Salt Lake County Health Department
Sodium and Blood Pressure
Salt is a mineral made of the electrolytes known as sodium and Chloride. We need electrolytes to retain water, and to send signals across our nerves allowing our muscles to move. Sodium is needed to maintain blood volume, blood pressure, and help the kidneys to clean our blood. But getting too much sodium can raise blood pressure which increases risk of heart attack, stroke, and can even result in death.
How much do we need?
We measure the sodium we get from our diet in milligrams (mg). Just one teaspoon of table salt has 2,300 mg of sodium, which is almost double the recommended daily amount. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), we should be getting less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. This can be pretty difficult to do when the average American consumes 3,400 mg daily. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that if all Americans reduced their sodium intake by 1,200 mg a day it could prevent up to 99,000 heart attacks and 66,000 strokes every year.
Where do we get sodium?
Sodium comes in almost everything we eat because it occurs naturally in most foods like table salt, milk and celery. Generally animal meats will contain more sodium than fruits and vegetables do. Even drinking water contains some levels of sodium. Sodium is often added to give flavor and it is also useful in preserving food.
Some foods that are particularly high in sodium include soy sauce, processed meats, canned soups and vegetables, frozen foods, and soda. This is one reason it’s generally healthier to eat freshly prepared food. Fast food is generally very high in sodium, including the healthy options like chicken salads and soups.
So how do we reduce sodium intake?Here are a few simple tips:
Tip #1 - Think about what you eat– (gasp!)
Some might call it a diet. We like to think of it as intuitive eating. We don’t need to completely restrict ourselves with complicated rules that are hard to follow. Besides, as we discussed above we do actually NEED some sodium to survive. Just being conscious of and recognizing where we are getting to much sodium from can give us power to make small changes and make smarter choices.
Tip #2 - Track your Sodium
A good place to start is to find out how much sodium you are currently getting in your diet. This
tracker from the American Heart Association is a very helpful tool you can use to see where you are at currently on your daily intake. Try it a couple of days to get a good idea, then identify where you can cut back a little.
Tip #3 - Read the Label
It isn’t too difficult to turn the packaging around and identify the amount of sodium contained per serving. Compare Nutrition Facts labels on food labels for Percent Daily Value or amount of sodium in milligrams This link will show how to easily do this and what to look for:
Reduce Sodium Intake by Reading the Label
Tip #4 - Shop Smart
When you are grocery shopping be conscious of the different options available. For instance stick to fresh foods over canned and packaged options that are more likely to contain higher sodium for preservation, especially in processed meats. Look for options with reduced or lowered sodium.
Tip #5 - When Eating Out
Even though eating out at restaurants and fast food joints is generally going to have more sodium, we don’t have to completely remove eating out, just do it smarter! It is worth it to find out what is in the food you are eating, whether searching online beforehand or asking your server for more information. Some restaurants will even have a printed sheet with the nutrition facts for menu items. You can also ask that no salt be added to your meal, then just watch out for the hidden sodium sources like salad dressings and soda.
Here is a re-cap from the CDC:
- American Heart Association. (2015, January 1). Sodium and Salt. Retrieved February 3, 2015, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Sodium-Salt-or-Sodium-Chloride_UCM_303290_Article.jsp
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013, November 22). Salt Matters: Preserving Choice, Protecting Health. Retrieved February 3, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/cdctv/SaltMatters5/
- Food and Drug Administration. (2014, February 1). Reduce Sodium Intake By Using the Nutrition Facts Label. Retrieved February 3, 2015, from http://www.multivu.com/mnr/65492-u-s-fda-reduce-sodium-intake-by-using-the-nutrition-facts-label
- National Institute of Health. (2015, January 15). Sodium in diet: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 3, 2015, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002415.htm