Where’s the salt? In the Thanksgiving menu

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WASHINGTON — No need for a salt shaker on the Thanksgiving table: Unless you really cooked from scratch, there’s lots of sodium already hidden in the menu.

Stealth sodium can do a number on your blood pressure. Americans eat way too much salt, and most of it comes inside common processed foods and restaurant meals.

Lower-salt tips

How to cut back? Thayer, the dietitian, has some tips for Thanksgiving and beyond:

• All bread contains sodium, but starting with a homemade cornbread for stuffing could help cut a few hundred milligrams.

• Use low-sodium broth for the gravy, and choose low-sodium soups whenever possible.

• Try onion, garlic and a variety of other herbs in place of salt. Lemon and other citrus also can stand in for salt in some foods.

• Check your spice bottles. Combination products, such as those labeled poultry seasoning, can contain salt.

• Fresh or frozen vegetables have little if any sodium, unless you choose the frozen kind with an added sauce.

• People tend to heavily salt mashed potatoes while sweet potatoes, even dressed up as a souffle, contain very little sodium.

The traditional Thanksgiving fixings show how easy sodium can sneak into the foods you’d least expect. Yes, raw turkey is naturally low in sodium. But sometimes a turkey or turkey breast is injected with saltwater to plump it, adding a hefty dose of sodium before it even reaches the store — something you’d have to read the fine print to discover.

From the stuffing mix to the green bean casserole to even pumpkin pie, a lot of people can reach their daily sodium allotment or more in that one big meal unless the cook employs some tricks.

“For Thanksgiving or any meal, the more you can cook from scratch and have some control over the sodium that’s going in, the better,” says the American Dietetic Association’s Bethany Thayer, a registered dietitian at the Henry Ford Health Health System in Detroit.

The Food and Drug Administration this month opened deliberations on how to cut enough salt in processed foods for average shoppers to have a good shot at meeting new dietary guidelines. The idea: If sodium levels gradually drop in the overall food supply, it will ease the nation’s epidemic of high blood pressure — and our salt-riddled taste buds will have time to adjust to the new flavor.

“Reducing sodium is important for nearly everyone,” Dr. Robin Ikeda of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the FDA hearing.

The question is how to make that happen. The prestigious Institute of Medicine and several public health advocates are urging the FDA to order gradual rollbacks, setting different sodium levels for different kinds of foods, a step the government has been reluctant to take.

Food makers want a voluntary approach and say they’re reworking their recipes, some as part of a campaign launched by New York City to cut salt consumption by at least 20 percent over five years.

It will take different strategies to remove salt from different foods — and some may need to be a sneak operation, Kraft Foods Vice President Richard Black told the FDA meeting.