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That Sneaky Sodium!

Sodium is a very important minerals that your body needs to stay healthy. It is necessary for maintaining proper water and electrolyte balance in the body. Therefore, we need to consume some sodium every day. There is enough naturally occurring sodium in vegetables, that most people can get a sufficient amount of sodium without adding any extra salt to their food.

Unfortunately, only 5% of the sodium intake consumed by people living in the United States comes from the natural ingredients in food. Prepared foods contribute 45% of our sodium intake, 45% is added in cooking, and another 5% is obtained through condiments like ketchup, mustard, and salad dressings. We have grown so accustomed to the significant amounts of salt packaged and processed foods, that we also add it to most of our foods at the dinner table.

The latest national nutritional surveys suggest that Americans consume about a third more than the 2,300 milligrams per day limit advised by the federal government's 2005 Dietary Guidelines for adults up to age 45. Those older than 45, as well as African Americans, and people who have already been diagnosed with elevated blood pressure, are advised to consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily. That's the amount found in about a cup and a half of many canned soups.

For some people, excessive consumption of salt has very few health consequences. For others, however, excessive consumption of dietary sodium, coupled with a low dietary intake of potassium, is a common cause of high blood pressure, especially in “salt-sensitive” individuals.

High blood pressure is called "the silent killer" because it usually has no symptoms. Some people may not find out they have it until they have trouble with their heart, brain, or kidneys. When high blood pressure is not found and treated, it can cause:

The heart to get larger, which may lead to heart failure. Small bulges (aneurysms) to form in blood vessels. Common locations are the main artery from the heart (aorta), arteries in the brain, legs, and intestines, and the artery leading to the spleen. Blood vessels in the kidney to narrow, which may cause kidney failure. Arteries throughout the body to "harden" faster, especially those in the heart, brain, kidneys, and legs. This can cause a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, or amputation of part of the leg. Blood vessels in the eyes to burst or bleed, which may cause vision changes and can result in blindness. The good news is that high blood pressure can be treated and controlled. In addition to cutting down on salt and sodium in the diet, you can help control your blood pressure by eating healthy foods that include fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, losing excess weight, staying physically active, and limiting alcohol intake.

Here's what you can do to reduce your sodium intake:

Be a Label-Reader Pay attention to percent daily value of sodium. The rule of thumb is to choose foods that have less than 5% of the daily value for sodium.

Eat More Fruit and Vegetables According to a new report, most adults consume overly high – even unhealthy – levels of sodium, and many don’t consume enough potassium. Studies suggest that these potassium-rich foods can help counter the effects of high sodium intake. When it comes to potassium, increasing your consumption of fruits and vegetables will help.

DASH Toward Good Health The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is an eating plan that has been proven to lower blood pressure as much as some medications. DASH is low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, and rich in fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. Get a free copy at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/ or from the NHLBI Health Information Center, P.O. Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 20824-0105, or by calling 301-592-8573.

Ease Up on Salt Gradually Since the taste for salt develops over time, it's not a good idea to go cold turkey. If done all at once, food will suddenly taste bland - making the change more difficult. Instead, over time, cut down packaged foods, meals out, and table salt.

Choose Reduced-Sodium or No-Salt-Added Foods Snack on unsalted peanuts and skip sodium-loaded pretzels and chips. Use low-sodium chicken broth to whip up homemade soups in minutes. Swap "natural" peanut butter with no added salt for more-processed brands, which have 6% of the daily value per two tablespoons.

Keep an Eye Out for Hidden Sodium Besides restaurant fare and canned food, leading sources of sodium include what are considered more "healthy" foods, such as whole-grain bread, crackers and ready-to-eat cereals, and dairy foods, especially cheese. Other high sodium sources include frozen food with sauces, macaroni and cheese with flavor or seasoning packets, salad dressings, condiments, snack foods, luncheon meats, hot dogs and processed tomato products.

Smart low-sodium choices include oatmeal, plain shredded wheat, whole-wheat matzoh, brown rice, and nonfat milk and yogurt. You can also rinse canned beans and other vegetables to reduce their sodium content.

When Cooking at Home, Find Alternatives to Table Salt Use vinegar and oil instead of prepared salad dressings. Choose herbs and spices for flavoring instead of salt. Increasing the amount of herbs you use in cooking provides a double benefit. Not only will you decrease your sodium intake, but the scientific community continues to uncover the powerful health benefits of herbs.

Sea vegetables can provide a salty flavor, without the adding sodium. Sea vegetables are rich sources of a vast array of minerals, and also contain lignans, plant compounds with cancer-protective properties. Kelp is commonly used as an alternative to salt, as it is available in flakes that can added easily to most foods during cooking or at the table.

Disclaimer: The advice presented in this newsletter is for educational information only, and not intended to replace the advice of a qualified health professional. Please consult your physician before beginning any exercise or supplementation program.

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