Label Reading Example: Do I Prioritize Sodium or Saturated Fat?

Recently a participant in my community for people with heart concerns reached out with a question that I get often, or at least a variation on it, so I’m sharing here, with their permission. If label reading sometimes leaves you without a clear choice, this one’s for you.

Here’s a question for you. I went to the grocery store for President’s Choice frozen hamburgers. I looked at the lean burgers and the sirloin ones. Hmm. With the lean burgers I get less fat, but more salt than the sirloin ones. Pick your poison right?
I chose the sirloin ones. Was that the right call? Below is a picture I took of the two packages in the store (blue package is the lean). Looking forward to hearing what you think!”

nutrition facts label for PC Blue Menu Lean Beef Burgers - click for product page

Sirloin burger (I couldn't find a PC burger online matching these nutrition facts)

Debating over small differences like this may not seem necessary, but if you’ve had a heart attack or cardiac bypass like this person, you might also be giving some serious thought about what you can reasonably do to keep your arteries as clear as possible, while still enjoying your life.

BBQ with burgers

Here’s my response:

“Hi Bill*,

Thanks for sharing. What a great example of this frustrating tradeoff. They’re trying to make them tasty, one way or the other.

How to choose between two sub-optimal choices? If one health concern (blood pressure or cholesterol) was more a challenge for you than the other, that would help us decide.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have both lower in fat and sodium? One way to do that would be to make them from scratch.

But if you wanted the convenience of pre-made burgers, you could hunt around for that – lower sodium and lower saturated fat.

These ones are smaller, so the numbers on the label are lower, but even if we adjust to a serving size of 142g, like the examples you sent, it would be 6.7 grams saturated fat, 366mg sodium, so not a bad alternative. And if you’re satisfied with just the smaller burger, even better.

Another option is a chicken or turkey or meatless burger? But I know that might not quite hit the spot in the same way.

There isn’t really a right answer on choosing between those two. You don’t eat that kind of thing often, so the rest of your diet balances it.

You could also balance that day by doing things like going easy on condiments like mustard and ketchup (to limit sodium) or topping with avocado instead of cheese (to limit sat fat).

I hope that helps! My answers are never simple are they? Haha. Either way, enjoy!

– Cheryl”

* Of course I’ve kept the name anonymous and came up with this very creative pseudonym instead.

If you’re thinking that I should say to stay away from red meat altogether, really the science isn’t that firm there. More plants yes, but it’s not clear that completely ditching red meat (or meat in general) is better than simply cutting back to make room for more cardioprotective foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, fish, nuts, seeds, etc.

Another option for lower saturated fat and sodium may be a veggie burger, depending on which one you choose! See my review of that category if you’re curious.

Or you might be saying sodium doesn’t matter. But despite headline-making differences of opinion, most experts agree that avoiding excessive sodium is a good idea.

If you have these or other questions about heart health and nutrition, you’re welcome to download my free ebook, The Sweet Spot Guide to Eating Well After a Heart Event.

The bottom line

Whether it’s sugar, sodium, saturated fat, or something else, we’re often faced with these little tradeoffs. No stress here: One food won’t make or break your heart health. But if that’s a priority for you, I understand the desire to control what you can. Why not?

If you can find something that is optimal on all counts, and still tastes good, fantastic. That’s the “sweet spot!” But it’s elusive. If you make a compromise in one area, you can always balance elsewhere. It’s your overall eating habits that matter.

Factor in your unique values and preferences, as well as what nutrition science tells us, and then decide what goes in your shopping basket. There’s no right or wrong answer here.

If you want more confidence in the label-reading department, you may enjoy “3 things to check on Canada’s new nutrition labels if you have heart concerns,” or this one: “Should I check the cholesterol on nutrition labels?

Or book a one-on-one with me to talk about the specific foods you’re curious about.

* This post is not sponsored. None of my posts are sponsored. I link to specific products for educational purposes only. 😊❤️

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