Sodium, a nutrient, is a major part of table salt (sodium chloride). It is found naturally in many foods in small amounts. Salt and sodium compounds are also added to processed foods, and salt may be used in cooking or added at the table. Reducing sodium intake lowers high blood pressure in some individuals. Moderation in sodium intake is recommended. (See Chapter 3, High Blood Pressure, page 53.)
Alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, and hard liquor) are a source of extra calories. When consumed in excess, alcohol can impair judgment, result in dependency, and lead to several serious health problems. However, evidence suggests that a moderate intake of alcohol is associated with a lower risk of disease of the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular disease) in some individuals.
Discuss the consumption of alcohol with your health care provider. (See sidebar: Alcohol and Health, page 387.) The Food Guide Pyramid, the triangular symbol you see on many food packages, was developed by nutrition experts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) (see below).
The Pyramid is an educational tool that translates nutrient requirements into the foods you need to eat and helps you put into action the advice offered by the Dietary Guidelines. In graphic form, the Pyramid displays the variety of food choices and the correct proportions needed to attain the recommended amounts of all the nutrients you need without consuming an excess of calories.
The Pyramid divides all foods into six categories, based on the nutrients they contain.