The amount of salt, or sodium, in the diet is important for people who have high blood pressure or congestive heart failure. Some people are genetically disposed to conserve sodium. Unfortunately, if you have high blood pressure, the only way to tell whether you are salt-sensitive is to see whether reduced salt consumption lowers your blood pressure.
Some experts believe that much higher intake of salt is the main reason high blood pressure is so common in Western countries compared to the rest of the world. Excess sodium encourages the body to retain fluid, which increases the amount of fluid pumped by the heart and circulating in the bloodstream. For the same reason, high sodium diets can be harmful to people with congestive heart failure because the excess fluid backs up into the lungs, causing congestion, coughing and breathing difficulty.
The average American consumes about 4,000 milligrams or more of sodium a day. New guidelines suggest that 2,400 milligrams of sodium should be the upper limit, even if you have no signs of heart disease. Most people with heart disease should limit their sodium intake to less than 2,000 milligrams a day. How
Learn the hidden sources
Table salt (sodium chloride) is the most obvious source of sodium in your diet. Just one teaspoon of salt contains 2,000 milligrams of sodium, the entire daily allotment of sodium for someone with heart disease. And the salt you add in cooking or at the table may be a mere sprinkling of your total sodium intake. Even natural foods such as milk, meat, and vegetables contain sodium. For example, a cup of milk contains 375 milligrams of sodium. A half-cup of cottage cheese has 475 milligrams, while a glass of tomato juice has 441 milligrams. Sodium content is listed on food labels, so if you have high blood pressure, check before assuming that a normally heart-healthy food earns its name. Some sodium is hidden, so be sure to read all of the ingredients listed.
Eat more potassium
potassium helps lower blood pressure, so eating more potassium is advised for anyone with hypertension. This isn't to say that if you eat bananas, potatoes and other high-potassium foods, you can pig out on sauerkraut, pickles and other high-sodium foods. But the more potassium you eat, the less likely you are to be in danger of sodium "overload"--and ideally, you should shoot for 3,500 milligrams of potassium each day. A baked potato has 875 milligrams of potassium. A glass of prune juice has 704 milligrams. A cup of yogurt has 578.
Can the cans
Canned and pre-packed foods tend to be higher in sodium than their "natural" counterparts. This is especially true of soups, frozen dinners and other convenience foods, and dehydrated mixes for sauces and salad dressings. Other foods to be wary of:
- Soy sauce, catsup, worcestershire sauce, chili sauce
- pickles and relishes
- processed cheese and cheese spread
- Baking powder and baking soda
- Canned or frozen vegetables in sauce
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Frankfurters, cured ham, sausages and luncheon meats
- Salted nuts, chips and other snack foods
- Any food additive with the word "sodium" (sodium benzoate, a preservative; sodium phosphate, an emulsifier and stabilizer)
What About Salt Substitutes
If you've been advised to lower your sodium intake, you may wonder about using a salt substitute. First check with your doctor. Here's why:
- Some salt substitutes contain a mixture of salt and other compounds. To achieve that familiar salty taste, you may end up using more salt substitute and thus not reducing your sodium intake.
- potassium chloride is a common ingredient in salt substitutes. But too much potassium can be harmful for people with kidney problems. The kidneys regulate potassium balance; if their function is impaired, the resulting high potassium levels can cause heart and neuromuscular problems. Extra potassium may also be hazardous when people with high blood pressure or heart failure take certain diuretics which may cause the kidneys to retain potassium. When combined with extra potassium from salt substitutes, potassium levels may become too high.
- To enhance the flavor of food while cutting salt, use herbs and spices, flavored vinegars or lemon juice