Sodium intake may be a primary factor in the development of
high blood pressure
, which is a major risk factor for
heart attack and stroke.
The risk of getting high blood pressure increases with age.
There is a good percentage of the general public who can be described as salt sensitive. This means that their blood pressures are likely to increase when they eat a high-sodium diet, and conversely, their blood pressures may be lowered by limiting dietary sodium.
Salt sensitivity is difficult to accurately diagnose. Therefore, appropriate sodium recommendations are a subject of debate among nutrition experts. Many believe that all people should limit their sodium intakes to either treat or prevent hypertension, regardless of their present blood pressure level. The latest United States dietary guidelines (2010) suggest that ideally no more than 2,300 mg/day of sodium be consumed. People with high blood pressure, people older than 50 years, African Americans, people with diabetes, and people with kidney disease should limit sodium intake to 1,500 mg/day.
A major study in this area is DASH—Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This study found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, and low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and saturated fat—now called the
DASH diet—helped lower blood pressure.
The second phase of the study found further reductions in blood pressure when the DASH diet was combined with a sodium intake of no more than 2,400 mg/day.
The combination of DASH diet and a sodium intake of no more than 1,600 mg/day was as effective in controlling blood pressure as medication regimen involving a single antihypertensive drug. For some people with mild hypertension, diet alone may be an effective means of blood pressure control when the diet includes adequate calcium and potassium along with sodium restriction.
Sodium is found in many foods. Some are obvious, but others may surprise you.
Major Food Sources
Sodium chloride, better known as table salt, is the major source of dietary sodium. About 1/3 to 1/2 of the sodium we consume is added during cooking or at the table.
Fast foods and commercially processed foods—canned, frozen, instant—also add a significant amount of sodium to the typical American diet. These include:
- Beef broth
- Commercial soups
- French fries
- Potato chips
- Salted snack foods
- Sandwich meats
- Tomato-based products
Sodium occurs naturally in:
- Milk products
- Soft water
Reading Food Labels
All food products contain a Nutrition Facts label, which states a food's sodium content. The following terms are also used on food packaging:
|Food label term
||Less than 5 mg/serving
|Very low sodium
||35 mg or less/serving
||140 mg or less/serving
||25% reduction in sodium content from original product
|Unsalted, no salt added, without added salt
||Processed without salt when salt normally would be used in processing