Your body needs salt to keep it running smoothly. Every time your muscles contract and relax (including your heart muscle), you have salt to thank. Salt also enables your nerves to send signals to your brain and regulates the fluids in your body. But you only need a minuscule amount of salt — less than a teaspoon — to perform all these vital tasks.
For most people, the problem isn’t getting enough salt in their diet; it’s getting too much. Dr. James Batey and our team of medical experts here at Premier Primary Care in Union City, Tennessee, see the consequences of high-sodium diets every day. The main problem with adding too much salt is that it increases your blood pressure, often to dangerous levels. Here’s what you need to know.
How much salt is too much?
Many people think that salt and sodium are interchangeable terms, but that’s not exactly right. Salt is what you sprinkle on your food, and it’s technically a crystallized form of the compound sodium chloride, so it’s not 100% sodium.
Sodium is a dietary mineral found in many foods naturally and as additives. Some manufacturers add high quantities of sodium to their products both as a flavor enhancer and preservative.
When monitoring your intake, we focus on the total amount of sodium. To know what you’re getting in each bite, you will have to read nutrition labels and know what’s in your salt shaker. According to the American Heart Association (AHA):
- ¼ teaspoon of salt = 575 mg sodium
- ½ teaspoon of salt = 1,725 mg sodium
- 1 teaspoon of salt = 2,300 mg sodium
When you eat more salt than you need, your body tries to correct the problem by retaining water to flush out the excess. Have you noticed that your ankles are more swollen than usual? It could be because you’re getting too much salt.
Extra water in your blood means extra pressure (hypertension), which in turn means extra force as your blood slams into the walls of your arteries, putting you at risk for heart disease and stroke.
Are you eating more salt than you realize?
Most people tend to judge their salt intake by the amount they sprinkle on their food at the table. And while that’s an important habit to monitor, it’s not where the majority of sodium lurks.
Salt hides where you’d least expect it, Including:
- Deli meats
- Salad dressings
- Processed foods
And most people are shocked to learn that there’s loads of salt in things that don’t even taste salty, such as bread, baked goods, and cereal.
These hidden sources add up quickly. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that the average American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium a day — way beyond the AHA’s safe upper limit of 2,300 mg and the recommended limit of 1,500 mg.
How to reverse hypertension
The good news is that you may be able to reverse hypertension by making some key changes in the way you cook and eat. Here are some practical ways to cut back on salt:
- Read labels to make sure you don’t exceed your limit
- Avoid prepackaged foods
- Replace your salt shaker with alternative spices
- Eat smaller portions
- Rinse canned veggies, beans, and tuna
It’s always best to cook your food so you can control the amount of salt that goes in, but when you do go out to a restaurant, there are a couple of tricks to help you: ask the cook to prepare you food without adding salt and ask for sauces and dressings on the side.
If you catch your hypertension early, enough diligent changes in your diet may be able to lower your blood pressure and reverse the problem. Dr. Batey may recommend prescription blood pressure medication to get your hypertension under control if your condition is more advanced.
But don’t slack off on your diet just because you take medication. A lower sodium diet, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle (quit smoking and cut back on alcohol) may enable you to stop taking the drugs, so you have a powerful incentive to kick salt to the curb.
Hypertension often shows no warning symptoms, so make sure you come in for regular checkups and blood pressure tests to know what you’re dealing with. Book an appointment online or call Premier Primary Care today and safeguard your future.