By Monique Richard MS, RDN, LDN
It’s National High Blood Pressure Awareness Month, and even if you have ditched the salt shaker long ago, the amount found in processed foods and drinks adds up quickly. The amount consumed over a day’s time through your dietary choices may be too much compared to your needs. This could possibly have an adverse effect on your blood pressure and overall health, leading to additional consequences.
Dangers and recommendations
Salt, or sodium (Na), is most commonly paired with chloride to make table salt. It is an important nutrient and helps our body with many functions. It helps maintain the right balance of fluids in your body, transmits nerve impulses, and helps muscles relax and contract. The kidneys cannot eliminate excess sodium as easily, and it may begin to build up and accumulate in the blood. As sodium attracts and holds water, the blood volume increases. This, in turn, makes the heart work harder to move more blood through the blood vessels, increasing pressure in the arteries, voila, high blood pressure. Also referred to as hypertension, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and congestive heart failure if left untreated. Some people are more sensitive than others to sodium. It is important to know your numbers as well as any family history of hypertension or salt sensitivity.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day — or 1,500 mg if you’re age 51 or older, African-American, already have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Just one teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 mg of sodium, and most Americans are consuming about 3400 mg of sodium daily.
Where is salt hiding?
Keep in mind the salt you consume is not just what you add to recipes or use from the shaker; processed foods and beverages contain high levels of sodium. Go for lowest sodium options (look for < 200 mg per serving), or cook as much as you can at home to control sodium levels. High levels of sodium are mostly found in:
. bread, bagels, muffins
. prepared dinners such as pasta and ‘heat-n-serve’ products
. meat and egg dishes
. cold cuts, deli meats, and bacon
. soft drinks and pre-made beverages,
. sauces, salad dressings, condiments (i.e. 1 Tbsp. of soy sauce = ~ 1,000 mg of Na)
. fast food
Sodium is also found naturally in:
. dairy products such as milk (i.e. 1 cup of low-fat milk = 107 mg of Na)
Sodium, like sugar, has many names, or can be a component of ingredients that include sodium-containing compounds, such as:
. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
. Baking soda
. Baking powder
. Disodium phosphate
. Sodium alginate
. Sodium nitrate or nitrite
Take labels claims “with a grain of salt”
Just because it says, “low-sodium,” “reduced sodium,” or “light in sodium” does not mean it may be the best choice. A “low sodium” food is defined as one that contains 140 mg or less of sodium. As you read the label, keep in mind sodium is calculated “per serving;” if it is something you have two servings of, like a can of soup, simply double the amount of sodium stated per serving to get the most accurate figure.
Enhance flavor without salt
Keeping sodium levels lower daily can be a challenge—and maybe even quite boring—if you’re not familiar with some alternatives and creative ways to prepare your meals. Nevertheless, it can be done and the flavor of food can be savored, enjoyed, and celebrated.
Lower salt intake slowly so that your taste buds and body can have some time to adapt. This will also transition your sensory receptors to be more aware when something is higher in salt. This can alter the temptation to have it or have as much of it.
Use spices and fresh herbs like basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, turmeric, and chili powder or salt-free seasoning blends like Mrs. Dash instead of salt to flavor recipes and finished dishes. Eat fresh, whole foods more often. Potassium and sodium work inversely, so the more potassium, the less sodium. Potassium is abundant in fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water to help your kidneys flush out excess sodium. Be aware if you are on potassium-sparing diuretics and use salt substitutes that have potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride. Be sure to talk to both your physician and registered dietitian nutritionist for your individual needs and recommendations.
Please call 423-794-5520 to schedule an appointment with our registered dietitian.
State of Franklin Healthcare Associates
301 Med Tech Parkway, Johnson City, TN 37604
423-794-5550 | www.sofha.net
More general recommendations can be found through the CDC at http://www.cdc.gov/salt/pdf/sodium_dietary_guidelines.pdf.
Shake down the salt, don’t let the salt take you down.