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National Restaurant Association - Nutrition experts offer take on sodium at NRA show

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Nutrition experts offer take on sodium at NRA show

Recommendations that Americans reduce their sodium intake to between 1,500 and 2,300 mg per day, is a target few can accomplish, nutrition experts said at a recent education session at the 2012 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show at McCormick Place in Chicago.

The session, "Sodium and Calories: Can We Meet the Dietary Guidelines and Does this Impact Foodservice?", was presented by Dr. Joy Dubost, the NRA's director of nutrition and healthy living, and also featured Dr. Adam Drewnowski, a leading nutrition researcher. The two explained why so many health professionals are expressing concern.

"In the United States, 68 percent of adults are obese or overweight," Dubost said. "Why are we concerned about obesity and [the increased intake of] sodium? Obesity sets you up for different diseases, which obviously is a concern, and dietary sodium drives up [the potential to develop] hypertension, a risk factor for heart attacks, stroke and cardiovascular disease. That is why there is so much focus on dietary sodium."

Dubost indicated that current data suggests sodium intake averages 3,400 mg per day.

She added that sodium is on the government's radar right now and that lawmakers and agencies are looking at ways to monitor the public's sodium intake. The NRA, she said, supports voluntary efforts to reduce sodium in food, but it should not be regulated through legislation. Instead, emphasis should be placed on educating consumers about nutrition.

"Any approach to reducing sodium should be incremental, and education is critical," she said. "Frankly, consumers are just not there yet. We need to place emphasis on the total diet. Singling out one nutrient is not the best approach."

Citing research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Drewnowski told the session's attendees that about 65 percent of sodium intake comes from food bought at retail stores; about 25 percent comes from restaurants.

Dubost offered a few suggestions to restaurateurs to reduce sodium in menu items. "Start with an inventory," she said. "See how much salt is in your menu items. Limit your use of high-sodium seasonings and sauces. Work with your vendors to find low-sodium options."

She also suggested experimenting with flavor alternatives, like herbs and spices, and also exploring acidic, pungent and sweetness profiles.

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