Sodium Shake Out
New guidelines recommend that everyone limits sodium intake to 1,500mg a day.
There is little debate that Americans eat a lot sodium, but how much is too much is again coming under scrutiny. Sodium is a major contributor to high blood pressure and as intake of the mineral goes up, so does the risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, stomach cancer, and osteoporosis. Our bodies need a small amount of sodium to function smoothly (between 180 and 500mg daily), however the average American consumes a whopping 3500 mg a day.
Based on mounting evidence that thousands of lives could be saved each year by cutting sodium consumption across the population, the American Heart Association has issued a statement recommending 1500 mg a day as the upward limit for healthy sodium intake. Given the fact that 90% of Americans will develop hypertension at some point in their lives, experts urge all individuals, not just those who currently have elevated blood pressure, to strive for the new goal.
Some of the most compelling research in support of an across-the-board sodium reduction comes from several tightly-controlled trails that compared the effects of differing levels of sodium intake on blood pressure. The lowest level tested in all the studies was 1500 mg, the threshold supported by the American Heart Association. In each trial, the participants who consumed the least sodium had the greatest reduction in blood pressure. Significantly, people who started the study with normal blood pressure also saw their blood pressure go down with lower sodium intake.
More than three-quarters of the sodium most people get comes from processed and restaurant foods. This makes it difficult for even the most conscientious label-reader to keep a cap on consumption. For that reason the American Heart Association, backed by other health organizations such as the Institute of Medicine, is calling for schools, government food programs, and commercial food manufacturers to lower the sodium content of their products. Although reducing sodium by the magnitude proposed may seem daunting, researchers say that even a drop in average intake of just 400 mg nationwide would have far-reaching health benefits.
Questions for You to Consider
- What do my blood pressure numbers mean?
Your blood pressure reading has two parts. The top number (systolic) represents the pressure of the blood against your arteries when your heart contracts. The lower number (diastolic) is the pressure between beats when your heart muscle relaxes. Both numbers are important. Your doctor or nurse can check your blood pressure during an office visit. You can also measure your blood pressure yourself with a home device. Keep in mind that your blood pressure will rise and fall depending on the time of the day and how active you are. It is more accurate to look at overall trends rather than a single number.
Blood pressure is directly associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease. Ideal blood pressure is below 120/80. Your risk goes up proportionally as your blood pressure rises above that level. If your blood pressure is elevated, your doctor will recommend that you make changes to your diet and exercise habits. You may also need to take blood pressure lowering medicines.
What else can I do to control my blood pressure?
Making dietary changes to reduce sodium intake is a big part of blood pressure control. But, there are other things you can do to help lower your blood pressure and improve your heart health. Here are a few:
- Lose weight if you’re overweight.
- Get regular exercise
- Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks a day for men.
- Check your blood pressure regularly and work to stay within your target range.
- Take your blood pressure medicine the way your doctor has directed.