Samantha Pankiw, Dietetic Intern, Montclair State University
Karen Ensle EdD., RDN, FAND, CFCS, Preceptor, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
Blood pressure naturally increases with age, so everyone can afford to cut back on their daily sodium intake. The American Heart Association recommends less than 1,500 mg of sodium daily, but most people surpass this number by double or even triple the guideline.
What is sodium and why is it important to keep our daily intake down? Sodium is a mineral that helps our body’s fluid balance remain controlled, sends nerve impulses throughout our body, and affects our muscle function. All of these jobs are important and necessary, but too much sodium can be detrimental to our health.
When too much sodium is circulating in the blood, it pulls water into the bloodstream, increasing the volume. This increase in volume results in increased blood pressure, and, over time, our blood vessels may stretch or become injured. High blood pressure is known as the silent killer because it is usually not accompanied by symptoms. It is a major risk factor for heart disease as it requires the heart to work harder to pump an increased volume of blood.
High blood pressure also quickens the build up of plaque, which may result in blocked blood flow. The good news is that decreasing the amount of sodium in your diet to the recommended amount will not only reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke, but it will also decrease the risk of kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and headaches.
To decrease the amount of sodium consumed throughout the day, it is important to know that approximately 75% of the sodium in our diet comes from processed, packaged, or restaurant foods. This means that the salt shaker isn’t the only culprit like most people tend to believe. There is a group of foods called the “Salty Six” to look out for:
- Cold cuts and cured meats
- Bread and rolls
- Burritos and tacos
These foods do not need to be cut out completely because there are lower sodium options for each of them. Below are some small steps to reduce the salt in your diet:
- Read nutrition facts labels and compare different brands of the same product to keep sodium numbers within the daily recommendation.
- Choose lower sodium foods with a “no salt added” label on cans and “low-sodium” labels on condiments such as soy sauce.
- Look for a food item with the American Heart Association Heart check mark on the packaging.
- Rinse canned beans and vegetables, when cooking at home, to remove up to 40% of the sodium.
- Use garlic, onions, herbs, spices, citrus, and vinegar instead of salt, for flavor.
As you gradually decrease the salt in your diet, your taste buds will start to adjust. You will not even notice the difference in taste after a short while, but your heart will certainly notice. For more information about blood pressure, sodium, and heart disease visit the American Heart Association’s website, www.heart.org.