GHS Cares: How Sodium Plays into your Diet
People who eat high sodium diets are much more likely to have high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks. On many major roads, there are an abundance of fast food options, while there may not be as many medical facilities in that same area. As a primary care physician at Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor, it does not come as much of a surprise that so many locals, like many Americans all over, are suffering from health challenges that come from too much sodium intake.
”Salt” and “sodium,” which are used interchangeably, are not quite the same thing. Sodium is a mineral which is found in salt and in plant and animal cells. Salt or “sodium chloride” is the crystal-like substance used to flavor and preserve our food. And there is no denying it: We Americans love our salt and sodium, unfortunately much more than we like going to the doctor. With that being said, please be sure to check your blood pressure at least once every year (a healthy adult blood pressure should be less than 130/80). A doctor can help you with managing your sodium levels, but one of the best things you can do is reduce your salt intake.
Fact #1 On average, Americans eat 3,400mg of sodium each day.
That is a lot more than we should be eating. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend less than 2,300mg of sodium per day for most adults. That amount is equal to about 1 teaspoon of table salt. And they recommend that everybody with high blood pressure or kidney disease eat less than 1,500mg of sodium. Of course infants and children need even less salt. Diets which are higher in sodium increase the fluid circulating in the blood, which makes the heart pump harder, the kidneys work harder and it puts more pressure and damage on blood vessel walls. When groups of people were studied, those who ate less than 2,300mg of sodium daily had the same blood pressure in their 60’s as they did in their 20’s, but those who ate higher sodium diets had rising blood pressure with age.
Fact #2 Most sodium (over 75%) comes from restaurant or pre-packaged/ prepared foods.
If you avoid processed and packaged foods that already have a lot of sodium added to them, you can add up to a teaspoon of table salt to your food per day. If you eat home-cooked foods, it is actually hard to add that much salt to your food, even in an entire day. An 8-oz. baked potato, for example, has less than 20mg of sodium, while 1-oz. of potato chips has about 160mg! Dressing a salad with oil and vinegar adds zero sodium, while pre-made salad dressings can add up to 700mg. If you enjoy eating prepared foods, especially those from restaurants, I encourage you to look at the sodium content-- it might surprise you. A plain fast food biscuit has nearly 1000mg of sodium. One cup of canned soup can have over 800mg of sodium.
Fact #3 People who eat spicy and acidic foods naturally eat less salt.
Think about adding more vinegar, lemon juice or pepper to flavor foods without salt. Vinegar and pepper-- those remind me of the flavorings of North Carolina eastern BBQ sauce! That shouldn’t be hard for us to love, right? Some prepared hot sauces do not add too much sodium either (look for one with less than 50mg per teaspoon). There are also some commercially available seasonings which use herb blends that add flavor with zero to very low sodium.
Fact #4 Eating low sodium makes it easier to lose weight.
Numerous weight loss studies show that people eating lower sodium diets have a much easier time losing weight. This is probably because less sodium means less bloating and swelling in the body. Try snacking on carrots, celery, crispy apples, or unsalted nuts instead of chips. Fruit can be a great snack choice since fruit is one of the lowest sodium foods. People who eat more fruit have some of the lowest blood pressure averages. You know the saying: An apple a day can help keep the doctor away! If you’re craving a prepared sandwich or biscuit, try eating fruit with it instead of a salty side dish like fries or chips.
Eating less sodium-- just like making any change in diet-- can take some time to accomplish. There is no doubt, however, that it is associated with many health benefits, including lower blood pressure and weight loss. The first step might just be awareness that high sodium is a problem. It helps to pay closer attention at how many milligrams of sodium are in the foods you and your family members are commonly eating. And don’t forget to get your blood pressure checked!
Dr. Liz Baltaro and Dr. Amy Nayo are primary care physicians expanding community access to quality pediatric and family medicine at Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor, located at 1614 NC Highway 56, Butner. To schedule your primary care appointment, please call 919-575-6103 or schedule online at ghshospital.org. You can schedule a primary care appointment with a provider as far as 12 months in advance through online scheduling.