Should You Shake the Salt Habit? The Benefits and Risks of Dietary Sodium

According to scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “When people eat too much sodium, the kidneys have trouble keeping up with the excess sodium in the bloodstream. As sodium accumulates, the body holds onto water to dilute the sodium. This increases both the amount of fluid surrounding cells and the volume of blood in the bloodstream. Increased blood volume means more work for the heart and more pressure on blood vessels. Over time, the extra work and pressure can stiffen blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.”

High blood pressure is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, “nine out of 10 U.S. men and women will develop hypertension at some point in their lives.” Children can also begin developing high blood pressure so cutting back on salt and sodium early in life is an important step in prevention.

Most of our salt comes from packaged, processed, or restaurant foods and not from a salt shaker. But daily sodium intake can add up quickly through cereals, bread, cold cuts, and snack foods. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that you should consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. Limiting foods that are in a box, can, or bag as well as reducing restaurant and take-out meals, will help reduce your daily sodium intake. Reading labels on soups, crackers, cheeses, and some juices or sport drinks will help you make an educated guess on the amount of sodium you consume on a daily basis

Potassium has the opposite effect on heart health by relaxing the blood vessels, allowing sodium to release from the bloodstream, which results in lower blood pressure. People can make important, yet simple, dietary changes to help lower their risk of high blood pressure. Instead of salt for cooking, you can add herbs and spices, and citrus like lemon to add more flavor with less sodium.

For athletes, the balancing act of sodium and potassium intake is important for performance. Health risks associated with too little sodium include muscle cramping, heat illness, and the inability to rehydrate and restore electrolyte balance after exercise or an athletic competition. In addition, there is an increased risk for hyponatremia, which is a low sodium concentration in the blood caused by excessive water intake. If you are a salty sweater during exercise, consider increasing sodium intake before, during, and after exercise.

Preparing and eating meals that contain fresh vegetables and fruits, which are naturally high in potassium and low in sodium—and eating less bread, cheese, snack foods, and processed meat, which are high in sodium and low in potassium, will help prevent high blood pressure.

Quote of the week:

“I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.”  ~ E.B. White

Recipe of the Week: Grilled Eggplant “Pizza”

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant, cut into ½ inch slices

¼ cup olive oil

Jar of pasta or pizza sauce (or you can make homemade marinara)

Fresh mozzarella (I buy pre-sliced BelGioioso)

Fresh basil

Brush eggplant slices with oil and lightly sprinkle with sea salt. Let stand for five minutes. Grill eggplant, covered, over medium heat or broil 4 inches from heat until tender, 4-5 minutes per side.  Transfer to a baking sheet and spoon the pasta sauce to cover each slice. Place a slice of fresh mozzarella on each slice and broil for 2 minutes or until the cheese starts to bubble and brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped fresh basil. Enjoy with a side salad!

Published by

Leslie Ouellette

Listening and learning about nutrition, exercise, and health-related issues has been a life-long passion turned into action. I am most passionate about my family, friends, and good health. I am a business professional with over 30 years of expertise in marketing, market research, communications, writing, and editing. @balancedhealthblog

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