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Selection of Sentinel Foods
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Approximately 125 foods, termed Sentinel Foods, have been identified to serve as indicators for assessment of change in the sodium content in the food supply. These foods were determined through careful examination of the mainly commercial packaged and restaurant foods consumed by the survey respondents in the national survey, What We Eat In America (WWEIA), NHANES. The criteria for selection of the sentinel foods are listed below. Reference values were used to provide context for selection of the specific foods, although some latitude was given to include items that varied from reference values.


1.   Foods with a high density of sodium: Foods with at least 400 mg of sodium per 100 grams, e.g., bacon. 

2.    Foods with high levels of sodium per report: The FDA criteria for the use of "healthy" for nutrient claims for sodium were used: mean sodium per report >600 mg (mixed dishes); >400 mg (discrete items), e.g., burrito and tortilla, respectively. "Per report" refers to the un-weighted mean amount of food consumed by respondents in WWEIA, NHANES.

3.    Foods frequently consumed by a large proportion of the population that provide moderate amounts of sodium per report: Some foods contain only moderate amounts of sodium but, because they are reported frequently by a large percentage of the population, they contribute substantially to sodium intake, e.g. bread. Items that were reported more than 400 times from day 1 dietary recalls were considered for inclusion, taking sodium content, number of reports and contribution to sodium intake into account.

4.   Foods that are a major contributor to total sodium within a food category: Some foods differed from reference criteria but contributed substantially to sodium intake within a category of similar food items and were therefore included, e.g., deli ham in the category 'Cured Meats'.

5.    Foods that are common basic ingredients and seasonings: Items such as broth and soy sauce that contribute sodium through addition into recipes or that are used frequently as condiments and seasonings have the potential for sodium reduction and ultimately lower sodium intake.


These criteria were not mutually exclusive, for example, bread fulfils criteria 2 and 3. The Sentinel Foods accounted for approximately 36% of total sodium intake in WWEIA, NHANES 2007-2008. This project was led by Food Surveys Research Group (FSRG), ARS in close co-operation with Nutrient Data Laboratory and CDC. To learn more about the selection of Sentinel Foods, click here XXX (Pending from FSRG).