

Learn to de-code labels: Sodium isn't just in salt. Even if the ingredient list doesn't include "salt" on the label, hidden sodium can be lurking in your foods, and even in some fresh chicken labeled "natural." Look for names like sodium nitrite, carrageenan, disodium phosphate, baking soda or sodium bicarbonate, monosodium glutamate or MSG and others - which all up sodium content. Navigate complicated nutrition labels by sticking to foods with five ingredients or less, and a healthy lifestyle can be yours.

Nancy Bennett, a nutritionist for Foster Farms, is a registered nutritionist and certified diabetes educator.

Survey background

Here is a by-the-numbers from a phone survey conducted by NSON Opinion Strategy for Foster Farms. The survey of 1,000 consumers in California, Oregon, Washington was conducted April 22-29.

What consumers are saying about sodium and sodium in foods

  • 77 percent say they watch their sodium intake at least some of the time, with 62 percent watching intake all or most of the time now, compared to 53 percent last year.
  • 47 percent say they are more conscious of their or their family's sodium intake/the sodium content of foods than they were this time last year.
  • 70 percent say it is unnecessary for companies to engineer lower salt alternatives such as "designer" salt and that companies should have kept sodium naturally low in the first place.
  • 42 percent are strongly distrustful of "new" designer salt ingredients.
  • 71 percent say they were unaware that some food producers are now using new, engineered "designer salt" substitutes to reduce the sodium content.
  • 28 percent strongly believe that it is a waste of money to design new ingredients.

How consumers define healthy

  • The vast majority of consumers (90 percent) ultimately trust fresh, minimally processed foods, not fakes, as truly healthy and natural.
  • 55 percent say food low in sodium can be defined as "healthy" or "natural."

What consumers think about healthy eating and foods labeled "natural"

  • 90 percent say they make an effort to eat healthy or make healthy choices for their family most (29 percent) or all the time (61 percent).
  • 70 percent believe that even food labeled "natural" or "healthy" can be harmful to health. Just 4 percent consider foods labeled "natural" to be the healthiest choice.

Consumers, labels and shopping

  • 74 percent say they read labels all (41 percent) or most (33 percent) of the time.
  • 62 percent are concerned by what they read on food labels. 30 percent feel "overwhelmed."
  • The majority of consumers (56 percent) feel that labels are only somewhat accurate (and therefore less reliable).
  • One third of consumers feel that shopping for healthy foods has become too complicated. 90 percent of these consumers don't know "who or what to trust" and 87 percent feel that the "rules" of what constitutes healthy food are always changing. 65 percent cite too many choices as the reason.
  • 30 percent say knowing what they know now about so called "healthy" foods will change the way they shop. 89 percent of whom will choose ingredients in their natural form that they can prepare and season themselves; 71 percent will avoid foods high in sodium; 71 percent will take a closer look at the ingredients list and choose products with fewer ingredients; and 68 percent will choose brands that are producing foods naturally low in sodium.
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