We have all heard the hazards of a high sodium diet, but few us can actually put a number on what ‘high sodium’ means. While some foods have naturally occurring sodium, we need to be more wary of the salt we add at the table and that which we buy in a package from the food store. This post isn’t just for those with high blood pressure. It’s for all of us. Sure, sodium is an important, essential mineral for proper human functioning. The trouble lies in the fact that most of us over-consume sodium and we barely have to lift a salt shaker to do so.
The slippery slope of high blood pressure is a scary one. In a 2009 article from the Journal of Human Hypertension, authors He, J. and MacGregor, G. report elevated blood pressure accounts for 62% of strokes and 49% of coronary heart disease. Hypertension isn’t just reserved for those bear-guzzeling, burger-eating, cigarette-smoking 70-plusers. Even if you eat a relatively healthy diet, genetics, gender, stress, cholesterol levels, physical activity and weight status also have a lot to do your risk for developing heart disease (and let’s not forget smoking status). According to The American Heart Association, the start of plaque development can start during childhood and adolescence . Don’t kid yourself, it’s never too early to start protecting that beautiful, blood-pumping muscle found inside your chest.
Decoding Labels: Just because a label can read ‘Low Sodium’, does not mean it’s actually low in sodium. Confused? Don’t be. Below are the FDA’s definitions for sodium label claims.
“Sodium-Free” or “Salt-Free” = Less than 5 mg of sodium per labeled serving
“Very Low Sodium”/”Very Low Salt” = 35 mg or less of sodium per serving
“Low Sodium” or “Low Salt” = 140 mg or less of sodium per serving
“Reduced Sodium” or “Reduced Salt” = At least 25 percent less sodium per serving than a similar product
“Lightly Salted” or “Light in Sodium” = At least 50 percent less sodium per serving than a similar product
“No Salt Added” or “Unsalted” = This means the food doesn’t have any extra salt, not that it is totally salt-free
The American Heart Association recommends eating less than 1500mg of sodium per day.
Milligram Rule: My general rule of thumb to patients when it comes to deciphering a low sodium food from a high sodium food is this: if it contains over 300mg of sodium per serving, don’t buy it. And just because it has less than 300mg per serving, doesn’t mean you get to consume two servings in one sitting. #RDRULES. I really don’t have rules, they’re just good, strong guidelines. Need help reading a food label?
You’re welcome. Label reading is a whole other blog post…
Smart Shopping: Sticking to the perimeter of the food store is my last piece of advice for the sodium reducer. The inside aisles of the food store are where we get into the most trouble – it’s the land of canned goods and junk food. Think about it, the perimeter is always filled with naturally, low-sodium foods: fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy. Sure, you can still find your way into trouble, but you’ll already be ahead of the others.
PS – stop using salt at the table, 1 tsp of table salt = 2300mg of sodium. Chew on that, just not with added salt.
He, F.J. and G.A. MacGregor, A comprehensive review on salt and health and current experience of worldwide salt reduction programmes. J Hum Hypertens, 2009. 23(6): p. 363-84.