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Say 'Aaah' | Before You Bite

A Dash of Sodium to Kick Up the Flavor

March 26, 2001|Phil Lempert

Question: Many breakfast cereals that are low in sugar contain a large amount of sodium. Why is that?

--SUSAN MISKEWITZ

Answer: Sodium is used in foods as a flavor enhancer or as a preservative. According to Meghan Parkhurst, a registered dietitian at the Kellogg Co., there is no inverse relationship between sodium and sugar levels in foods. However, simple carbohydrates or simple sugars do contribute a sweet taste and can be used as a flavor enhancer. Parkhurst says that some cereal recipes are now formulated for a better health profile, and as ingredients such as fats and sugars are reduced, moderate sodium can be added to enhance flavor. Although there is no recommended daily allowance (RDA) for sodium, health experts recommend fewer than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day; just one teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 milligrams. Breakfast cereals range from 0 to 370 milligrams per serving.

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Q: Sushi is becoming the fashionable health food. What are the trends, and is it really healthful?

--S. KISHIGAMI

A: Sushi may well be on the way to becoming the new pizza. The National Sushi Society reports the number of sushi bars in the U.S. quintupled over the past 10 years to 5,000. And in 1999, 40% more Americans reported eating sushi than just five years earlier.

In Japan, where the risk of heart disease is among the lowest worldwide, the average person consumes 3.5 ounces of fish a day. All fish are rich in nutrients, especially sushi's oily fish (such as tuna, salmon and mackerel), which contain vitamins A, B, D and K, and minerals including iodine, magnesium, calcium and iron. Like pizza, sushi is food that is fun to eat, which, along with its health attributes, is one reason for its rise in popularity.

Eating raw fish does carry certain food safety risks, as both freshwater and saltwater fish may contain parasites. The fish is usually frozen before preparation, in order to kill parasites, but few food safety techniques are 100% safe.

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Phil Lempert is the food correspondent for NBC's "Today" show. He can be reached at PLempert@aol.com. He cannot respond to every query.

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