Nachos! Pretzels! Potato chips!
If you are like me, these are the snacks you are most drawn to: salty, crunchy and full of useless calories. But, if you are also like me, you may be prone to high blood pressure, as are a vast number of people in this country. Too much sodium, which those crunchy snacks are full of, can lead to an increase in blood pressure and an associated risk of stroke and heart disease.
Yet sodium is an essential chemical for the human body. Sodium is an electrolyte that helps the body maintain the right balance of fluids, transmit nerve impulses, and assist the contraction and relaxation of muscles.
The kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in the body. When you are lacking sodium, the kidneys basically hold on to whatever sodium they can find. When sodium levels are high, the kidneys excrete the excess in urine. But if for some reason the kidneys can’t eliminate enough sodium, it starts to build up in the blood. Because sodium attracts and holds water, blood volume increases, which makes the heart work harder and increases pressure in the arteries.
The balance between sodium and another electrolyte, potassium, helps maintain good blood pressure. People who reduce the amount of sodium in their diet, who increase potassium consumption, or who do both can lower their blood pressure, thus reducing the risk of other serious health problems. Good sources of potassium are vegetables, like baked potatoes and tomatoes, fruits, such as bananas, seafood, and low-fat dairy products. Lowering sodium intake, however, is the first thing to do to find this balance.
Where does dietary sodium come from? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that most of the sodium Americans consume comes from packaged, processed, store-bought, and restaurant foods. Only a small amount comes from salt added during cooking or at the table.
Americans consume an average of more than 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily. Surprisingly, more than 40% of the daily sodium consumed comes from just ten types of foods, according to the CDC. Number one on that list: bread and rolls.
It’s tricky identifying foods with high levels of sodium. The best method when buying processed items at the grocery store is to look at the sodium level on the label. For example, items that some might consider healthy, such as deli turkey breast or cottage cheese, actually contain high levels of sodium. Condiments, such as ketchup, soy sauce, salad dressing and mustard, tend to have a lot of sodium in them. Canned foods, such as soup, are loaded with sodium. And, of course, those tasty snacks mentioned above are sodium powerhouses.
Whether you are 20 or 70 years old, it is important to monitor how much sodium you take in each day. Consume too much for too long and your body may begin to rebel, leading to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and congestive heart failure.