Many doctors put their patients on a low-sodium diet after a heart attack or stroke, or in order to prevent one of these serious concerns. Learn how much sodium is too much, how much is recommended, what the risks are, and foods to avoid that you might not think of as being high in sodium.
The average American consumes just over 3,000 milligrams of sodium each day. Experts recommend a daily intake of 2,300 milligrams for better health. Researchers have discovered that a high-sodium diet is more dangerous when combined with a low potassium intake. If you eat enough foods rich in potassium, you may not have to cut back so much on the salt.
Sodium is one of the elements in regular table salt, the chemical formula of which is sodium chloride. Most of the sodium in the human body is found in blood and lymph fluids. Too much sodium can make your blood pressure too high and can contribute to heart failure. However, don't eliminate sodium altogether; your muscles and nerves need it to do their jobs properly.
Though most sodium comes in the form of table salt, other chemical compounds contain sodium. Watch out for sodium saccharin (a sugar substitute), disodium phosphate (a preservative), monosodium glutamate (a flavoring), and trisodium phosphate.
Benefits of a low-sodium diet
If you cut your daily sodium intake by 1,000 milligrams, you'll lower both your systolic and diastolic blood pressure scores by several points. Cutting it back even further can lower your blood pressure still more. If you don't get enough exercise, if you don't always eat nutritionally, or if you have an inherited risk for high blood pressure or pulmonary disease, you are at even more risk for high blood pressure.
Read food labels and keep track of your sodium intake. Avoid or limit processed foods that are high in sodium, including frozen entrees, canned vegetables and soups, spaghetti sauce, vegetable juices, packaged deli meats, and ready-to-eat cereals. Watch out for over-the-counter medications, especially antacids. When eating out, avoid fast foods, anything with cheese or any kind of sauce, and casseroles and soups.