Sodium and Heart Health

February is known for Valentine’s Day, with heart-shaped cards and tiny heart candies. But the shape of your own heart comes into focus, as well, since February is American Heart month. On the first Friday of every February, the nation wears red and stands in solidarity with the common goal of eradicating stroke and heart disease. While Americans combat obesity, smoking, and sedentary lifestyles in an effort to guard their hearts, many people don’t know how closely excess sodium and heart health are linked. Excess sodium is linked to heart disease, and it’s found in most processed foods you buy on the shelf. It’s not about setting down the salt shaker- sodium is hiding in places you wouldn’t expect. Take a look at what sodium does to your heart and learn how to safely consume it.

How Sodium Is Used In Our Bodies

Sometimes sodium gets a bad rap, but at its core, it’s an essential mineral for our bodies. It helps control our body’s fluid and mineral balance, conduct nerve impulses, and contract and relax our muscles. It’s regulated by our kidneys, and in the proper amount, it’s a vital resource. That’s why when we’re dehydrated, doctors recommend fluids with sodium to restore the electrolyte balance. Most of our body’s sodium is located in our blood and around our cells, which is why it has a direct impact on our hearts. The trouble isn’t sodium itself, it’s the volume in which we consume it.

How Excess Sodium Can Harm Our Hearts

Kidneys have trouble managing excess sodium in the blood. As a result, when too much sodium accumulates, our bodies retain water to dilute it. That excess fluid is pulled into our blood vessels, which increases the volume of blood in our bloodstream. More blood volume means more work for our hearts and more pressure on our blood vessels. As a result, the blood vessels can begin to stiffen which leads to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and even heart failure. As blood vessels stretch to accommodate blood volume, they also allow more dangerous plaque to pass through. High blood pressure often has no symptoms, which is why it’s known as the silent killer, and 90% of Americans are at risk of developing high blood pressure. In addition, increasing evidence shows that excess sodium can damage the heart and kidneys even without increasing blood pressure- so there is no evidence until damage is done.

The Recommended Sodium Intake

Recommendations for Adequate Intake (AI) of sodium, meaning enough to prevent deficiency with consumption of nutritious foods that naturally contain sodium, is 1,500 milligrams a day for everyone 14 years of age and older. The Chronic Disease Risk Reduction Intake (CDRR) recommendation is a maximum of 2,300 milligrams a day in order to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. In other words, for healthy adults, it’s well established that you need sodium in your diet, but it should come from foods that naturally contain sodium, and should not exceed 2,300 milligrams (or less if you have certain health conditions). However, 90% of Americans consume more sodium than recommended- the average adult consumes 3,400 milligrams a day, more than twice the amount required. And almost 80% of that intake comes from prepackaged foods, where the sodium isn’t naturally occurring.

Ways to Reduce Sodium Intake

Americans are used to salting our food, in part because packaged products are laden with salt. Our taste buds have acclimated to excess sodium consumption due to the high levels of salt used to preserve manufactured food. But many healthy foods contain sodium in their natural makeup, without any added ingredients. We can and should retrain our taste buds to enjoy the flavor profile inherent in foods without dousing them with salt. The FDA is working to reduce allowed levels of sodium in modified foods, but until then, it’s up to the consumer to read labels.

The safest choice is to roll past the packaged foods in the grocery store and head to the perimeter, where natural foods are sold. But even meat from the butcher section can include hidden salt. Read the labels to look for words like “broth” and “sodium solution.” When possible, use fresh or frozen produce instead of canned, and rinse canned vegetables before using. Always compare condiments like sauces and salad dressings to find the one with the lowest salt. When dining out, ask for your meal to be prepared without added salt, and leave sauces on the side, so you can control the amount. Always taste your food before adding salt, so you don’t eat more than necessary.

Salt Substitutes for a Healthy Heart

If you think lowering sodium means your food will be bland, take heart, the world is full of other flavors. Herbs and spices are a great place to start. Use fresh herbs, or check labels on dried herbs for added sodium, sugar, or carbs. Here are some delicious ways to season food for a diet low in sodium.

  • Mexican Seasoning- Blend chili powder, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder for a spicy twist where you surely won’t miss the salt.
  • Chinese 5-Spice- Mix cinnamon, cloves, fennel, anise, and Szechuan peppercorn for an Asian flare that also works well as a BBQ spice rub.
  • Deli Seasoning- Summon the aroma of your favorite deli by dusting sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried garlic, and dried onion on your meats.
  • Adobo Seasoning- Add a Latin flair to your dishes by sprinkling garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and cayenne pepper before you grill.
  • Garam Masala- Coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg will give your dish a warm and earthy appeal.
  • Citrus Marinade- Squeeze lemon or orange juice over meats and veggies, or cook seafood with lemon slices on top.
  • Tropical Twist- Top your creations with a drizzle of coconut oil or shredded toasted coconut.
  • Italian Infusion- Top grilled burgers and meats with a colorful slice of tomato and a dash of basil.
  • Avocado Addition- Mash an avocado with chili flakes, lemon, and garlic and spread over any protein.

Some heart conditions are genetic or have causes outside of our control. But sodium is a simple thing to adjust to keep our hearts healthy. So, set down the salt shaker and give your spice rack a spin. You might be surprised by all the flavors you’ve missed when they were drowning in salt.

To embark upon the fastest, safest path to weight loss, contact the weight loss experts with Simonds Metabolics and Weight Loss. We offer a variety of weight loss services including nutritional counseling, prescription medications, and healthy supplements to help you shed weight efficiently and safely. We invite you to contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our skilled weight loss consultants. We look forward to helping you achieve your wellness goals in the new year!