One of the commonly cited contributing factors to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke is the excessive sodium in our diets. As Americans, we ingest far more on an average day than even the recommended limit of 2300 mg (about 1 teaspoon of table salt). In fact, our country’s eating habits put the average person at over 3200 mg of sodium per day when the recommended level is actually only 1500 mg/day – even if you’re a very active person and especially if you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure or heart disease!
Unfortunately the problem is not so much the salt we add to our home-cooked meals, it’s all of the sodium coming from the processed and prepackaged foods we’re eating while on the go or when dining out at a restaurant (something to think about if the first thing you do when your plate hits the table is reach for the saltshaker). So even if you don’t add any salt to your food, chances are you’re already eating too much.
How Can I Reduce Sodium?
Probably the easiest way to reduce your sodium intake is to eat more food made at home. But be wary, as many foods you buy in the grocery store probably contain a lot more sodium than you may think. Canned soups and sandwich meats are notorious for their sodium content, so be sure to check the nutrition labels to find out just how much each product contains.
Strike A Balance With Potassium
Of course, eliminating sodium can turn out to be too much of a good thing, so to speak. Your body actually needs sodium to help it regulate its fluid levels, so cutting it out completely can throw the system way off kilter. Insufficient sodium triggers water retention and can lead to Hyponatremia, symptoms of which include muscle cramps, nausea, and even confusion provoked by the excess fluid causing swelling in the brain.
As is so often the case, what you eat directly affects your body and its functions. Potassium is the key to balancing your body’s sodium levels and (surprise!) most of us don’t get enough of that in our daily diet, either. So if you find cutting back on salt to be difficult, add more bananas, broccoli, spinach, and beans to your menu. Studies have shown that low potassium is just as bad as high sodium and both can lead to high blood pressure. So find the happy medium to lower your risk of heart disease - eat your vegetables and cut back on the processed foods.