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We need to talk: High dietary sodium intake and the risk to Canadians’ health

University’s JoAnne Arcand, PhD, explores innovative tools to help doctors, patients and the public take action on dietary dangers

Many Canadians have little or no idea as to how much sodium they consume on a daily basis.
Many Canadians have little or no idea as to how much sodium they consume on a daily basis.

In our fast-moving world, it’s easy to overlook that sodium is a huge component of many foods we love to eat. Snack food, pizza, deli meats, condiments, soups, cheeses and salad dressings are only a few examples of processed products often loaded with high amounts of sodium.

The trouble is many of us don’t stop to think before we eat. High-sodium diets cause increases in blood pressure and contribute to a wide range of health-related problems such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

University of Ontario Institute of Technology researcher and Registered Dietitian JoAnne Arcand, PhD, says patients—and doctors—tend to avoid talking about the reality of excessive salt intake because of time constraints.

“We know a lot about what kinds of diets are useful in treating high blood pressure, but research confirms many Canadians truly don’t realize how much sodium they consume,” says Dr. Arcand, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences. “Adding to the problem is that sodium intake is generally not discussed in the doctor’s office,”

Dr. Arcand argues a different mindset is required to truly put salt on the conversation table. She believes technology can provide the reality check patients need. The same may also help doctors have an open discussion with their patients about diet.

The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF) wants to explore Dr. Arcand’s ideas. The HSF will support her research over the next four years through its National New Investigator Award. HSF funding will help Dr. Arcand advance the sodium-risk message and uncover new methods to implement dietary recommendations for hypertension.

The key component of the research is an online Sodium Calculator that provides instant feedback on dietary sodium sources and volumes.

“Most sodium comes from processed (packaged) foods and restaurant foods, not from sodium (or salt) added at the table or during cooking,” says Dr. Arcand. “We believe the Sodium Calculator can help doctors talk to their patients about diet and help adults reduce their blood pressure to normal levels.”

In addition to determining if sodium intakes were reduced, the research will uncover if the Sodium Calculator helps doctors deliver better advice to their patients, and if the tool helps patients self-manage high blood pressure.

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Bryan Oliver
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Ontario Tech University
905.721.8668 ext. 6709