Sodium is an essential mineral that plays a key role in maintaining proper fluid balance in the body and helps regulate blood pressure. However, consuming too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
The standard American diet tends to be high in sodium, and many people consume more sodium than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams. This can be a concern for people with high blood pressure or those at risk for developing it. It is important to monitor sodium intake and consider reducing it to help maintain a healthy blood pressure.
What Are the Health Risks of Too Much Sodium?
Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When your blood pressure is high, it can cause damage to the blood vessels in your heart, brain, and kidneys. This damage can lead to heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.
Excess sodium can also contribute to the development of osteoporosis and kidney stones. Sodium can also cause water retention, which can lead to swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet, and affect breathing.
Elevated sodium intake also has been linked to an increased risk for stomach cancer, kidney cancer, and kidney failure.
It is important to monitor sodium intake, and aim to consume less than the recommended limit of 2,300 milligrams per day, with ideal intake being below 1500mg. It is also recommended to get your blood pressure checked regularly, and if it's high, talk to your doctor about ways to lower it.
Where is Most of the Sodium in Our Diet?
Most of the sodium in the American diet comes from processed foods, such as canned soups, frozen dinners, salted snacks, and fast food. These foods often contain high amounts of added salt, which can contribute significantly to the overall sodium intake.
Other sources of sodium include:
- Deli meats, bacon, and hot dogs
- Cheese, especially processed cheese
- Bread and bakery products
- Sauces, such as soy sauce, barbecue sauce, and salad dressing
- Canned vegetables and tomato products
- Pickles, olives, and other pickled foods
- Condiments, such as mustard and ketchup
It's also worth noting that naturally occurring sodium is found in some foods like milk, beets, celery, and seafood, but these foods typically provide a small portion of the sodium in our diet. Reading the nutrition labels on food products can also help identify the amount of sodium in a food.
It is also important to be mindful of the sodium content of food when eating out, as restaurant and fast food meals can be very high in sodium.
Pro Tip: Opt to cook some of your favorite foods at home, like family-favorite pizzas or soul-satisfying chilis or stews but be sure to use low-sodium bases to start with.
Sodium and Your Arteries
Too much sodium can have a negative impact on the health of our artery walls. When we consume excessive amounts of sodium, it can cause an increase in blood pressure. This increase in pressure can cause the artery walls to become thickened and stiff, which is known as arteriosclerosis.
The increased pressure on the artery walls can cause the walls to weaken and become more susceptible to damage. This can lead to the formation of small tears in the inner lining of the artery, which can attract cholesterol and other substances that can build up and form plaques. This process is called atherosclerosis, and it can make the artery walls less flexible, which makes it harder for blood to flow through them.
When these plaques become large enough, they can block or narrow the artery, which can restrict the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart and other organs. This can lead to a host of problems such as chest pain, heart attack, stroke, and kidney damage.
In addition, high levels of sodium can also lead to inflammation in the blood vessels which can contribute to the development of plaques and blood clots.
It's important to keep in mind that maintaining a plant-based diet and lifestyle, including reducing the intake of sodium and saturated fats, being physically active, not smoking, and maintaining healthy weight, can help to reduce the risk of developing arteriosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases.
Pro Tip: Avoid overly processed foods when possible, and instead opt for fresh plant-based items. When you need pre-packaged foods, be sure to seek out plant-based items that are low in sodium.
Plants for Your Health!
A plant-based diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, can help reduce sodium intake because these foods are naturally low in sodium. Plant-based diets also tend to be rich in potassium, which can help balance the effects of sodium on blood pressure.
Fruits and vegetables are typically low in sodium and high in potassium, which can help to lower blood pressure. Whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, and oats, are also naturally low in sodium and provide important nutrients such as fiber, vitamin B, and minerals.
Legumes, such as lentils, beans and peas, are also an excellent source of plant-based protein and are low in sodium. Nuts and seeds like almonds, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds are also naturally low in sodium and high in healthy fats.
When following a plant-based diet, it's still important to be mindful of processed foods and condiments, as they can still be high in sodium. When shopping, check the labels and look for low-sodium options, and when cooking, try to use herbs, spices and citrus juices for flavor instead of relying on salt.
A plant-based diet can help in reducing the sodium intake by providing a variety of naturally low sodium options, but also by encouraging the consumption of foods that can help balance the effects of sodium on blood pressure.
The best way to read labels for sodium content is to look for the "sodium" or "Na" listing on the nutrition facts panel. The amount of sodium will be listed in milligrams (mg) per serving. It's also important to pay attention to the serving size, as a food that appears low in sodium per serving may actually be high in sodium if you eat more than the recommended serving size.
Another important thing to look for is the % Daily Value (DV) of sodium. The daily value is based on a 2,300 mg daily limit of sodium intake, which is the upper limit recommended for most adults. 5% or less is considered low and 20% or more is considered high.
When comparing different products, it's also helpful to use the "per 100g" column to compare the sodium content in similar products.
It is also important to be aware of the terms like "light in sodium" or "reduced sodium" which can be misleading, as they may still be high in sodium compared to the regular version. It's also important to look out for other terms such as "sea salt" or "rock salt" as they are not lower in sodium than regular table salt.
It's also important to be mindful of other sources of sodium, such as sauces, condiments, and dressings, as they can add a significant amount of sodium to your diet. It can be helpful to make your own condiments and dressings at home using herbs, spices, and citrus juice instead of relying on store-bought options.
Pro Tip: Just because something claims to be “low sodium” doesn’t mean it is. Read the label!