Did you know that excess sodium in our diet contributes to 92,000 deaths and 66,000 strokes each year? Amazingly, if we could reduce our daily sodium intake by 1,200 milligrams we could save $10 to $24 billion in health care costs every year and keep 99,000 Americans from having a heart attack and up to 120,000 others from getting heart disease (Center for Science in the Public Interest – CSPI).
Why is excess sodium so bad?
First let’s look at the role sodium plays in our body’s functioning. Sodium is one of the electrolytes in our body. It regulates the total amount of water in our bodies. Many processes in the body, such as the brain, nervous system, and muscles, require electrical signals for communication, and sodium generates these signals. If there is excess sodium as compared to water in our body this can lead to high blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nearly 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to high blood pressure. Which in turn puts you at risk for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and more. Excess sodium is also associated with gastro-esophageal cancer, left ventricular (heart) mass and bone loss.
Ninety percent of the sodium (sodium chloride = table salt) we consume is in the form of salt. We only need 180 mg to 500 mg of sodium a day to keep our bodies working properly, but the average American consumes 3,436 mg according to the CDC. Where are we getting all this sodium? Seventy-five to eighty percent of the sodium we consume comes from processed and restaurant foods. Only a small percent is added at the table. Currently many organizations, such as the American Heart Association (AHA), and the Institute of Medicine (IOM), are urging the FDA and USDA to regulate the amount of sodium in foods. The FDA states that they currently are not working on regulations but are reviewing the recommendations from the various agencies. Some food manufacturers are working on reducing sodium, but their efforts have not gone far enough. The AHA is encouraging food manufacturers and restaurants to reduce the amount of sodium in their food items by 50% in the next ten years. The reason for a ten-year project is because salt is a habit, or acquired taste. We cannot expect people to give up their salt habit over night just as we cannot expect a smoker to stop smoking in one day. Hopefully, with the guidance of the FDA and USDA, food manufacturers will start reducing the amount of sodium in their products so the public can have a gradual withdrawal from sodium. At the moment this is all voluntary on the food manufactures and restaurants. Over the next three years, the AHA is starting a campaign to help Americans reduce their sodium intake via three strategies: reducing the amount of sodium in the food supply; making more healthy foods available (e.g., more fruits and vegetables); and providing consumers with education and decision-making tools to make better choices (http://www.americanheart.org).
How to lower your sodium intake…
What tip can I give you to start today to lower your sodium intake? How about switching to herbs and spices. Studies have shown that spices have more to offer than flavor. Spices are antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory. Herbs can expand your palate and not your waistline without sacrificing flavor. Also, they do not increase your blood pressure, so they do not put you at risk for heart disease and stroke. Watch for my next column where I’ll go into detail on the health benefits of herbs and spices.