Salt is essential to human life. But, like most good things, too much can be a killer. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute blame excess sodium (salt) as a major reason for the high blood pressure that causes 400 daily American deaths from heart attacks and stroke. These deaths are equivalent to a jet airliner crashing every single day.
The National Institutes of Health recommends less than 1.5 grams of sodium a day. The average American gets about 4 grams and consuming up to 15 grams a day is not uncommon. Limiting daily sodium to less than 1.5 grams can lower systolic blood pressure (the upper number) by as much as 5 to 10 points, which significantly reduces a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke.
Sodium is found naturally in almost all foods. But added salt in processed foods is the major damaging food source of sodium. Excess salt is found in bacon, hot dogs and processed meats, as well as frozen dinners, pizza, canned soups, etc.
The grams of salt in processed foods mounts up quickly. A cup of canned soup or a couple of slices of luncheon meat can each add another gram per serving to your daily limit. A ham and cheese sandwich with mustard adds over 2.5 grams and an order of chicken fajitas with tortillas, rice, beans and guacamole adds over 3.5 grams.
65 million Americans (beginning at age 6) have high blood pressure. Another 45 million have readings between120/80 and 139/90, which is considered pre-hypertensive. According to recent research, about ninety percent of people in this “pre-hypertension” stage go on to develop full blown high blood pressure during their lifetime.
You can lower blood pressure naturally without the use of medication. Begin by eliminating processed foods and refrain from adding extra salt at the table. Find low sodium substitutes. Read labels and avoid added MSG (monosodium gluconate), sodium nitrate, nitrite, propionate, alginate, citrate, sulfite and even regular soy sauce. And be aware that baking soda, baking powder and many seasonings also contain sodium. You’re better off using natural salt free herbs and spices to season your food.
Eating a healthy diet high in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat, trans fats and sodium can lower blood pressure by at least 10 to 15 points. Losing weight helps too. One study showed that people who lost only eight pounds were half as likely to have high blood pressure symptoms. Research also shows that those who exercise regularly control their blood pressure just as well as those who exercise and take hypertension medications.
Blood pressure is an important biomarker of health. Reducing your numbers by even just a few points can greatly decrease your risk of both heart disease and stroke. So, put down that salt shaker and season your next meal with the salty wisdom of good whole foods.
Moss Greene is the Nutrition Editor for BellaOnline.com and an authority on essential fatty acids, such as fish oil. Over the past 30 years, shes helped thousands of people to look better, think smarter and feel great naturally. Visit Moss at nutrition.bellaonline.com to learn more and subscribe to her free health and fitness newsletter.