HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

No Time for Health Like the Holidays

Posted on | January 5, 2009 | No Comments

When it comes to sodium, excess is the American way. Convenience is to blame as much as the kitchen table salt shaker: the most common sodium culprits are not created in our own kitchens but come already packaged from the grocery store or served through a drive-thru window. However, high sodium in our diet, with the potential to contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease, is not something we can ignore for the sake of our fast-lane lifestyle. If, in order to cut down on sodium, we have to be uber-prepared with bagged snacks and sandwiches or home-cooked meals, and give up all frozen meals, canned soups and fast foods, it’s just not going to happen. Not to mention, many of us have acquired a taste for high salt levels in our foods.

While there are things we can do personally to curb our sodium intake, given the quintessentially American desire for convenience, we certainly could benefit from changes in the way our prepackaged foods are made. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently convened a committee to develop strategies that could be employed by food manufacturers, government bodies, or public health professionals to reduce sodium intake. The IOM report is expected to be released in May 2010. Learn more about the upcoming study here. Already, soup makers are battling for the low sodium mantle, and Burger King recently announced that sodium in Kids Meals will be limited to 600mg. The movement certainly seems to be in the right direction.

We may be relying on food companies for much of our nutritional intake, but it is in our best interest to be educated about our bodies’ needs. It is also important to ensure we are including vital nutrients in our diets. In response to relevant new research on bone health, as well as growing interest in the possible connection between vitamin D intake, cancer, and other chronic disease, the IOM recently initiated a study to consider these new data and review the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for vitamin D and calcium. Click here to learn more about the current vitamin D project and the established DRIs. It is unclear whether these DRIs, established by the IOM in 1997, will need to be updated once the data are examined in detail. With many professional groups recommending a range of intakes, and news articles linking vitamin D and calcium to reduced cancer risk, a careful, evidence-based examination of well-done research should help clear up uncertainties about the optimal amount of calcium and vitamin D. Sponsored jointly by the U.S. and Canadian governments, the report is due out in two years, but there is no need to wait until then to begin thinking about your diet and make healthy food choices.

In the midst of the holiday season, with the wide array of delicious foods, health often takes a back seat. Home-cooked meals usually do not come with nutrition labels, making it difficult to determine if we are getting enough of the vital nutrients and not exceeding the limits of others. But keeping our health in mind does not have to get in the way of celebrating. In fact, perhaps the best way to think about a healthy diet is just another way of celebrating… you.

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