For the 77.9 million adults in the United States dealing with high blood pressure, controlling their sodium intake has turned into a matter of life and death. Contributing to 200,000 female deaths each year, high blood pressure has been named the leading risk factor for death in American women. On top of high blood pressure, too much sodium in our diet can result in various health complications, including type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, obesity, and certain types of cancer. The recommended daily allowance of sodium is 1,500 milligrams, although the average American consumes upward of 3,400 milligrams. Here are seven salty myths offered by the American Heart Association to help control the amount of sodium we include in our diet:
1. Eliminate Sodium Completely For Good Health
Too much sodium in our diet may not be good for our health, but eliminating our entire sodium intake can also have an undesirable effect on our physical well-being. For example, essential amounts of sodium help maintain our body’s fluid balance, transmit nerve impulses, and influence the contraction and relaxation of our muscles. Not getting an adequate amount of sodium in our diet can also result in hyponatremia, a condition caused by abnormally low levels of sodium in blood. As an electrolyte, sodium helps to regulate the amount of water in and around our cells. When sodium in our blood is diluted, water levels can rise and our cells will begin to swell.
2. Sea Salt Has Less Sodium Than Table Salt
While many sea salt advocates say this table salt substitute retains most of the essential minerals and nutrients that are lost to its salty cousin, its sodium content is no different. In fact, sea salt is made up of the same amount of sodium as table salt: 40 percent. Unfortunately, sea salt’s “all-natural” label is confusing American consumers as to how much they should be putting on their food. An AHA survey from 2011 revealed that 61 percent of respondents thought sea salt has less sodium than table salt. It’s important to note that minerals found in sea salt such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium can also be found in other common food sources.
“It’s very important for people to be aware that sea salt has as much sodium as table salt,” AHA representative, Dr. Rachel K. Johnson said in a statement. “One of the keys to maintaining a heart-healthy diet is to control your sodium intake,” she said. “If you’re consuming more sea salt than you otherwise would because you think it has less sodium, then you may be placing yourself at higher risk of developing high blood pressure, which raises your risk of heart disease.”
3. I Usually Don’t Use Salt In My Food, So I Don’t Eat Too Much Sodium
Just because we avoid using the saltshaker at most meals doesn’t mean we’re fully in control of our sodium intake. Over 75 percent of sodium in the average American’s diet comes from processed foods. When we’re walking up and down the aisles of our local grocery store, we may not realize that can of soup or bottle of salad dressing actually contains more than half of our daily recommended sodium intake per serving. That’s why it is important to turn that can or bottle around and read each product’s nutritional facts label to see how many milligrams of sodium each product contains. To be considered “low sodium” a product must contain no more than 140 milligrams per serving and remember, “unsalted” or “no salt added” does not mean “sodium free.”
4. High Levels Of Sodium Are Found Only In Food
It’s not only salty food we have to worry about. A lot of the over-the-counter medications at your local pharmacy also contain high levels of sodium. Keep a lookout for OTC medications that include a warning for people with high blood pressure. Some may contain all 1,500 milligrams of daily recommended sodium in one dose. It goes without saying, but always check the active and inactive ingredients on any medication bought at the pharmacy or supermarket, looking especially for words like “sodium” and “soda.” People with high blood pressure should consult their physicians before starting any new drug regimen, even OTC medications.
5. Lower Sodium Foods Have No Taste
Limiting the amount of sodium in our diet doesn’t necessarily mean limiting the amount of tasty food we eat. There are plenty of ways to add flavor to our meals without emptying the saltshaker. Adding spices, herbs, and citrus blends to a meal instead of salt can help control our daily sodium intake. After all, 65 percent of the sodium we consume on a daily basis comes from supermarkets and convenience store and 25 percent from restaurants. Fresh garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, vinegar, lemon juice, and low-sodium seasonings are just a few options to help limit the amount of sodium in the food we eat without compromising its taste.
6. My Blood Pressure Is Normal, So I Don’t Need To Worry About How Much Sodium I Eat
People who are currently free from high blood pressure concerns may think 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day doesn’t apply to them; however, hypertension isn’t the only health complications that comes with excess sodium consumption. Increasing sodium intake now just because we are not currently suffering from high blood pressure could mean complications when we get older. Controlling our sodium intake can significantly reduce our risk of developing hypertension and related conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease (the #1 cause of death in the U.S.).
7. I Don’t Eat A Lot Of Salty Food So I Don’t Eat Too Much Sodium
Cutting down on french fries, potato chips, and pretzels is a good start for controlling our sodium intake, but those aren’t the only types of food that contain an abundance of salt. Excess levels of sodium can be hiding in every corner of our refrigerator and pantry. Depending on preparation methods, poultry, bread, cheese, and soup are some of the common foods we eat that have enough sodium to increase our risk of hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Consider this next time you go to make a sandwich: Six thin slices of standard deli meat contains around half of our daily recommend sodium intake. Combine that with over 300 milligrams of sodium found in two slices of white bread and most of the sodium you're allowed each day is already accounted for.
“Sodium shows up in canned soups, salad dressings, and even products that don’t immediately come to mind when we think of ‘salty’ foods, such as pasta, bread and cereals,” Johnson explained. “Whether you’re walking down a grocery store aisle or ordering at your favorite restaurant, there are ways to limit sodium if you know what to look for.”