Heart Health: How Salt Affects Your Heart Health
Salt is an important ingredient in our diet as it plays a vital role in water retention, muscle contraction, and contains nutrients that are vital to the digestive system. Too little sodium in the body can result in dehydration because the cells are unable to retain water. On the other hand, too much sodium in one’s diet from salty foods may increase the risk of high blood pressure. So the primary question is - How much salt is too much for your body? Dr. (Col)Anil Dhall, who was a Senior Interventional Cardiologist takes us through this in detail:
According to American guidelines, the human body only requires about half a gram of sodium per day to regulate the fluid balance of cells and plasma. Salt is generally nontoxic to adults, provided it is excreted properly. The maximum amount of sodium that should be incorporated into a healthy diet should range from 2,400-3,000 mg/day.
However, the average man consumes at least nine grams of sodium per day, with many eating more than 12 grams on a daily basis. Therefore, most of us need to reduce our salt intake.
Impact of salt intake on heart health
Too much sodium intake can lead to water retention in the blood increasing blood pressure too. Normally, the kidney flushes this excess water from the body. However, sometimes, kidneys are unable to function properly and find it difficult to expel the excess fluid sufficiently out of the body, thereby leading to fluid retention. This increases the volume of blood being pumped through the blood vessels and can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension).
In an effort to pump the extra fluid through the body, the heart may also become dilated or enlarged. Moreover, with this condition the cells in the heart don't work as well as they should because they are not receiving enough oxygen and nutrients. Over time, the damage caused by extra blood pressure may become so severe that the arteries burst or become completely clogged. If this happens, then the part of the heart that was receiving the blood no longer gets the oxygen and nutrients it needs, and dies. The result is a heart attack.
Thus, overweight people who eat too much salt are at a greater risk of heart disease or stroke and people with high blood pressure are at a greater risk of damaging their kidneys.
Strategies for reducing salt intake
Salt when added during cooking, used as a seasoning in restaurants, or taken in processed foods; increases the sensitivity of people towards heart ailments. Since the body only requires about 500 milligrams per day, naturally occurring sodium in fruits and vegetables may be enough to sustain good body function.
Therefore, the following suggestions are offered for reducing one’s sodium intake by reducing one’s use of salt:
- Avoid prepared foods as much as possible or read food labels and look for reduced – sodium varieties of your favorite foods.
- Take the salt shaker off the table.
- Use seasonings and spices other than salt. Alternative flavors and spices such as lemon juice, vinegar, peppers, onion, and fresh herbs to season food are of great help.
- Replace canned, frozen and other processed foods with fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Limit consumption of salty snacks like peanuts and potato chips.
- Use unsalted butter rather than regular butter.
- Select low–fat, low–sodium cheese and yogurt.
- Eat bananas and other potassium–rich foods. These foods help balance sodium levels.
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