Salt has received a bad rap. Or has it? The American Heart Association and 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend reducing your sodium intake to less than 2300 mg per day. For high risk populations and individuals over 51 years of age, a further reduction to less than 1500 mg per day is recommended. Do you know how much sodium is in a single teaspoon of salt? (2325 mg of sodium per teaspoon) How much sodium does an American actually consumer per day? (Approximately 3436mg per day)
However, research studies are ambiguous regarding whether sodium is detrimental to our health. Experts cannot even fully agree whether we actually need to be so restrictive. A few studies suggest that limiting sodium in the diet helps reduce high blood pressure and risk for cardiovascular disease. What should we believe or even practice?
First and foremost, higher sodium products are more processed; therefore, the nutritional content is compromised. Although sodium accentuates the flavor of foods, other spices can be even more flavorful and provide health promoting phytochemicals in the diet. Sodium content is also very high in processed meats, which should be avoided according the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). Furthermore, sodium displaces potassium in processed products, reducing a valuable dietary mineral that is healthful. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet promotes a diet rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium for management of blood pressure. These blood pressure lowering minerals are provided by eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean protein.
Although sodium is an essential electrolyte (mineral) needed by the body, it is not one we need in large amounts. There is no health advantage to extra sodium or salt. If you are an avid exerciser though, then you may need a bit more than the average person. For the average person, it would not be harmful to follow the current recommendations. Your diet will be more healthful by selecting lower sodium foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats.
For sodium sensitive individuals (like myself), it is imperative that you follow the guidelines to reduce your bloat and control your blood pressure. High blood pressure or hypertension is a silent killer affecting 1 out of every 3 Americans, while prehypertension (precursor or warning sign) affects close to another 30% of Americans. The CDC reports that following the sodium guidelines would reduce the incidence of hypertension and subsequent annual health care dollars spent on treating it. Isn’t watching your sodium intake worth it?
-Larissa Brophy, MS, RD, LD