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Hello! I have missed you this month! We had a wonderful spring retreat! And I have been working on the new food plan book and it is finally finished and sent off to my reviewers! So, I am glad to be back here, to my regular schedule with you!! Let’s get back to finishing our last topic, which is label reading.

The next line on our nutrition facts label is cholesterol. We have been taught for years that we must lower our intake of cholesterol to less than 300 mg per day. But the 2015 Dietary Guidelines changed that recommendation. They chose not to continue the recommendations that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 mg/day, because current evidence shows “no appreciable relationship between consumption” of cholesterol in your diet versus cholesterol in your blood.

How can this be? They were wrong? Eggs have got a bad reputation because of their cholesterol content? Now we can eat them? Yup!

People believed that if you ate cholesterol, that it would raise cholesterol in the blood and contribute to heart disease. That makes sense. Except it is not that simple. Cholesterol is an important part of the structure of every cell membrane. It is also used to make some of my favorite hormones, like estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol. It’s so essential to life that the liver can make it by itself. So if you eat less cholesterol, the liver simply makes more.

And when we eat cholesterol containing foods, the liver makes less.  So the total amount of cholesterol in the body changes very little; it is just coming from the diet instead of from the liver.

So enjoy your eggs in reasonable amounts (less than three a day). Follow the recommendations on saturated fats and sugars (which do raise cholesterol) and we can move on to the next line, sodium.  (Unsaturated fat is a different story. It has been shown to be beneficial for cholesterol levels and overall cardiovascular health. Foods including olive oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts and seeds contain unsaturated fat. We discussed that last week.)

Now, the sodium level is listed next on the label. Sodium is an electrolyte which affects many functions in the body – it raises and lowers blood pressure, contributes to muscle and nerve functioning, and water balance and blood volume. Eating too much sodium increases our risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

Mostly, the salt we add to our food does not affect blood volume and blood pressure as much as the sodium added to refined and processed foods. About three quarters of the sodium in our diets come from refined, processed, convenience, and restaurant foods. And some foods that look healthy, may have a great deal of sodium added to them.

The recommendations vary, but American Heart Association recommends that we eat no more than 2,300 milligrams (mgs) a day and their goal, the ideal limit, is no more than 1,500 mg per day depending on your age and health. I have seen many people who eat much more than this, from 3000 to 6000 mg per day, especially with the use of refined and processed foods. Only one teaspoon salt contains 2,300 mg sodium. Check the sodium on the labels of all the foods you eat. Look at whether that food is a large or small portion of your daily diet. How many servings are you eating in a day? What part of your daily intake is this food?

For example, different flavors of the same brand of cheese may have very different amounts of sodium, from 35 to 150 mg per ounce; and condiments may also have widely varying amounts. The worst offenders are foods that come in cans and in foil wrapped packages. Most of us don’t eat those; but if you choose to, check the label and choose carefully.

Choose plain frozen vegetables. Skip the ones with special seasonings and sauces. Look for canned vegetables labeled “No Salt Added.” Drain and rinse canned beans and other vegetables; this can remove up to 40 % of the sodium. Always, always, always read the labels and compare. Choose the foods you enjoy, and the ones that work well with your goals.

Look at what proportion of your day the food fills. If you have 2300 mg to “spend “each day, and you have three meals and a snack each day, then each meal or snack needs to be between 500 and 600 mg sodium, for all the foods combined.  Choose lower salt versions of the foods you like; use unsalted canned and frozen items, adding a little salt if you need to.  In a restaurant, ask your waiter if your food can be served unsalted. At home, use other spices for flavor in your foods; add onion powder, garlic powder, paprika and oregano to add real flavor. Enjoy good tasting whole, unprocessed foods!

Please post your questions or comments below; I really want to hear from you!

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