Salt in Your Diet

February 11, 2017

Are you conscious about the amount of salt (aka sodium chloride) you eat? Are you certain the amount of salt you eat is appropriate for your body?

You may be surprised to find out you consume more salt than you think.

You may not use salt at all, and you still may be consuming too much of it if you eat a lot of prepared and processed foods. As a matter of fact, the sodium in most people’s diets in the United States comes from processed and prepared foods found in restaurants and grocery stores.

Now, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is trying to restrict the amount of sodium added to foods. A draft guidance for industry has been released by the FDA with the intent to have industries decrease the amount of sodium added to prepared and processed foods. The restriction concerns the amount of salt added to your foods before by the restaurants and manufacturers before you even get a chance to season them yourself.

The objective of the FDA is to have people decrease their daily salt intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day, which is the equivalent to a teaspoon of salt. Right now, Americans consume about 50% more than what’s recommended for a daily allowance.

The Problem with Excess Sodium Consumption

The terms salt and sodium may be used as synonyms, but they are not identical substances. Salt is the crystal-like substance you sprinkle over your food and is 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Sodium is a mineral found in salt, but salt is the primary form that you consume sodium. Almost 95% of the sodium consumed–whether added by you or added by the manufacturer comes in salt form.

The body needs sodium to assist in doing its daily functions, and sodium can be found naturally in a lot of foods (including milk, beets and celery). Regardless of which form it’s in, sodium is also used to improve flavor, thicken foods and preserve foods.

The downside of sodium is the potential for it to cause high blood pressure, which is a precursor to heart disease and stroke. Therefore, a lot of deaths and sickness can be eliminated just by decreasing sodium intake.  

What Foods Are Typically High in Sodium?

Prepared and processed foods like soups, cheese, pizza, pasta dishes, snacks, sandwiches and salad dressings are rich in sodium.

You can’t assume a food has little sodium just because you can’t hardly taste any salt in it. That’s because most foods high in sodium won’t taste salty like pickles do. For example, pastries and sweet cereals are high in sodium but don’t taste salty. Also, some foods are low in sodium but may be consumed in quantities that make them a risky source of sodium (like a slice of bread).

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Nearly one in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure, also called hypertension. High blood pressure is dangerous because it increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, death.

“High blood pressure is often called the ‘silent killer’ because it usually has no symptoms until it causes damage to the body,” says Douglas Throckmorton, M.D., Deputy Director of FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Many studies have shown that lowering the blood pressure with drugs decreases that damage.

A Lifelong Condition

Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of the body in vessels called arteries. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing forward through the body and against the walls of the arteries. The higher the blood pressure, the greater the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, and death.

Blood pressure is made up of two numbers:

  • The “top” number is the systolic blood pressure—the pressure while the heart is pumping blood out. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this number should be less than 120 to be in the normal range.
  • The “bottom” number is the diastolic blood pressure—the pressure while the heart is filling up with blood, getting ready to pump again. According to NIH, this number should be less than 80 to be in the normal range.

It was once believed that only diastolic pressure (the “bottom” number) was important, but this is not true. Elevated systolic pressure alone, particularly common in older people, is just as dangerous as elevations of both systolic and diastolic pressure.

Blood pressure is elevated for two main reasons:

  • too high blood volume
  • too narrow blood vessels.

Most of the time, the cause of a person’s high blood pressure is unknown. Once it develops, high blood pressure usually lasts the rest of the person’s life. But it is treatable.

Some people can lower blood pressure by losing weight, limiting salt intake, and exercising, but for most people, these steps are not enough. Most people need medication for blood pressure control, and will probably need it all their lives.

Types of Medications

FDA has approved many medications to treat high blood pressure, including

  • Diuretics, or “water pills,” which help the kidneys flush extra water and salt from your body and decrease blood volume
  • Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), reduce blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels
  • Beta blockers, which also cause the heart to beat with less force
  • Drugs that directly relax the blood vessels. These include calcium channel blockers (CCBs) and other direct dilators (relaxers) of blood vessels
  • Alpha blockers, which reduce nerve impulses that tighten blood vessels
  • Nervous system inhibitors, which control nerve impulses from the brain to relax blood vessels

Many people with high blood pressure may need more than one medication to reach their goal blood pressure. Your health care provider can tell you if you should be on medication and, if so, which drug(s) may be best for you.

Tips for Consumers

Controlling your blood pressure is a lifelong task. Blood pressure is only one of a number of factors that increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and death. High cholesterol and diabetes are other risk factors. Lifestyle changes—such as weight loss, a healthy diet, and physical activity—can affect all three risk factors, but many people will also need medications.

Take your medicines and monitor your blood pressure. Take the medications prescribed for you regularly and don’t stop them except on the advice of your health care provider. Hypertension tends to worsen with age and you cannot tell if you have high blood pressure by the way you feel, so have your health care provider measure your blood pressure periodically. You may also want to buy a home blood pressure monitor, available in many drug stores, to measure your blood pressure more frequently. Your health care provider or pharmacist can help you choose the right device. Many drug stores also have blood pressure measuring devices you can use in the store.

Tell your health care provider about any side effects you are having. Some side effects may go away over time, others may be avoided by adjusting the dosage or switching to a different medication.

Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood rich in oxygen throughout your body. They go to your brain as well as to the tips of your toes. Healthy arteries have smooth inner walls and blood flows through them easily.

Some people, however, develop clogged arteries. Clogged arteries result from a buildup of a substance called plaque on the inner walls of the arteries. Arterial plaque can reduce blood flow or, in some instances, block it altogether.

Using invasive techniques, doctors can also open up clogged arteries. However, these procedures involve a risk of complications. They are usually saved for people with significant symptoms or limitations caused by clogged arteries and atherosclerosis.

We recommend only natural products to unclog arteries, support balance in the cardiovascular system, reduce high cholesterol level and lower blood pressure.