Here we are, on the dreaded Monday after the Superbowl. With the sodium bloat from all of the chicken wings, pizza, various forms of cheese, chips and dip, and soda it’s amazing we were able to pry ourselves out of bed this morning! Today not only marks a day of nation-wide sick calls and diet shame, it also marks the start of the second week of American Heart Month! So on that note, we’d like to talk to you about sodium. The favorite word of anyone with heart disease or at risk of developing it! Or not so much…
The majority of people are well aware that sodium is bad for you. But do you understand why? Let’s take a look at what sodium is, what it does in your body, and how we can limit it in our diets to improve our cardiovascular health.
So sodium is bad they say? In the right amounts it’s actually a necessary mineral responsible for fluid balance, nerve impulses and muscle function. However, the average body only needs about 500 mg of it per day to sustain body function. Sodium in excess draws fluid into the bloodstream, causing increased blood volume and increased blood pressure as a result. High blood pressure over time damages the blood vessels and wears out the heart from pumping against greater resistance.
Okay, so that’s what it does, but where does it come from?
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), about 75% of the sodium we eat comes from processed or prepackaged foods and restaurant foods. I remember once hearing that as long as you don’t add additional salt at the table, you’re golden. How I wish it were true. Only about 10% comes from added salt during home preparation or from the salt shaker. The remaining ~15% of sodium intake is found naturally in foods. Added sodium serves the purpose to not only flavor, but also to preserve foods. This is why one should be wary of food items that are precooked and require little preparation, especially those that do not require refrigeration. The AHA recommends the general population take in no more than 1,500 mg sodium per day (This number does not apply to individuals who lose high amounts of sodium in sweat such as competitive athletes or workers exposed to excessive heat). To put this into perspective, this is less than 3/4 teaspoon of table salt. Ready for more bad news? About 90% of the population consumes too much sodium, with an average of 3,400 mg per day. Also, when asked to estimate, the majority of people drastically underestimate their intake.
Sometimes it is hard to see the benefit of following these guidelines, especially if blood pressure is not a current personal concern. So look at it this way, one study estimated that if the recommendations were followed, 500,000 to nearly 1.2 million deaths from cardiovascular diseases could be avoided over the next decade. This would be due to a 25.6% overall decrease in blood pressure which would save an estimated $26.2 billion in health care savings (decreased insurance coverage cost sound good to anyone?).
How can you reduce your intake of sodium?
Start with nutrition labels. You’d be surprised just how much sodium some of your favorite packaged foods include. And don’t fall victim to marketing ploys that present “diet” foods in convenient prepacked 100 calorie packs or low fat varieties. Some foods that are made to be low fat and still taste good are loaded with salt to make up the difference.
When rummaging through my own cupboards I was interested to see how some of my pantry items stacked up. To start, my wheat thins that I view as my healthier snack alternative had 230 mg of sodium per serving (16 crackers). This is compared to the 160 mg in 11 potato chips! This doesn’t seem right, as potato chips taste way more salty. But this is why reading labels are so crucial in taking your first steps to limit your intake. Another surprising find involved frozen vegetables. Asparagus is a must in our household, and so as a result I have 3 different brands of frozen asparagus in my freezer. It shouldn’t be surprising that the can of green beans in the cupboard houses 290 mg of sodium per serving, however, I was surprised that although two brands of asparagus in my freezer had 0 mg of sodium, one had 85 mg. Why is there sodium in plain frozen veggies? Moving on I was disappointed to see the 610 mg of sodium in my lean cuisine, a product marketed for health living. I wasn’t surprised to find that the product in my pantry that contained the most sodium was the canned soup, at 850 mg. Canned soup is one of the “salty six” foods identified by the AHA as contributing the most to the out of control salt consumption in America. The other five foods include bread, cold cuts/cured meats, pizza, poultry and sandwiches.
By limiting these foods, a huge dent can be made in the salt intake mound. Other preparation recommendations include; substituting salt with other seasonings like onions and garlic, vinegar and citrus; draining canned beans and vegetables; cooking by grilling, braising, roasting, searing and sauteing to bring out flavor; and incorporating foods higher in potassium into your diet to take the place of sodium. For a full list of the AHA’s recommendations on how to Break Up With Salt visit their website by clicking here.
Thanks for checking in for this week’s education update. Stop back next week for our blog about heart failure!
For more information about sodium and heart disease, visit the AHA’s Sodium 411 website directly at http://sodiumbreakup.heart.org/sodium-411/.