Skip to Content

Seeking Out Sneaky Sodium Could Help You Prevent Diseases



Dr. Cheryl Anderson is trained in nutritional sciences, epidemiology, and health behavior and health education. One of the reasons she went into her field is to do science that can guide and empower people to make better choices. 

This week, Dr. Anderson participated in the sodium Twitter chat for the American Heart Association’s September #LifeIsWhy Family Health Challenge. “It is important to consume less sodium because the related health risks of excessive sodium intake are happening earlier and earlier in life,” said Dr. Anderson.  

Dr. Anderson is an Associate Professor at University of California San Diego, and she is a Fellow of the American Heart Association.  According to Dr. Anderson, “I do what I do because I grew up in a part of the US where life and health are often endangered by modifiable risk factors. After I was educated about the inequities that are associated with this, I decided to commit my life to reversing that trend.” 

“Sodium reduction is important because excessive intake has been established as a risk factor for hypertension. From basic science, human clinical studies, and community interventions, it has been proven that the more sodium someone consumes the higher their blood pressure,” said Dr. Anderson. “High blood pressure is one of the main risk factors for heart disease and chronic kidney disease. The morbidity and mortality associated with this is high.”  

“There is very little sodium found naturally in food. Most of the sodium in foods is added during processing, preservation or while cooking or eating. Only 11 percent is added by the consumer when cooking or eating, and 89 percent is from processing and preservation.” said Dr. Anderson. “How do we encourage people to lessen their sodium? First, it is important that people know how much sodium they are eating. But, public-private partnerships are needed to remove sodium from commercially processed foods and make them available to consumers so we can successfully lower sodium across the food supply.”  

“We recently finished a study called, The SPICE Study, which was an intensive behavioral intervention that asked participants to meet the guideline of 1500mg of sodium per day. There is often a perception that if you remove sodium from food, the food will taste bad. Food manufacturers have shared that consumers don’t respond well to foods labeled low sodium because they think it won’t taste good,” said Dr. Anderson. “People in the intensive behavioral intervention ate just over 1100 mg per day less than the comparison group by the end of the study. As a part of the SPICE behavioral intervention, participants in the study had to ask for less sodium in foods ordered at restaurants; they used more herbs and spices in meals cooked at home. Current guidelines call for less than 2400mg of sodium per day, and for those who can benefit from additional blood pressure lowering, no more than 1500mg per day. Even just decreasing by 1000mg per day, will really help you if you cannot reach 2400 mg or 1500 mg.” In August, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition e-published The SPICE Study.   

“The New York City Department of Health took a major step toward informing their citizens of the amounts of sodium in their food this past week,” said Dr. Anderson. “Last Wednesday the Board of Health approved requiring a label on foods that deliver the entire upper limit of sodium, 2,300mg per day. Now people will know if they are getting the entire limit of sodium for one day in one meal or entree. The point is to empower people to make better choices.” 

“Every age, sex, and gender group consumes more than the upper limit of sodium in our country. Those who want to lower their sodium intake cannot because it has already been added during processing of most of the foods that they eat,” said Dr. Anderson. “Good health education or counseling by a dietitian about how to read food labels can be very helpful. When preparing foods we can use fresh, non-processed products and flavor them with spices and herbs.” 

“We also need to teach our children about healthful eating. Eating habits get established early in life, so it’s important to ensure they learn good ones. Healthful eating can set our children on a path that preserves the cardiovascular health they have in early life” said Dr. Anderson.