NDSU Extension Service - Mercer County

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Toss the Salt for Better Heart Health

sodium, salt, hypertension, reducing sodium in the diet, heart health

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

Sodium has crept into our diets throughout the years, and the typical American diet is very high in sodium.

However, consuming too much can raise blood pressure. If not controlled, hypertension (high blood pressure) can be detrimental to many organs in your body and raises the risk of heart disease and stroke. Monitoring sodium intake can help control blood pressure and lower your risk for developing its complications.

The average American diet includes 3,000 to 3,600 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day. Health organizations recommend that we consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily. That is equal to about 1 teaspoon of salt. For those with hypertension, the recommendation is 1,500 mg per day. This total includes the sodium found in all foods eaten throughout day, not just added table salt.

Sodium has an effect on blood pressure and fluid retention, so reducing sodium intake can help control high blood pressure. Pairing a low-sodium diet with a medication can help lower blood pressure even more than with medication alone.

In a healthy person, keeping sodium intake under the recommended level can prevent fluid retention and high blood pressure. Anyone can benefit from reducing sodium in their diet.

Tips for reducing sodium in the diet:

  • Check food labels for sodium and compare with other similar foods.
  • Buy fresh, frozen or “no salt added” canned vegetables.
  • Avoid the salt shaker while cooking and at the table.
  • Use salt-free seasonings such as herbs and spices to add flavor.
  • Be cautious of convenience foods such as frozen dinners and prepackaged mixes. These foods often are high in sodium.
  • Canned soups and dinners are high in sodium. Look for lower-sodium varieties, or make your meals at home to have control over the ingredients.
  • Rinse canned foods (vegetables, beans, tuna, etc.) to remove excess sodium.
  • Avoid processed meats such as deli meat, sausage, bacon and hot dogs.
  • Research menu items’ sodium content online and ask for your meal to be made without added salt at restaurants.
  • Be aware of sodium in products (some antacids and baking soda) that you might not expect.

You may find that cutting sodium out of your diet is difficult if you are used to adding salt and enjoy its flavor. Did you know that the flavor of salt is an acquired taste? Your body takes about six to eight weeks to get used to lower-sodium foods.

If you reduce salt intake gradually, through time, salty foods will taste much saltier. Foods will have good taste without the salt, and your taste buds will adjust.

Check out the “Nourishing Boomers and Beyond” website at www.ndsu.edu/boomers for more information about staying healthy. It includes a free monthly newsletter and online educational resources.

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., NDSU food and nutrition specialist

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