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Protecting Heart Health: What Happens if You Eat Too Much Salt?

Protecting Heart Health: What Happens if You Eat Too Much Salt?
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Sodium is often hidden in foods that don’t taste salty, and eating too much can lead to problems. Learn how sodium affects the heart and how to cut back. 

Protecting Heart Health: What Happens if You Eat Too Much Salt?

Do you reach for the saltshaker when you sit down to enjoy a meal? Salt can make food taste more flavorful, and it contains sodium, a mineral that supports important functions in the body. Yet, excess sodium can affect your heart and lead to health problems. What happens if you eat too much salt, and how much is too much?

Sodium Intake and Your Health

Sodium is regulated by your kidneys and helps control the balance of fluids in your body. When levels of sodium in your bloodstream get too high, water is pulled into your blood vessels, increasing blood flow and causing your blood pressure to rise. This can also lead to bloating and retaining fluids, and your heart must work harder to circulate blood throughout your body.

For these reasons, consuming too much salt can increase your risk for heart failure, a condition in which the heart isn’t able to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. Existing heart failure can also get worse. In addition, high blood pressure from a sodium-heavy diet can increase the risk of other types of heart disease, as well as stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis and even certain types of cancer. Some research also suggests that too much sodium can damage the heart even if you don’t have high blood pressure.

It’s also important to keep in mind that certain factors also play a role in the way salt affects your body. These include your:

  • Age
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Sex
  • Weight

Talk to your physician to learn if any of these factors affect how much salt you should eat.

Avoiding Foods High in Sodium

Table salt is made up of about 40% sodium and 60% chloride, but most of the sodium in our diet doesn’t come from salt added during cooking or at the table. Many processed and packaged foods, as well as foods served in restaurants, are high in sodium, as salt is added for flavor and to help preserve freshness. Sodium is also often hidden in foods that don’t taste salty, such as bread and dairy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the top 10 sources of sodium in our diet come from:

  • Breads
  • Pizza
  • Sandwiches
  • Cold cuts, luncheon meats and cured meats
  • Soups
  • Burritos and tacos
  • Salty snacks, such as potato chips, crackers, pretzels and popcorn
  • Poultry
  • Cheese
  • Omelets and other egg dishes

How Much Is Too Much Salt?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommended amount of sodium per day is no more than 2,300 mg for people ages 14 and older. On average, Americans consume about 3,400 mg per day.

What are the best ways to cut back on salt?

  • Choose fresh fruit and vegetables over salty snacks and processed foods and fresh, lean meats instead of those that are canned, marinated, smoked or cured.
  • Look for packaged foods labeled “reduced sodium” or “no salt added.”
  • Use salt-free seasoning blends and more herbs and spices when cooking.
  • Limit condiments such as ketchup, salad dressing and barbecue sauce.

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