All information was provided by the American Heart Association.
What’s the Big Deal About Sodium?
Sodium is a mineral that’s essential for life. It’s regulated in the body by your kidneys, and it helps control your body’s fluid balance. When there is extra sodium in your bloodstream, it pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing the volume of blood inside. With more blood flowing through, blood pressure increases. It’s like turning up the water supply to a garden hose — the pressure in the hose increases as more water is blasted through it. Over time, high blood pressure may overstretch the blood vessel walls and speed the build-up of gunky plaque that can block blood flow. The added pressure also tires out the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood through the body.
High Blood Pressure: The Silent Killer
High blood pressure (hypertension) is known as the “silent killer” because symptoms are not always obvious. You should know that:
- It’s one of the major risk factors for heart disease.
- It’s the leading risk factor of women’s deaths in the U.S., and the 2nd leading risk factor of death for men.
- One third of American adults have high blood pressure. And 90% of U.S. adults are expected to develop high blood pressure over their lifetimes.
Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, eating less sodium can help lessen the rise in blood pressure that occurs naturally with age. Reduce your risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and even headaches.
The extra water in your body can also lead to bloating and weight gain. No wonder the American Heart Association wants you to change your relationship with salt!
How Much Sodium Should I Be Eating?
To lower blood pressure, aim to eat no more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. Those people who lose large amounts of sodium in sweat, like competitive athletes, and workers exposed to major heat stress, such as factory workers and fire fighters, should aim for 2,400mg.
If you have a medical condition or other special dietary needs or restrictions, you should follow the advice of a qualified healthcare professional.
Breaking Up with Excess Sodium
At the store and while shopping for food:
- Compare labels and choose the product with the lowest amount of sodium (per serving).
- Pick fresh and frozen poultry that hasn’t been injected with a sodium solution.
- Choose condiments carefully and look for a reduced or lower-sodium version.
- Choose canned vegetables labeled “no salt added” and frozen vegetables without salty sauces.
- Look for the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark. The Heart-Check mark is not a sign of a “low-sodium” product, but it does mean that the food meets AHA’s sodium criteria to have the Heart-Check mark.
When preparing food:
- Use onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices and vinegars in place of some or all of the salt to add flavor to foods.
- Drain and rinse canned beans and vegetables – this can cut the sodium by up to 40%.
- Combine half and half of lower-sodium versions of food with regular versions.
- Cook pasta, rice, and hot cereal without salt.
- Cook by grilling, braising, roasting, searing, and sautéing to bring out the natural flavors in foods.
- Incorporate foods with potassium, like sweet potatoes, greens, tomatoes, beans, nonfat yogurt, and bananas. Potassium helps counter the effects of sodium and may help lower your blood pressure.
- Specify how you want your food prepared. Ask for your dish to be made without extra salt.
- Taste your food before adding salt. If it needs flavor, add pepper, lemon or lime and test it again.
- Try foods that are steamed, baked, grilled, poached or roasted as they may have less sodium.
- Control portion sizes. When you cut calories, you usually cut the sodium too. Ask for smaller portions, share the meal with a friend or ask for a to-go box when you order and place half the meal in the box to eat later.
- Ask about the sodium content of the menu items. A new law requires chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to provide nutrition information, including sodium content, to customers upon request.