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Sodium Intake and Heart Disease

Whats the relationship between salt and your heart health? Is your sodium intake putting you at risk?

throw away salt shakerEver think about your sodium intake? For many of us, adding salt (sodium chloride) to our cooking or the food on our dinner plate is an automatic reflex - even before we've tasted it!

And, we love salted foods - look at the consumption of salted peanuts, pretzels, potato chips, and popcorn across North America. As well, processed foods and restaurant prepared foods typically contain a LOT of salt.

What's wrong with consuming salt? Don't we need it?

Yes, salt is essential for life. It cannot be reproduced by the body. We can perish from too little sodium just as we can of from too little water. We need it to regulate the fluid balance in our bodies. And, iodized salt has pretty much eliminated iodine deficiency in North America.


Too much sodium intake contributes to high blood pressure, which is one of the major risk factors for heart disease.

If you have congestive heart failure, it is essential to restrict the salt in your diet.

If you are taking blood pressure medication, limiting sodium intake can improve the effectiveness of your drugs.

According to the Institute of Medicine, older people and those with chronic diseases including high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease are especially sensitive to the blood pressure-raising effects of salt and should consume less than normally recommended amounts.

Even if you are in perfect health, it's wise to limit it as part of a heart-healthy diet.

How much salt is okay?

There are variances in the recommended maximums - some say the maximum should be no more than 1500 mg of sodium per day, which is adequate to maintain a healthy body. The Mayo Clinic Heart Book and the American Heart Association recommend that intake be limited to 2400 mg per day.

Check with your doctor or nutritionist to determine what your recommended intake is and if you should be on a sodium restricted diet.

I was shocked to learn how much sodium in our diets is "hidden." It's easy to stop adding salt at the table, but we also need to identify the other sources and limit them too.

Sodium is present in varying degrees in many foods. Some sources are easier to identify - such as salty pickles, bacon, cured ham, and snack foods to name a few. But it's also high in cheeses, salad dressings, peanut butter, and canned soups and sauces, and more.

To put this in perspective, just one teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium - almost the daily maximum.

Here's another interesting statistic - according to Take a Load off Your Heart a medium potato contains only 5 mg of sodium. The same potato processed into potato chips has 1,560 mg.

Changing your diet

Your palate may be accustomed to salty flavors - so when you first cut down your sodium intake, you may find that things taste bland. Give it a few weeks - you'll be surprised at how much you grow to enjoy food without salt - plus there are many other flavorful seasonings you can use and enjoy - lemon, garlic, ginger, chili, and other herbs and spices. Citrus fruits (lemons, orange, tangerine, and lime) add zing and flavor to almost any dish.


  • Eat fresh foods. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables. If you can't buy fresh, frozen is the next best alternative.

  • Avoid processed foods. Make your own sauces, pizza, spaghetti, and soups.

  • Omit the salt in recipes. I've been doing this and honestly, I don't even notice the difference.

  • Use fresh herbs. If you are using fresh herbs, you can generally use three times more fresh than dried herbs.

  • If you don't have time to cook, choose sodium-reduced soups, sauces, pastas, etc.

  • Avoid buying salty snacks. Buy unsalted nuts, crackers or rice cakes, or dry pop your own popcorn (plain kernels not the microwave bags).

  • Throw away your salt shaker. Experiment with other seasonings. Use pepper!

  • Avoid soy sauce. You can get low-sodium tamari sauce.

  • Read labels. Check the quantity of salt, sea salt, seasoned salts, sodium and anything that starts with the word sodium followed by ascorbate, benzoate, caseinate, citrate, erythorbate, nitrate, bicarbonate, propionate, saccharin and phosphate. Avoid monosodium glutamate (MSG).

  • When eating out, ask for your food to be prepared without salt.

  • Check out the nutritional information for fast foods. For example, not only does McDonald's deluxe breakfast have 1,920 mg of sodium but it has 60% more than the daily recommendation for cholesterol, a whopping 94% of your daily recommended fat and contains a huge percentage of saturated fat. You can check out the nutritional data from 12 of the world's most popular fast food restaurant chains at www.fatcalories.com.

Enjoy pizza? Here's some sobering information

According to Canwest News Service, a survey was conducted by the Canadian Stroke Network, the Canadian Obesity Network, and the Advanced Foods and Material Network, which found that two slices of pizza from popular chains can contain more than two times the recommended daily dietary sodium intake. The US Institute of Medicine recommends a daily intake for adults of between 1100 - 1500 mg.

They reported that

  • two slices of pepperoni lover's large stuffed crust pizza from Pizza Hut can contain 3,000 mg of sodium.
  • two slices of large rustic Italian pizza at Boston Pizza contained 2580 mg of sodium.
  • one large slice of meat supreme from Pizza Pizza contains 2400 mg of sodium.

According to Canadian researchers, excessive sodium intake is causing up to 17000 additional cases of stroke, heart attack, heart failure a year in Canada. This isn't limited to Canada - it's happening across the world.

A healthier choice? If you are going to have pizza - choose a thin crust pizza with less salty pepperoni. Better still, make it yourself from wholesome ingredients with little sodium.

Here's an all purpose spice blend you can try instead of salt.

Mix together

  • 2 tbs. onion powder
  • 2 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 2 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp celery seed.

Put in a shaker and enjoy.

What tips and tricks do you have to control the sodium intake in your diet? Send them in and we'll share them with others.

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