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Black Americans should eat less salt

GLENN ELLIS | 10/31/2016, 5:40 p.m.
The average American consumes nearly 3,400 mg of sodium per day; the recommendation from the American Heart Association is 1,500 ...

Strategies for Well-Being

The average American consumes nearly 3,400 mg of sodium per day; the recommendation from the American Heart Association is 1,500 mg per day. When there’s extra sodium in your bloodstream, it pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing the total amount, or volume, of blood inside your blood vessels. With more blood flowing through your blood vessels, your blood pressure increases. It’s like turning up the water supply to a garden hose – the pressure in the hose increases as more water is blasted through it.

Over time, high blood pressure may overstretch or injure the blood vessel walls and speed the build-up of gunky plaque that can block blood flow. The added pressure also tires out the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood through the body.

Reducing Americans’ intake of sodium has been an important but elusive public health goal, in this country and around the world, for many years. The U.S. population consumes far more sodium than is recommended, placing individuals at risk for diseases related to elevated blood pressure. Heart disease and stroke are the nation’s first and third leading causes of death. Cancer is second.

Let me do my best to explain some important facts about salt and your health to help you better understand why all the fuss about salt and sodium. We all need a small amount of sodium to keep our bodies working properly. There is a very important balance that must be maintained between sodium and potassium. Potassium is a very important mineral for the proper function of all cells, tissues and organs in the human body. Keeping the right potassium balance in the body depends on the amount of sodium and magnesium in the blood.

Too much sodium – common in Western diets that use a lot of salt – tends to increase the need for potassium. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables provide potassium, which can blunt the effects of high sodium intake and lower blood pressure. However, less than 2 percent of US adults consume enough potassium, while only 8.6 percent of children meet the guidelines for fruit intake, and less than 1 percent of children consume sufficient vegetables. The top sources of sodium in the U.S. diet include breads and rolls, deli meats, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat mixed dishes, such as meatloaf with tomato sauce, and the majority of snacks. Sound familiar?

The high amount of sodium in the U.S. food supply makes it difficult for Americans to not exceed the recommended level of sodium intake when consuming a nutritionally adequate diet. The extra stored water raises your blood pressure and puts strain on your kidneys, arteries, heart and brain. Thus, a vicious cycle leading to the devastation linked to high blood pressure.

It is important to know that words “salt” and “sodium” are not exactly the same, yet these words are often used in place of each other. Sodium chloride is the chemical name for salt.