The Cost of Salt in Your Diet
How dangerous is sodium, and is the amount you’re eating too much? That’s a major health question that is still being debated among nutrition scientists. While some say a diet high in sodium poses greater heart risks, others claim the greater danger comes from recommending less salt than your body requires.
So who is right? It’s hard to say, as much of the information in this ongoing controversy is still being determined. Here are a few things that are widely agreed upon.
Extra salt draws more water into your blood stream, and this increases blood pressure, also called “hypertension.” That’s worrying because hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease, the no. 1 killer worldwide.
One in three American adults suffers from high blood pressure. As we age that percentage rises astronomically, with some 90% of us expected to develop high blood pressure at some point in our lives.
How Much Do We Eat?
According to new US health standards, anyone over age 2 should be eating no more than 2,400 mg of sodium each day as part of a 2,000-calorie diet. However, men over the age of 20 are eating about 4,100 mg on average, and women over 20 eat about 3,000 mg.
US standards for men and women over age 50 are stricter, as this population is more at risk of high blood pressure. Adults over age 50 are recommended no more than 1,500 mg of sodium each day. But they’re eating a lot more—between 2,200 mg and 4,000 mg each day on average, depending on the demographic.
Where’s it all coming from? The vast majority of our sodium comes from processed, prepared, and packaged foods, either at home or in restaurants. In fact, only 6% comes from the salt shaker.
How Dangerous Is Salt?
Some nutritionists and researchers have concluded that the dangers of a high-sodium diet have been over-emphasized. The Institute of Medicine looked at several studies related to the saltiness of American diets. These researchers concluded that there was no reason to lower the recommended daily allowance either for the general population or for those at risk of hypertension. They further concluded that lowering sodium too much could leave a person vulnerable to other health risks.
To make matters more complicated, some individuals are especially salt-sensitive. These people see their blood pressure rise and fall more dramatically based on the sodium in their diets. That would be fine if there were a convenient test to determine who is who. But there’s no such test available right now.
Salt is a necessary mineral required for daily health. It lets your body’s muscles relax, it allows your nerves to send signals, and it keeps your body’s fluids in balance.
When your diet becomes saltier, the excess is flushed away by your kidneys. But when the kidneys can’t get rid of the excess, it accumulates in your body fluid, requiring more water which increases your blood volume. This leads to a heavier load on your heart that over time can stiffen your arteries and raise your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack.
This article will show you many of the everyday foods where sodium tends to hide. Becoming familiar with these foods—along with a few tips for avoiding them—will help you take better care of your heart’s health, and the health of your family.