Sodium is a mineral that’s essential for life. It’s regulated by your kidneys, and it helps control your body’s fluid balance. It also helps send nerve impulses and affects muscle function. So, if it is essential, why could it be harmful at the same time?  

Much of the research that questions sodium intake and health problems relies on flawed data, including inaccurate measurements of sodium intake and an overemphasis on studying sick people rather than the general population. Often, the studies with paradoxical findings are poorly designed to examine the relationship between sodium intake and the health outcome of interest. The American Heart Association published a Science Advisory in February 2014 that discussed the problems with many of the studies that question how sodium is related to heart disease.

Looking into the question of what the potential health impact could be if salt intake is reduced?

We would save both money and lives. By dropping the minimum salt intake per day, it would have the spiral effect of lower blood pressure, less medical intervention required and ultimately less Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). 

Let us have a look at this mineral in a bit more detail.

Where does sodium come from?

Table salt is a combination of two minerals — about 40% sodium and 60% chloride.

Here are the approximate amounts of sodium in a given amount of salt:

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

More than 70% of the sodium we consume comes from packaged, prepared – and restaurant foods. The rest of the sodium in our diet hails naturally from food (about 15 percent) or is added when we’re cooking food or sitting down to eat (about 11 percent).  So, even if you never use the salt shaker, you’re probably consuming too much sodium.

Because most of the sodium you eat is in your food before you buy it, it can be hard to limit how much you’re digesting daily. 

How does sodium affect my heart?

When there’s extra sodium in your bloodstream, it draws water into your blood vessels, increasing the total amount (volume) of blood inside them. With more blood flowing through your blood vessels, blood pressure increases. Think about it as turning up the water supply to a garden hose — the pressure in the hose increases as more water is blasted through it.

Over time, high blood pressure may overstretch or injure the blood vessel walls and speed the build-up of plaque that can block blood flow. The added pressure tires out the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood through the body. And the extra water in your body can lead to bloating and weight gain.

High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because its symptoms are not always obvious. It’s one of the major risk factors for heart disease, the number one killer worldwide. Ninety percent of American adults are expected to develop high blood pressure over their lifetime.

Recent research explains that certain factors may influence how your blood pressure changes when you eat salt, such as:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Some medical conditions (like diabetes or chronic kidney disease)

Even if you don’t already have high blood pressure, eating less sodium can help curb the rise in blood pressure that occurs with age.  It can also reduce your risk of a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and even incidents of headaches.

How much salt should I have per day? 

The Heart Foundation recommends as a daily maximum amount 5g of salt (2000mg sodium) which is about a teaspoon. It is important to remember that all types of salt, including pink Himalayan, rock salt, black salt, table salt and sea salt contain the same amount of sodium. Sodium is the part of salt that can be damaging to health. 

What foods are high in salt? 

Processed and packaged foods are responsible for most of the salt people eat. You may find this surprising, as some of these foods don’t even taste salty.  
Foods that significantly contribute to high levels of sodium in your diet include: 

·       Biscuits, muffins, cakes, sauces, pizza, burgers, pasta and noodle dishes  

·       Meat, poultry, and related products, including processed meats like ham and bacon and sausages 

·       Bread, breakfast foods, and other products made from cereals and grains.

·       Condiments and sauces like mayonnaise, ketchup and others are all laden with hidden salts and sugars 

·       Fresh foods like fruit and vegetables also contain salt but in very low quantities.    

How do I reduce salt in my diet? 

Salt reduction can be achieved by incorporating the following practices into your daily eating habits.   

      1. Eat more vegetables

The best way to reduce the salt in your diet is to base your diet around fresh and unprocessed foods, especiallyvegetables and fruit. These foods are naturally low in salt and can help improve heart health.    

2. Use herbs and spices instead of salt

Add extra flavour to food during cooking with a variety of delicious herbs and spices. These can also replace your salt shaker on the dining table. 

3. Cook at home

Take-away food and food bought out of the home are often high in salt. Preparing and cooking your food is a good way to reduce salt as you are in control of how much salt is added and can choose ingredients reduced in salt.   

4. Read labels

Many packaged and processed foods contain hidden salt, so it’s important to read the label and find out how much is inside. On the nutrition information panel, look at the “per 100g” column to compare products and try to choose an option with lower sodium.

But I am still not sure how to manage my salt

Do not fret!  Our team of cardiologists are on standby to answer any questions you still may have about sodium or your heart health.  We can answer these and other health related questions during your consultation and by providing an individualized treatment plan.  We are committed to our patients!

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