JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
Sodium is essential to the human body for fluid distribution, blood pressure, cellular work and electrical activity.
However, according to the American Heart Association, too much sodium causes the body to retain water, placing an extra burden on the heart and blood vessels, which may lead to or raise high blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the risk factors for developing heart disease and having a stroke.
During American Heart Month in February - and throughout the year - Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Medical Clinic professionals stressed the importance of achieving and maintaining a healthy blood pressure. One of the ways to accomplish that goal is to reduce sodium in the diet.
"The current recommendation for sodium consumption is 2.3 grams per day, which is the equivalent of 6 grams of salt, or sodium chloride," Lt. Col. (Dr.) Yi Yang, 359th Medical Operations Squadron Family Health Clinic physician, said. "That's little more than a teaspoon."
However, those who are more at-risk should consume even less sodium, according to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those population groups include people who are 51 years of age or older, African Americans and people who have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
Controlling sodium intake is not easy, especially in the western diet, Yang said.
"The average American consumes about 20 grams of salt per day," he said. "Some people get up to 30 grams."
The problem is that salt is added to many foods people buy at the grocery store, Yang said. Meals served at restaurants are often high in salt as well.
"There's salt in bread, sodas and many other foods and drinks," he said. "Most recipes call for salt. So it's not just the salt you add to your food. When you're talking about 6 grams a day, everything should be included."
One way to control sodium intake is to read nutrition labels and steer clear of foods that contain too much sodium, Yang said. Another way is to prepare your own meals.
"If you prepare your own meals, you have better control," he said. "It saves you money, too."
Salt is not the only sodium compound that people should limit in their diets, according to the American Heart Association. Others are monosodium glutamate, or MSG; baking soda; baking powder; disodium phosphate and any compound that has "sodium" or "Na" in its name.
The American Heart Association also recommends avoiding prepackaged, processed and fast foods, such as salted snacks; ham, bacon, corned beef, luncheon meats, sausages and hot dogs; canned foods and juices that contain salt; frozen dinners that are high in salt; seasoned salts and meat tenderizers; and ketchup, mayonnaise, sauces and salad dressings.
In addition to reducing sodium intake, people can achieve a healthy blood pressure by exercising, losing weight, and reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption, Yang said.