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Today's Thanksgiving meal high in sodium

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, most of it in processed foods and restaurant meals.

Raw turkey is naturally low in sodium, but sometimes a turkey or turkey breast is injected with salt water to plump it, adding a hefty dose of sodium before it even reaches the store.

From the stuffing mix to the green bean casserole to even pumpkin pie, many people can reach their daily sodium allotment in that one big meal, unless the cook uses some tricks.

"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 dietitian at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

This month the Food and Drug Administration opened deliberations on how to cut salt in processed foods for shoppers to have a shot at meeting new dietary guidelines. If sodium levels drop in the overall food supply, it will ease the nation's high blood pressure epidemic.

The Institute of Medicine and several public health advocates are urging the FDA to order gradual rollbacks, setting different sodium levels for different foods; the government has been reluctant to do that.

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

In some foods, salt acts as a preservative with a variety of functions. Kraft sells cheese with somewhat less sodium in Britain than in the United States. Americans melt a lot of cheese and lower-sodium cheese doesn't melt as well.

The average American takes in 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day. New dietary guidelines say no one should eat more than 2,300 milligrams, about a teaspoon of salt, and half the population should eat even less, just 1,500 milligrams.

The lower limit is for those in their 50s or older, African-Americans of any age, and anyone with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. How to cut back? Thayer, the dietitian, has some tips:

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

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

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

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; sweet potatoes, even dressed up as a souffle, contain very little sodium.

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