Cut The Salt, Save Lives

I remember when I was just a youngster of about 18, my family doctor told me that I had a very good blood pressure. In fact, it was so good that it would even be considered too low back in the day. It would often be around 90 over 60.

To make sure it would not go too low, he suggested I add salt to my food. Now, I am not sure if many doctors today would actually suggest that you add salt to your food but that’s what I did for several years. As a health and physical education teacher, I began to read about the link with using too much salt and high blood pressure, so I gradually cut back.

You are probably wondering if all that salt I ate made my pressure rise. Well, to tell you the truth it is still very good! I average 100/60 on most days and actually get a little upset when my numbers creep up to 110/70. Must be all those fruits and veggies I eat!

So, do you know your blood pressure numbers? Current guidelines state that you should strive to keep your pressure under 120/80. If your numbers hover between that and 140/90 you are considered pre-hypertensive. Anyone with a reading of 140/90 or higher has hypertension.

Lately, there has been a lot of news surrounding the efforts of many to reduce the sodium intake of people in the United States. Some interesting facts really opened my eyes. Several studies found that reducing our use of salt by cutting just 1,200 milligrams of sodium out of our daily diet could prevent 92,000 deaths and 66,000 strokes every year. It could also keep up to 99,000 Americans from having a heart attack.

Wondering what your odds are that you will develop high blood pressure? According to physician Steven Havas, former officer of the American Medical Association, 90 percent of people in the United States will develop hypertension. Wow, that is just amazing! Blood pressure tends to drift upward as people get older and the longer they are exposed to a high-sodium diet. So where does sodium lurk in our foods?

Whenever I counsel people about their diet and high blood pressure, they almost always say, “I don’t ever use a salt shaker.” Of course, I applaud them for that effort, but next I ask them how many processed foods they eat, how often they eat out, etc. The truth is that most of the sodium we take in every day comes from processed foods. Unless we make everything from scratch, we are taking in hidden sodium in almost all foods. From canned soups, to pizza, to frozen dinners, we are consuming large chunks of sodium. That’s what labels are for! Check the labels on all foods you eat.

If you eat out, it is even more difficult to determine the sodium content of many foods. Many restaurant chains now provide you with nutrient information about their food, but you have to ask for it. Check out the sodium content, and I think you may be surprised to see just how easy it would be to take in over 5,000 mg of sodium a day. One chicken burrito at one place held a whopping 2,120 mg of sodium; lasagna at another popular chain has 2,830 mg; and some cheese fries with ranch dressing was an amazing 5,530 mg of sodium!

Expert panels recommend no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day if you are middle-aged or older, or already have high blood pressure. Everyone else should shoot for no more than 2,300 mg per day. Try keeping a log of your sodium intake for a few weeks and see what you average. I am guessing that most of you will come in well over 3,000 mg of sodium a day.

Mary Velez is the director of Employee Wellness and Volunteer Services at Ohio Valley Medical Center and East Ohio Regional Hospital. She obtained a master’s degree from West Virginia University in community health education. She has a bachelor’s degree from West Liberty State College in physical education and special education and taught school in West Virginia for nine years.