The poor man’s diet is always rich in sodium

By Joshua Santos |

Being a broke college student, I get by on the little things in life.

Living in St. Augustine, it’s easy to walk around on a full stomach for free. It’s become such an integral part of my weekly routine that I have worked my schedule around the times I can go consume large amounts of free food at multiple establishments.

Every other Wednesday from noon to 4 p.m., students with a valid ID are able to go to Jay’s Place in the Student Center and pick out a decent amount of food thanks to the students in the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Last week I got a free bag of food that consisted of mushroom-based pasta sauce, a cup of chicken-flavored instant ramen, two granola bars and a bag of peanuts.

These free snacks occupied me during my journey from the Lion’s Den to my domicile. The smaller items were gone instantly, but as I carried it back, the cup of ramen intrigued me as I started to read the nutrition facts. The 39 grams of carbohydrates isn’t too bad, but with 1190 milligrams of sodium (amounting to 50% of my daily intake), my blood pressure started spiking.

According to the American Heart Association, “The average American eats about 3,000 to 3,600 mg of sodium a day.”  Yet, the human body only needs 200 mg of sodium a day to survive.

So in one cup of soup I had nearly six times as much sodium as I actually needed. Yet, it was only lunch time, and my free-eating ways were just getting started.

I usually tend to buy low sodium options, but when it comes to free food I don’t even question it. At six o’clock every other Tuesday, the Grace United Methodist church invites Flagler College students to a BBQ fellowship dinner.

It is always a delicious wildcard, as the main course changes every time. There are usually vegetarian choices, but this was a Sloppy Joe kind of night, and I guess a bowl of lettuce drenched in mayo constitutes vegetarian-friendly. The fruit dessert options are always a plus and the drink options are usually healthy.

But now conscious of sodium, I later learned that the amount of sodium in a cup of Sloppy Joe meat can vary widely. Depending on the ingredients, it can be anywhere from 600 mg to 1,200 mg, including a large amount of cholesterol of the bad variety.

Later, I attended a video game tournament in the Virginia Room in the Ringhaver Student Center sponsored by the Gaming Guild of Flagler College. Tables lined up against the wall held stacks of pizza boxes. I took my time and started with two slices of the free goodness and a can of soda.

The sodium dial kept spinning higher. A regular can of Coke contains 45 mg of sodium and 39 g of sugar.

A regular slice of cheese pizza contains anywhere from 500 mg to 750 mg of sodium.

I was well on my way towards some kind of sodium-induced cardiac arrest. I ended the night feeling sluggish, sweating sodium and shame out of every pore.

Now, one may be asking who cares about how much sodium is in our food?

The answer is people who suffer from hypertension, or more specifically, high blood pressure. A study conducted by Food Research Institute of the University at Wisconsin-Madison claims that “untreated hypertension is associated with increased incidences of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.”

Nearly two-thirds of American adults are currently suffering, and the problem is growing.

During my free food excursion trip, after estimating the amount of sodium in everything I had consumed, I had anywhere from 5,000 mg to 6,500 mg of sodium. That’s at least 25 times as much sodium as recommended.

Times are tough, and with 48.5 million people who lived at or below the poverty line in 2011 according to the United States Census, it shouldn’t just be the wealthy who are able to afford healthy food.

Although I agree that someone can’t just force people to eat healthy, it has to be a conscious decision based on the individual to begin questioning exactly what they are eating.

According to Feeding America, one in seven American families struggle to put food on the table. Many of these families receive food stamp benefits which come with their own stigma. Since businesses that sell healthy foods usually do not accept food stamps, these families then go to major chain supermarkets that do accept the benefits. So by the end of the cycle, the government has continued to successfully feed poor Americans by giving them money to go to Wal-Mart to buy canned beans and hormone enhanced chicken thighs to get them by on their minimum wage paychecks.

People shouldn’t have to be called out for needing to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, if anything the companies that accept taxpayer dollars as a form of payment should be the ones who deserve the criticism.

Even though it all comes down to the individual who chooses to eat whatever they want, we should all strive for something better. Sure a cheeseburger for a dollar sounds like a nice deal, and who doesn’t enjoy being lazy and ordering a pizza that is then devoured on a couch in front of a TV?

These all sound like great things, that is until the day one finds their arteries are not agreeing with them and the next thing they know is that they are in a group with 60 million other people who want nothing more than to devour a cheeseburger but can’t.

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