By Lois Miller, RN, BSN, Cardiac Rehabilitation
When you sit down to a meal and reach for the salt, you might think all you’re doing is adding a touch of flavor. In reality, you might be hurting your body by eating something you already get too much of: sodium.
The common thought is that salt and sodium are the same thing, but they are actually different. Sodium is a mineral that occurs naturally in food, and more is often added to food when it is processed and prepared. Salt is a combination of sodium and chloride. One tsp of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium.
The American Heart Association recommends that we take in no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day, and the ideal limit is 1,500 mg a day for most adults. If you have known heart disease, that number may be even lower.
We need sodium to survive. It is necessary for muscle contraction, nerve transmissions and to control systems for balancing bodily fluids, but there is a great divide in the amount we need and the amount we take in daily.
We only need 500 mg of sodium (less that 1 tsp.) a day, but the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg daily. In fact, the American Heart Association says that 9 out of 10 Americans take in too much sodium.
More than 70 percent of our sodium intake comes from packaged, prepared or restaurant food, and when that food arrives at our table, we add more salt.
Sodium pulls water into blood vessels, increasing the volume of blood in them. With more blood volume, the blood pressure rises. High blood pressure may injure the blood vessel walls, and it will speed the buildup of plaque that can block blood flow. Added pressure tires the heart, forcing it to work harder. Over time, the extra work and pressure can stiffen blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, heart failure and stroke, along with dementia and kidney disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 1 in 3 American adults have high blood pressure, and more youth are also falling victim to this condition. High blood pressure puts you at an increased risk for heart disease and stroke, which are two of the top causes of death for Americans.
Too much sodium can also lead to fluid retention, which causes bloating and weight gain but could also lead to more serious problems such as swelling of the legs and feet and other health problems.
The only way to lower your sodium intake is by being mindful of what you eat. Sodium is a master of sneaking into your diet in less obvious ways.
Here’s a breakdown of some popular foods and how much sodium they have on average per serving, according to Healthline.
- Bagel – 400 mg
- Baked beans, 1/2 cup – 524 mg
- Beef broth, 8 oz. – 782 mg
- Canned soup – 700 mg
- Cold cut meats, 2 oz. – 497 mg
- Cottage cheese – 350 mg
- Flour tortilla, 8-inch – 391 mg
- Frozen pizza, one slice – 765 mg
- Hot dog – 578 mg
- Salad dressing, 2 Tbsp. – 304 mg
- Soy sauce, 1 Tbsp. – 1,024 mg
Finally, check out these tips on how to keep track of the sodium in your diet:
- Many people season their food before tasting it. Try to avoid picking up that salt shaker when you sit down to eat. Be creative with other seasonings such as garlic, ginger, spices, herbs and pepper.
- Read ingredient labels when grocery shopping. Food is considered low-sodium if it has 150 mg or less per serving. It is considered high-sodium if it has 400 mg or more per serving.
- Salt and sodium are often used interchangeably, but they are not quite the same thing. Therefore, food can be labeled as having no added salt, but it could still have sodium, so be sure to check the label.
- Cook from scratch more often, and you can greatly reduce your sodium intake. For instance, one 8 oz. can of tomato juice can have 405 mg of sodium whereas one small tomato only has about 11 mg.
- When you can, buy fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. If you do buy canned foods such as tuna or vegetables, rinsing them with water can get rid of a lot of the added sodium.