Heart & Vascular | Nutrition
December 12, 2017

Why is too much salt bad for you?

by A woman sprinkles fresh herbs into a bowl of soup.

Salt is a necessary mineral in our diet. But too much salt can be bad for your health. Learn why here.

 

Consuming some salt (sodium) is important for good health. It helps maintain the correct volume of blood and fluids circulating in the body.

However, most Southerners take in too much salt. Eating too much sodium has been linked to high blood pressure, stroke and other health problems.

Salt works on the kidneys to make the body hold on to more water. This extra stored water raises blood pressure and puts a strain on the kidneys, arteries, heart and brain. The arteries try to deal with this extra strain by making arterial walls stronger and thicker, which makes the space for blood flowing through the vessels smaller. Over time, this can result in oxygen and nutrient starvation to vital organs, causing damage and eventually death.

The United States Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines recommend consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of salt per day; this is about a teaspoon. Ask your doctor if you should be consuming even less sodium; people with or at high risk for certain conditions — including heart disease, stroke and diabetes — are typically advised to take in less than 2,300 milligrams per day. But even staying under that limit can be difficult to manage when salt is used to preserve and flavor much of our food.

Here’s how to reduce salt intake:

  • Read nutrition labels closely. Buy the low-sodium version of an item whenever possible, but keep in mind that even “low-sodium” foods (especially canned goods), can still contain a great deal of salt. (Typical offenders: soups and soy sauce.)
  • Gradually reduce salt intake over time to get used to the taste.
  • Use little or no salt when cooking or eating. You can skip or cut back on the salt many recipes call for without ruining the dish. Flavor food with herbs and spices instead.
  • Don’t keep a salt shaker on the table.
  • Eat more fresh or home-prepared foods and fewer processed foods, so you know exactly what you are eating and you can control the amount of salt going into your meals.
  • At restaurants, ask that the cook avoid adding salt to your food.
  • Choose reduced-sodium bread and breakfast cereals. Bread can contain a surprising amount of salt. Again, read the nutrition label, regardless of whether a food is labeled as “low-sodium,” so you know just how much salt you’re eating.

Heart Health

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