C.W. Griffin/Miami Herald/MCT
C.W. Griffin/Miami Herald/MCT

High sodium levels lead to heart issues

The month of February focuses on heart health. Being in control of your heart health is at the core of living a healthy lifestyle. One in every four deaths in the United States are caused by heart disease, the number one killer worldwide.

One of the major risk factors of heart disease is high blood pressure, most commonly provoked by a diet high in sodium. It is never too early to be sodium-conscious, since even young children can increase their risk of high blood pressure as early as age one.

Sodium is an essential mineral for survival that helps to send nerve impulses. It also affects muscle function and is regulated by your kidneys to help control the body’s fluid balance (AHA). When there is excess sodium in the bloodstream, water is pulled from the bloodstream into blood vessels.

This increases blood flow and thus, blood pressure. High blood pressure overtime, stretches and injures the blood vessel walls and stimulates plaque build up that can inhibit blood flow. All of these symptoms make the heart work harder just to function properly.

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High blood pressure is known as a “silent killer,” but even those who don’t have high blood pressure can benefit from a diet lower in sodium. Since high blood pressure develops with age and stress, it is never too early to be sodium-conscious. A normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mmHg. Excess sodium not only affects your heart health, but can also lead to bloating and weight gain. No one is immune to the negative repercussions of high sodium diets — even children — 80 percent consume too much sodium and increase their chances of all the nasty diseases as early as one to three years of age.

Do not be overwhelmed by all the dangers of a high sodium diet, but do take caution and be proactive to improve your health.

Begin with small steps, such as putting down the table salt and maybe switching to pepper, or a little bit of cheese. When you drink soup, make sure the sodium content isn’t too high. If you find yourself having had too much sodium in one day, try to drink a lot of water. For more information on sodium and your health and recommendations, visit the American Heart Association website.

The NIH lists three broad tips on ways to reduce consumption of salt and sodium. The first has to do with being a smart shopper. Choose to buy fresh, frozen or no-salt-added canned veggies. Buy snacks with labels such as “low sodium,” “sodium free” or “no-salt-added.” If you use canned foods that are not low in sodium, you can reduce the amount of sodium slightly by rinsing the canned food before eating it.

A third tip would be to modify how you cook. You can slowly wean yourself off salt by cutting back or not adding salt to water when you cook beans, rice, pasta, etc.

In 2010, the American Heart Association chose 1500 mg or less per day as the recommended amount of sodium for optimal cardiovascular health. Show your heart some love by cutting back on sodium beginning now.

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