Photo: PhD, RD JoAnne Arcand from the U of Toronto Department of Nutritional Sciences talks about her new Sodium Calculator as M.D.,Liberal M.P. St. Paul’s Carolyn Bennett tries it out at a Sodium Reception in Parliament Tuesday.
Do you know what your main sources of sodium are? Are you consuming more than your body needs? Which foods are the main culprits?
A new online Salt Calculator sums it all up for you. Developed by researchers at the University of Toronto (U of T), the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI), and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), the tool is the first of its kind in North America.
Located online at www.projectbiglife.ca the Salt Calculator contains 23 questions and takes less than five minutes to complete. It was developed by analyzing the sodium levels of more than 20,000 grocery and restaurant foods, and is based on Canadian eating patterns and the most up-to-date data on sodium levels. The questions zero in on what you eat, where you eat, and how often.
“Many Canadians think the biggest source of salt in their diet comes from a salt shaker, but that’s not the case – it’s the hidden sodium added during food production that’s the biggest culprit,” says Dr. Joanne Arcand,a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at U of T, who helped develop the calculator. “Enabling people to monitor their sodium intake has personal benefits – like lowering blood pressure and risk of heart disease – but it can also dramatically reduce overall health care costs.”
Arcand said that after using the calculator, most people are surprised – because their sodium intake is higher than they expected. In general, people think they are doing better than they actually are in relation to their sodium intake. “We’ve created this calculator to engage people in knowing the amount and sources of sodium are in their diet, so that they can take control of their sodium levels. This is a powerful tool to spark people’s knowledge and awareness about the sodium, which is needed to make effective dietary changes to reduce sodium intakes.”
Doctor Manuel is a supporter of the initiative saying most patients, even those who are aware they need to make changes, don’t know what they consume. “I don’t know my patient’s sodium consumption level and my patients don’t know their levels. Even patients with hypertension and heart disease don’t know their sodium levels,” says Dr. Doug Manuel, a primary care doctor and scientist at ICES and OHRI. “Because of that information gap, I prescribe drugs more than lifestyle change. More importantly, how can we have informed public policy when individual Canadians don’t know how much sodium they consume?” Dr. Doug Manuel designed a calculator to help his patients estimate their life expectancy based on lifestyle.
Improving diet and lowering sodium intake is an important part of heart disease prevention. On average, Canadians consume approximately 3,400 mg of sodium per day, which is more than two times the recommended amount. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure and is a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. High sodium intake has also been linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis, stomach cancer and severity of asthma.
“We know that Canadians are eating too much salt. But the calculator helps zero in on the exact sources in their diet that are responsible,” says Dr. Mary L’Abbé, Chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at U of T. “Armed with this information, people can change their eating habits and re-evaluate using the calculator over time.”
Take 5 minutes to try the sodium calculator now: http://www.makelifebig.ca/isee