Most people know that consuming too much salt is bad for your heart health, but far fewer know why. In observance of American Heart Month, here’s a breakdown of exactly how overconsuming salt affects your heart.
Sodium: An Essential Mineral
Sodium is essential for human life. It absorbs certain nutrients in the digestive system and also helps regulate the passage of fluids across cell membranes. The nervous system and muscular contraction also rely on sodium: nerves send signals through the movement of positively charged sodium particles.
Sodium and Your Bloodstream
Sodium also helps control your body’s fluid balance and 85% of the sodium in your body is actually in your bloodstream. Extra sodium pulls more water into your blood vessels, increasing the volume of blood inside them.
More blood rushing through your vessels means an increase in blood pressure, just like turning up the faucet to get more water increases the pressure of the water that comes out.
If you’re frequently in this state, it will start to wear on your body over time. Your heart has to work hard when there’s a lot of blood to pump, and blood vessel walls can become overstretched or injured. Plaque in the blood vessels will also accumulate more quickly, which can impede or block blood flow.
What It Means for You and Your Heart
Some people are especially sensitive to salt, so consumption will have a more significant impact on their blood pressure. Even if you’re not especially sensitive, you’d do well to decrease your sodium intake. Because of the mineral’s prevalence in packaged food, nearly all of us consume more than we need.
On average, more than 75% of the sodium we eat comes from processed, pre-packaged or restaurant foods. 12% is naturally occurring and we add the rest when we cook or when we sit down at the table and salt our food. If you want to show your heart some love, aim to consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. To hit that target:
Compare brands when choosing pre-packaged foods to determine which option contains the smallest amount of sodium per serving
Buy poultry that hasn’t been injected with “broth,” “saline,” or a “sodium solution”
Look for “no salt added” on labels – sodium could still be present but at least none was added
Cook your own meals as much as possible, avoiding “instant” mixes and favoring fresh ingredients
Many medicines also contain sodium, so check the ingredients of medicines you take regularly and ask a doctor about alternatives if you find one contains a significant amount of sodium
When you cook, reach for spices other than salt to tantalize your taste buds – experiment with fresh or dried herbs and spices like garlic, cumin, onion, nutmeg, pepper, cardamom, coriander and cloves
Sinclair Broadcasting is committed to the health and well-being of our viewers, which is why we’re introducing Sinclair Cares. Every month we’ll bring you information about the “Cause of the Month,” including topical information, education, awareness and prevention.