Researchers have long known that dietary salt affects cardiovascular health. Monitoring your daily salt intake can pay health dividends.
Although the human body needs salt, or sodium, for the role it plays in the proper functioning of nerves and muscles and in keeping the body’s fluid levels in balance, too much can have a detrimental effect on the heart and cardiovascular system. Appropriate sodium intake requires a delicate balance, according to Luke Laffin, MD, a cardiologist and co-director of the Center for Blood Pressure Disorders at the Cleveland Clinic. “Too much sodium can cause fluid retention, which can increase blood pressure,” he said. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and heart failure.
But how much sodium is too much? Laffin suggested that patients aim to keep sodium intake below 2,300 mg per day. “That’s equal to about one level teaspoon of salt,” he said. “Think about that 2,300 mg as a debit card you get every morning. Don’t spend it all in one place. And if you go over, you’ll pay interest—in the form of higher blood pressure.”
Although a discussion of dietary salt may conjure up an image of a salt shaker for many people, that type of salt comprises only a small amount of the sodium in the average diet. The majority of sodium intake comes in the form of prepared and packaged foods. Laffin suggested strategies for controlling sodium levels to keep them within a healthy range.
Laffin recommends reading labels carefully, checking for sodium content. He said items such as canned soups and salad dressings often contain high levels of sodium, even if they lack a particularly salty taste. He noted that deli items such as meats, sausages, pickles and cheese can be high in sodium content as well.
Rather than seasoning with salt, Laffin recommended adding spices and seasonings to provide flavor. Garlic or fresh herbs can add welcome touches to salads and cooking. And he suggested maintaining vigilance when dining out, avoiding soups and saucy pasta in favor of fish or chicken.
He also puts to rest that myth that fancy salts, such as sea salt and Himalayan salt, are preferable substitutes for ordinary table salt. “When it comes to sodium, they affect blood pressure in the same way,” he said.