Heart disease continues to be the “leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States” and is one of the most preventable” (CDC, 2020). One risk factor of heart disease in uncontrolled high blood pressure. There are several ways to lower your blood pressure including lifestyle changes, reducing stress, and taking prescribed medications. Let’s take a closer look at one of the controllable lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of hypertension: Reducing sodium in your diet.
Where do you find sodium?
Sodium is an essential nutrient that is used as a preservative, a way to flavor foods, enhance texture, and often found as an ingredient when baking. Sodium is in most food groups; however, higher amounts are typically found in mixed dishes such as sandwiches, pizza, tacos, and burritos. When combining foods to create meals, multiple ingredients are added, sauces and condiments, and even toppings which all likely add additional sodium to the total dish. You will find higher sodium in foods that are commercially prepared and prepackaged. This includes processed foods like frozen dinners and soups.
How much sodium is recommended?
Our bodies only need a small amount of daily sodium to carry out body functions. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults should consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. In the United States, the current sodium intake is 3,393 mg per day.
Why does sodium intake matter?
According to the American Heart Association, high intakes of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, kidney stones, osteoporosis, stroke, and heart failure (2020). Reducing the sodium in your diet is also one way to reduce your risk of hypertension and lower blood pressure.
Reducing sodium in your diet
- Use the Nutrition Facts Label to guide your selection of foods and beverages. To determine how many mg of sodium is in a product, start with the serving size first. Move down to the sodium content next. This will tell you how many mg of sodium are in one serving size. A helpful tool to use is the % Daily Value found on the right side of the Nutrition Facts Label. If the sodium content is 5% or less for the % Daily Value, the product is considered a low source of sodium. If the % Daily Value is 20% or more, the product is considered a high source of sodium. Keep in mind how many servings you plan to eat or drink as this will impact the % Daily Value. When selecting prepackaged products, look for ones with low or no sodium and no-salt added which you will find on the product label.
Nutrient Claims to Know
- Sodium free: less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
- Low sodium: 140 mg of sodium or less per serving
- No salt–added: no salt is adding during processing – This does not mean the product is sodium free, so be sure to check the label.
Read more about using the Nutrition Facts Label to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet. This resource also includes 10 Easy Tips for Reducing Sodium Consumption.
- Cooking more at home allows you to control what ingredients go into your meals. Choose fresh more often and reduce the amounts of prepackaged foods. When using prepackaged or commercially prepared foods, select low or no sodium options when available. If you are preparing a mixed dish, make lower sodium substitutions for sauces, toppings, and seasonings.
- Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to a dish without adding sodium or fats. There are a variety of combinations of herbs and spices you can add to foods to enhance flavor. The link below will take you to a UF/IFAS Extension publication that includes a list of foods along with the herbs and spices that pair well together. There are tips for do-it-yourself herb and spice blends, and a few low sodium recipes, too.
- A final tip to reduce sodium in your diet is to follow the DASH diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This heart healthy eating plan emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low or fat free dairy, and lean meat, poultry, and fish. The DASH diet limits products high in saturated fats as well as sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets. While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and DASH recommends consuming less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily, DASH suggests aiming for 1,500 mg to lower blood pressure even more. For more information on the DASH diet read more here.
Take control of reducing your risk of heart disease and lowering your blood pressure. Become your best advocate for your health by Reading Nutrition Facts Labels to select foods, cook at home more often, try new herbs and spices to season foods and dishes, and follow the DASH diet. By following each of the tips for reducing sodium in your diet, you’re one step closer to a healthier heart.