Written by Susan Schachter, MSRDN
February is American Heart Month, a national observance that’s meant to remind people around the country to focus on their hearts and promote better heart health within their communities. And as you know, normalizing your blood pressure is of major importance to your heart health.
But as most of us know, one key component of blood pressure normalization is our sodium intake.
Simply put, sodium is everywhere—it’s in our packaged and prepared foods, fast foods, condiments, even some salads! So why is it so inescapable?
Well, that’s because it’s important. Sodium helps keep a balance of pressure between the inside and outside of our cells. It’s also necessary for nerve conduction and muscle contraction.
But even though it’s important to get sodium in your diet, it’s even more important that you ingest it in the right amount!
After all, sodium itself doesn’t cause high blood pressure, but in excess it can contribute to the condition. Water is attracted to sodium, so the water moves towards the sodium in our bloodstream and increases the total volume of blood. To circulate this increased blood volume, the heart has to pump harder. This increases the pressure in the arteries… which results in high blood pressure.
This is a problem, because even though sodium is crucial for life, most Americans consume way too much sodium.
WHAT’S THE APPROPRIATE AMOUNT OF SODIUM TO CONSUME?
If you have high blood pressure, the appropriate amount of sodium consumption is no more than 1500 mg a day. But according to the Centers for Disease Control, about 90% of Americans 2 years old or older consume too much sodium. The average daily amount consumed is 3400mg.
Additionally, most of the sodium you consume is not from the saltshaker on your kitchen table; instead, it sneaks its way into your diet, hiding out in places you had no idea it existed.
Here are some of its favorite S-NEAKY places in which it hides:
- Soups (particularly canned and dried mixes)
- Sauces (ketchup, bottled sauces, dried mixes)
- Smoked meats and fish
- Sauerkraut and pickled foods
- Sodium processed deli/luncheon meats (salami, bologna, turkey, corned beef, ham, bacon)
- Snack chips and crackers (corn chips, potato chips, pretzels, peanuts, crackers)
- Seasonings (yeast extract, monosodium glutamate, mustard, Adobo, Accent)
- Sweetener- Sodium Saccharin (Sweet and Low)
- Some medications (over the counter and prescription)
- Soda (regular and diet)
AS WELL AS….
- Packaged foods
- Frozen entrées
- Canned/jarred vegetables, beans, sauces, olives
- Processed foods
- Ready-to-eat cereals
- Canned tuna
So, where do we start?
First, when you’re shopping, be sure to check serving sizes and servings per container. I had a client who purchased a packaged corn muffin whose label stated that it had 295mg of sodium per serving. Most of us would assume that a serving would be the whole muffin, but the label stated that a serving is ½ muffin. Ridiculous, right? Who eats half a muffin? That client didn’t read the label carefully and consumed close to 600mg of sodium in that one muffin—close to half of what they should have consumed for the entire day.
Secondly, read labels carefully! These terms will help you know how much sodium any given product contains:
- 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.
What the other sodium label claims mean
- Reduced or less sodium. The product contains at least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version.
- Lite or light in sodium. The sodium content has been reduced by at least 50 percent 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.
Also, as you might imagine, fresh foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, lean proteins (not deli meats), whole grains, unsalted nuts/seeds should fill up most of your plate.
So despite the fact that sodium is everywhere, these tips—when combined with the proper amount of vigilance—should make it hard for sodium to sneak past you in the future.
Next time we’ll take a look at the importance of consuming potassium in food (not supplements!) as well as the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).