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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Watching Your Sodium?

New study finds that salt lurks in some surprising places

High blood pressure, or hypertension, afflicts about one in every three American adults, yet only half have the problem under control. Although hypertension is often “silent,” causing no symptoms, it is a major contributor to heart disease, stroke, dementia, and kidney failure. Obesity, a high-salt, high-fat diet, and lack of regular exercise can all amp up the blood pressure. As a cardiologist, I have plenty of pharmaceutical options to offer my patients, but the average person with high blood pressure requires two or more medications to keep the numbers in a normal range. Although taking a pill can prevent the dire consequences of hypertension, it is always better to avoid the need for medications in the first place, or at least to limit the number of drugs required to keep the blood pressure down.

A recent report from the aptly named What We Eat in America survey, published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), evaluated the amount of sodium, generally in the form of salt, consumed by a representative sample of 7,227 Americans ages 2 years and up. (You can learn more about the effects of salt on blood pressure by reading my recent post on the subject.) On average, daily sodium consumption was 3266 mg, or as much as twice the recommended maximum intake. In fact, more than 88 percent of the people studied ate too much salt.

About 90 percent of the daily salt load came from food purchased at a store (such as breads, processed foods or deli meats) or a restaurant. Not surprisingly, restaurant foods tended to be higher in salt. All in all, 10 categories accounted for nearly half of the sodium intake. These foods included breads and rolls, deli meats, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes, and snack foods. While soups and pizza are noticeably salty, most of us probably don’t consider bakery products a particularly important source of sodium. This study suggests that we need to be more critical and less trusting of the ready-made foods marketed and sold to us.

For the sake of our heart, brain, and kidneys, it’s time to start weaning ourselves off of the salt. The CDC report cites estimates that suggest that if we were to reduce the average American’s salt intake by just 400 mg, 28,000 lives per year could be spared, at a savings of as much as $7 billion dollars. We can begin to take control of our health by choosing a diet that is closer to nature (try the Mediterranean diet), avoiding processed foods, and shopping for whole grain bread products that are lower in salt and other additives.

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Tags: Diet and Heart Health

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.