Take that with a ‘pinch’ of salt…

Are processed foods, salad dressings and canned soups ‘worth their salt’? Your heart probably thinks NO. And so does a study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology.

This study looked at the association between sodium intake and heart function. It included nearly 3,000 U.S. adults participating in the Hypertension Genetic Epidemiology study, which investigates the genetics of high blood pressure. Participants were enrolled from four U.S. sites, ironically including Salt Lake City, UT, in addition to Forsyth County, NC; Minneapolis, MN; and Birmingham, AL. Participants were assessed for heart function and tested for sodium intake using urine testing.

Based on urine testing performed at the beginning of the study, participants consumed a median of 3,730 mg a day, higher than currently recommended by dietary guidelines (less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily) and similar to median American salt consumption. Investigators then compared the heart imaging, i.e. echocardiograms, of subjects who consumed higher than 3700 mg a day of sodium with those who consumed lower amounts and found that subjects with higher intake had larger hearts and poorer heart function than those consuming less sodium. This association existed after accounting for factors that could impact heart function, like age, sex, smoking status and alcohol use.

These findings underscore the need to significantly reduce sodium consumption to promote better health. The average American consumes more than 3,400 mg of sodium a day—similar to the excess levels of sodium consumption linked to poor heart function in this study.

Here are the approximate amounts of sodium in a given amount of salt:

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

Some diets rich in sodium include:

    1. Cold cuts and cured meats. Deli or pre-packaged turkey can have as much as 1,050 milligrams of sodium per serving!
    2. Pizza.  Did you know that one slice may have up to 760 milligrams of sodium? A few slices can send your sodium skyrocketing.
    3. Soup. One cup of canned chicken noodle soup can have up to 940 milligrams of sodium.
    4. Breads and rolls. A lot of bread doesn’t even taste salty, but one piece can have as much as 230 milligrams of sodium.
    5. Chicken. Just 3 ounces of frozen and breaded nuggets add nearly 600 milligrams of sodium.
    6. Burritos and Tacos.  Did you know that two teaspoons of packaged taco seasoning can have 411 mg of sodium?

How does sodium affect the heart?

Sodium is a mineral that is essential for life. It helps control body’s fluid balance and also helps in conduction of impulses to nerves and muscles. However, when there is excess sodium in your bloodstream, it pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing the total amount of blood inside them, leading to high blood pressure. When pressure in the blood vessels rises, the heart has to work harder to pump blood through them, ultimately damaging the muscle of the heart. High blood pressure also leads to high risk of heart attacks and strokes.

What are the benefits of dropping the sodium content in diet?

One estimate suggested that if the U.S. population dropped its sodium intake to 1,500 mg/day, overall blood pressure could decrease by 25.6%, with an estimated $26.2 billion in health care savings. Another estimate projected that achieving this goal would reduce CVD deaths by anywhere from 500,000 to nearly 1.2 million over the next decade.

So many reasons to ‘jump salty’ on salt!

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