Sodium and Hypertension: Shake Salt From Your Diet

Even if you refrain from shaking salt onto your food, chances are you are consuming far too much sodium from other sources, experts say. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed about nine in 10 U.S. adults and children are ingesting more than the daily recommended amount.

John Morytko, M.D., a cardiologist at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, warns that too much sodium in your diet can lead to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Since heart disease is the leading cause of death among women and men in America, it is important to know the key facts about sodium and monitoring your intake.

Here’s how sodium affects your blood pressure: When you consume too much, your bloodstream contains more sodium than the surrounding areas of your body. This causes the water in those areas to be pulled into your bloodstream in an effort to equalize the solute concentration on both sides of the blood vessels. The increase in water flowing through your arteries and veins causes an increase in the pressure.

Blood pressure responses to changes in dietary sodium vary widely, raising questions about the effectiveness of dietary sodium restrictions, notes Dr. Morytko. “Some people may not have ‘salt-sensitive’ blood pressure; nevertheless they will benefit from reducing their sodium consumption,” he explained. “Excess sodium in the diet also can have a silent effect on the body, negatively impacting the blood vessels, heart, kidneys and brain.”

Guidelines for Sodium in the Diet

For optimum health, the 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends people over age 14 limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day. The American Heart Association (AHA) advises most U.S. adults to eat no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.

If you regularly eat at restaurants or grab prepared food to save time, it is likely you are consuming more than the recommended daily allowance. More than three quarters of sodium in the American diet is estimated to come from restaurant and processed food, which can make reducing your intake challenging. Experts say gradually decreasing the level in the food supply is a key strategy for helping people lower their sodium consumption. “Public policy aimed at educating consumers also will help them make better decisions,” added Dr. Morytko.

Foods high in sodium include lunch meats, sausage, bacon and ham; condiments like catsup, soy sauce and salad dressings; canned soup and dried soup mixes; boxed mixes of potatoes, rice, and pasta; breads; and snack foods. The AHA recommends consumers read nutrition labels and choose foods marked “sodium-free,” “low sodium” and “unsalted.” And instead of adding salt to your food, sprinkle on sodium-free herbs and seasonings to add flavor.

While over-consumption is bad, some sodium is essential for human survival, says Dr. Morytko. Your body needs about 500 mg of sodium a day to maintain fluid balance; regulate nerve impulses from your brain to the rest of your body; facilitate muscle contraction and relaxation; and promote sweating to keep you cool so you avoid dehydration and heat stroke. Since many Americans consume six times this amount, most would benefit from reducing their sodium intake.

Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute cardiologists will discuss simple steps to keep your heart healthy at Heart 2 Heart: 7 Ways to Love Your Heart More, a free seminar on Wednesday, Feb. 17.

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