The Sodium Factor: The Salty Truth

Nine out of 10 of us consume too much sodium every day. The sneaky substance can put you at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and other health problems. But some of the foods that contain the most sodium are those you would least expect.

69-year-old Cesar Calvet walks every day. He's working to improve his health with exercise and diet. 

"The thing that I haven't had, which I love, a cheeseburger, in a long time especially because of the bread," Calvet told Ivanhoe.

But Calvet's biggest worry isn't carbs, it's salt.

"You could have strokes," Rajesh Shah, MD, interventional cardiologist and director of the Acute Coronary Syndrome Program at Florida Hospital, told Ivanhoe. "You could have visual problems, kidney problems."

Shah says most of us eat twice the daily recommended amount of sodium, which is 1,500 milligrams.

"In many packaged and processed foods there's already about 75 percent of your daily requirement," he said.

The American Heart Association has a list of the "Salty Six", which includes Calvet's favorite: bread. It also lists sandwiches, pizza, cold cuts, poultry and soup. Just one serving of these foods can contain as much as half of your daily sodium intake.

Shah's top tip for his patients who are trying to slash salt and get healthy?

"I actually tell them to eat less, and then substitute fruits and vegetables for the portions they have taken off," he said.

Other options : look for sodium substitutes, like potassium chloride. Potassium can help lower blood pressure. Use citrus to season. A squeeze of lemon or lime brings out flavor. And skip the salt shaker.

At our house, the salt shaker never comes out of the closet," Calvet said.

One small step that is moving Calvet closer to better health. 

Experts say salt is an acquired taste that can be unlearned, but it takes about six to eight weeks to get used to eating food with less sodium.


BACKGROUND: Salt is a chemical compound consisting of sodium and chloride. It can be found in the ocean dissolved in water, or can be seen as a residue on soil from dried up seas in places like Utah. Salt has been a treasured trading commodity since ancient times. In fact, salt was considered so valuable that Moorsish merchants considered an ounce of salt for an ounce of gold to be a fair trade. Salt was used to preserve and flavor food and was also used as an antiseptic. Culturally, salt was a food that distinguished upper from lower classes. Those who sat "above the salt," or at the head of the table, were the most important. During Roman times, soldiers were paid partly in salt. When a soldier didn't perform to standards, his salary would be cut as he was considered to be "not worth his salt."


SALT AND THE BODY: Salt plays an important role in regulating transportation between cells in your body. Because of this, it's important to monitor the amount of salt you are consuming. Consuming salt causes your kidneys to store more water. This excess water raises blood pressure and can strain the kidneys, heart, arteries and brain. When the arteries become more and more strained over time from the increased blood pressure, the arteries can burst or become blocked completely, causing organ damage or a heart attack. Doctors say that we should consume less than 2,400 mg of sodium a day, which is about as much as a teaspoon. If you have high blood pressure or are elderly, it is recommended to only consume 1,500 mg of sodium a day.  According to one study, if Americans were to cut the amount of salt consumption by just half a teaspoon, an estimated 92,000 deaths could be prevented.


UNLIKELY CULPRITS: According to a press release from the CDC, nine out of 10 Americans are consuming too much salt. In fact, the center estimates that the average person consumes 3,300 mg of sodium a day, not including what is added on the table. So where is all this salt coming from? The American Heart Association says to look out for excess sodium in breads, cold cuts, pizza, poultry, soup and sandwiches. Six thin slices of deli meat can contain more than half of your recommended daily sodium intake. A slice of pizza can also have half your daily sodium intake. A sandwhich or burger from a fast food joint can actually have more than your total sodium intake for the day. It's important to read food labels and be conscious of how much sodium you're consuming throughout the day. 


For More Information, Contact:

Rajesh A. Shah, MD

Orlando Cardiac and Vascular Specialists