In the United States, most people consume more sodium than is recommended.
“Sodium is an essential nutrient the human body needs to allow our muscles and nerves to work smoothly and to maintain a balance of body fluids,” said Gabriel B. Mufuka MD, Cardiovascular Diseases Specialist at ThedaCare. “Too much sodium in our diet, though, can be a serious problem for our health.”
Dr. Mufuka explained that one teaspoon of table salt, which is a combination of sodium and chloride, has 2,325 milligrams (mg) of sodium. That’s slightly more than the daily limit of 2,300 mg recommended by health experts. The average American consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day.
The American Heart Association (AHA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) offer a stricter guideline of 1,500 mg/day, or just over a half of teaspoon. They suggest that people with high blood pressure, diabetes or cardiovascular disease keep their intake below 1,500 mg.
Managing salt/sodium intake is a great way to work toward a healthier heart and cardiovascular system.
“A high-sodium diet attracts water into our bloodstream, which then increases the volume of blood in our system; that, in turn, raises blood pressure,” he explained. “When blood pressure is elevated for an extended period of time, it makes the heart work harder, and the higher force of blood flow can damage our arteries and our vital organs.”
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to an increased incidence of kidney stones and kidney disease, blindness, heart failure, heart attacks and strokes – the two greatest causes of death in the United States, said Dr. Mufuka. As we age, blood pressure tends to rise, so limiting sodium intake is even more important as we grow older.
It’s Not Just from the Salt Shaker
The CDC estimates that more than 70% of the sodium Americans consume comes from overly processed or prepared foods – i.e., packaged and restaurant foods — including:
- Breads and rolls
- Cold cuts and cured meats
- Burritos and tacos
- Savory snacks (Chips, popcorn, pretzels, snack mixes, and crackers)
- Eggs and Omelets
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers these suggestions for reducing sodium intake:
- Read the Nutrition Facts label
Compare and choose foods to get less than 100% of your daily value (DV) of sodium each day (less than 2,300 mg).
- Prepare your own food from scratch when you can
Limit the use of packaged sauces, mixes, and “instant” products (including flavored rice, instant noodles, and ready-made pasta).
- Add flavor without adding sodium
Limit the amount of table salt you add to foods when cooking, baking, or at the table. Try no-salt seasoning blends and herbs and spices instead of salt to add flavor to your food.
- Buy fresh
Choose fresh meat, poultry, and seafood, rather than processed varieties. Avoid fresh meat and poultry that has salt water or a saline solution added.
- Watch your veggies
Buy fresh, frozen (no sauce or seasoning), or low sodium or no-salt-added canned vegetables.
- Give sodium the “rinse”
Rinse sodium-containing canned foods, such as beans, tuna, and vegetables before eating. This removes some of the sodium.
- “Unsalt” your snacks
Choose low sodium or no-salt-added nuts, seeds, and snack products (such as chips and pretzels) or have carrot or celery sticks instead.
- Consider your condiments
Choose light or reduced sodium condiments, add oil and vinegar to salads rather than bottled dressings, and use only a small amount of seasoning from flavoring packets instead of the entire packet. (One tablespoon of soy sauce contains about 1,000 mg. of sodium, for example.)
- Reduce your portion size
Less food means less sodium. Prepare smaller portions at home and consume less when eating out—choose smaller sizes, split an entrée with a friend, or take-home part of your meal.
- Make lower-sodium choices at restaurants
Ask for your meal to be prepared without table salt and request that sauces and salad dressings are served “on the side,” then use less of them. You can also ask if nutrition information is available and then choose options that are lower in sodium.
Read Labels Carefully
The FDA also recommends that shoppers look carefully at salt/sodium claims on food packaging and avoid products with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving or 20% daily value per serving. Here’s what sodium claims mean:
- Sodium-free or salt-free. Each serving in this product contains less than 5 mg of sodium.
- Very low sodium. Each serving contains 35 mg of sodium or less.
- Low sodium. Each serving contains 140 mg of sodium or less.
- Reduced or less sodium. The product contains at least 25% less sodium than the regular version.
- Lite or light in sodium. The sodium content has been reduced by at least 50% from the regular version.
- Unsalted or no salt added. No salt is added during processing of a food that normally contains salt. However, some foods with these labels may still be high in sodium because some of the ingredients may be high in sodium.
Dietitians note that salt is an acquired/developed taste that can be changed. They recommend cutting back on salt gradually and using salt-free seasonings to adjust the taste of foods, adding that in time our taste buds will change and crave less saltiness in our foods.
“Cutting back on sodium consumption will can help improve heart health,” Dr. Mufuka said. “Every step we take to improve our cardiovascular health offers the opportunity for us to live a longer, healthier life.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.
For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.