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Sandwiches May Not Be The Best Lunch

When you think about an unhealthy lunch, let’s face it, sandwiches aren’t likely to be on your ‘do not allow’ list. Pizza, chips, french fries, sure, but a sandwich? New studies have shown that this past thinking should stay in the past as many of these delicious hunger busters can actually make up for nearly half of the daily sodium your body should take in each day. Sandwiches have long been the lunch of choice for Americans both young and old, and while there is nothing wrong with enjoying one once in a while, the amount of ingredients now being used on the average sandwich could lead to problems later in life. The United States Department of Agriculture, as well as Investigators at the Food Surveys Research Group, has published a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, listing the data that came from a 2009-2010 survey conducted by the What We Eat In America team.

How The Study Worked

The survey covered almost six thousand American adults over the age of twenty, and recorded all meals eaten and beverages drank the day before the survey took place. Each food and drink had a code to be assessed by and what was found was shocking. Almost half, in fact, 49% of American adults each ate one sandwich, with the toppings mounting up to one 30-40% of the daily sodium intake. The maximum intake for sodium on a daily basis has been set at 2,300 mg, but the recommended amount for people with diabetes, kidney disease, or higher than normal blood pressure is much lower at 1,500 mg per day. Medical News Daily explains: “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high sodium consumption raises blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the first and fourth leading causes of death in the US.”

While the sodium levels did seem high in many sandwiches, it was difficult to label all of them with the same limits and data as different people use different ingredients in their meals. Toppings on sandwiches are so varied that it’s impossible to group them all into one category, but by using specific data for each ingredient, it was possible to determine how healthy each meal was and how much sodium was being taken in each day.

Blood Pressure And Sodium

Although the limitations on sodium set by nutritionists and medical professionals is 2,300mg per day, most American citizens over the age of two actually take in an average of 3,400 mg each day, which can lead to high blood pressure and other increases in negative health effects. Study co-author Cecilia Wilkinson Enns has been quoted by Philly Magazine as saying: “Many sandwiches, such as burgers and franks, and common sandwich components, such as yeast breads, cheese, and cured meats, are among the top contributors not only to sodium but also to energy in the diets of adult Americans.”

In Western countries this kind of increase in blood pressure and other health issues relating to salt may be normal, but other countries with populations who have more regulated diets don’t face these issues and lead much healthier lives in regards to the foods that they consume.

How Sandwiches Were Coded

During the study, sandwiches were coded in different ways in relation to how much of each ingredient was placed on the bread. This means that different levels of ham, cheese, mayo, and other toppings would result in different codes for individuals, while some codes were standard due to regulated manufacturing in restaurants like fast food chains. In the past, studies haven’t been as honest regarding how much sodium is being ingested because the coding didn’t account for the different levels of foods being involved in each sandwich. This new method of counting sodium intake shows a much more accurate number, with 30 to 46% of the daily sodium intake for adults being represented by these lunchtime classics. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just sodium that was affected by the number of toppings included in the average sandwich, participants also consumed 300 more calories on average than are recommended when compared to participants who didn’t eat a sandwich at all.

How To Cut Back On Sodium In Sandwiches

While you may not want to cut out this lunchtime staple all together, it’s possible to reduce the level of sodium that you include by cutting out some of the less healthy ingredients. Devon Peart of The Huffington Post explains: “Including a source of protein in your sandwich is a good idea, because protein is filling, and will give you a lasting source of energy. Deli meats are a go-to for sandwiches, but they are high in sodium, and usually contain nitrites, a preservative, which are thought to increase cancer risk.”

Using leftover meats from dinners, such as roast chicken breast or lean beef can be a much better addition as a protein, and don’t skimp on the veggies. Adding healthy vegetables to your meal and whole grains instead of white bread can make a big difference to your lunch time choice. This is especially important for the parents of small children to remember as eating habits early in life can define how healthy a child is in later years. With the growing epidemic of obesity rising in numbers constantly across North America and the world, it’s more important now than ever before to make healthier choices.

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