Sodium and Heart Health

Sandy Tschosik, RN
St. Alexius Medical Center
Community Health Services Coordinator

Sodium and Heart HealthHeart disease is the leading cause of death in North Dakota and the nation.  Heart or cardiovascular disease are terms that are used to describe various conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels.  This includes vascular disease which can cause narrowing or blockage of blood vessels leading to leg pain, chest pain, heart attack or stroke, aneurysms and infection, and other serious conditions.

February was American Heart Month, but it is always a good time to get smart and take care of your heart.  For starters, limit your salt (sodium chloride) intake.  Sodium in small amounts plays an important role in the body. It helps to transmit nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles and maintain fluid balance in your body. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about 90 percent of Americans age two years or older eat more sodium than is recommended. Too much sodium increases your risk for developing high blood pressure, which further increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consuming no more than 1500 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. Unfortunately the average American gets 3,400 mg per day. This sodium overload is a major health problem.  It’s not just table salt we need to worry about. The majority of salt we consume comes from packaged, processed, store bought and restaurant food.  According to AHA the following “Salty Six” foods can add high levels of salt to your diet and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke: breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soup and sandwiches. Other foods high in sodium are cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes and snack food.

Take the following steps to reduce your sodium intake:

  • Read “Nutrition Facts” labels when shopping to compare and choose foods lower in sodium.
  • Choose fresh fruits and vegetables which are naturally low in sodium versus canned. If you are purchasing canned consider the “no salt added” option.  Fruits and vegetables also are high in potassium which can offset some of the effects of sodium.
  • Avoid adding salt when cooking or eating.
  • Limit use of condiments such as soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, relish, dips and sauces.
  • Season with herbs, spices and other flavor enhancers such as lemon juice.
  • When dining out ask for your food to be prepared without added salt.
  • Take control of how your food is prepared, and cook at home.

The cardiovascular benefits of reducing dietary sodium is just as important as the benefits of quitting tobacco, weight loss, exercise and reducing cholesterol. Although it may be difficult at first, your taste buds will adapt to less salt over time.  Please consider shaking the salt habit because nothing beats a healthy heart.