Pass (on) the Salt, Please: Salt and Your Heart

When the Dietary Guidelines were released recently, the most substantial change was to reduce the amount of sodium Americans consume.  This sodium comes from two places in our diet.  The first and most obvious is the sodium we add to food.  It is not just in the form of table salt but also in condiments that contain salt or sodium containing compounds.  Rubs for meat, barbeque sauce, ketchup, salad dressing and flavor enhancers used in cooking are all sources of sodium.

Remember, a mere teaspoon of salt contains 2300 mg per sodium or more than you should have in a day. Under the new guidelines, if you are over 50 or African American the recommendation has been lowered further to 1500 mg.  However, the majority of sodium added to your diet, approximately 75% of your total intake, was added in the manufacturing process or in meals eaten away from home.

So reading labels and choosing brands that have less sodium is a must.  Often the sodium in food is in the form of preservatives that add little to the flavor of foods.  When you eat out, get the sauces on the side to allow you the option of lowering the sodium and often the fat content of your meal.

What’s all the fuss?  As our waistlines expand and we eat more foods away from home our blood pressure is on the rise.  It has been estimated that even if your blood pressure is normal at age 50, you have a 90% lifetime risk of developing high blood pressure.  This increases the likelihood of stroke and heart disease.  It has been estimated that reducing the sodium to recommended levels would prevent over 60,000 strokes and almost 100,000 heart attacks per year and reduce annual health care costs by 24 billion dollars!

Some exciting new research suggests that eating more fruits and vegetables might be a strategy.  Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of potassium and this mighty mineral can offset or balance some of the damaging effects of sodium.  So try increasing the number of fruit and vegetable servings per day.

When you are cooking at home, make homemade rubs, salad dressings and sauces.  Instead of using salt, kick up the flavor with chili peppers, cayenne, garlic and herbs.  Just because you are reducing the salt doesn’t mean the foods have to be bland.  Cook a few more homemade meals to reduce the pre-made and often salty quick foods at the store.  A general rule of thumb is the more instant a food, the higher the sodium intake. Remember to read those labels and choose lower sodium brands.  Your heart will thank you!

By Roberta Anding, MS, RD/LD, CDE, CSSD

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