Spotlight on SaltMonday, November 10, 2014
By Catherine Cioffi, RD Contributing Blogger
Eating less salt (or sodium) is recommended to help prevent or manage high blood pressure and heart disease. In August 2014, a series of new research studies revisited this link between sodium and heart health, unraveling greater insight into the recommendations.
The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults eat no more than 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, especially those with health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease. Recently, however, some scientists have started to question the benefits of very low salt intake, noting weaknesses in the previous research.
A New Study
A group of researchers sought out to re-examine the effects of different amounts of sodium on blood pressure and heart disease, using data from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE study) – a large, international study of more than 100,000 adults (LINK). The results were published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The studies found that there was a strong, direct link between increasing sodium levels and higher blood pressure. Those taking in the highest amount of sodium (over 7,000 milligrams per day based on the researchers’ estimates) were also at greater risk for heart disease, compared with those who took in moderate levels of sodium (4,000 – 5,999 milligrams per day). Both of these findings were particularly true for individuals with existing high blood pressure.
Interestingly, these negative effects of salt on blood pressure were less strong in adults who took in more potassium (found in fruits and vegetables), suggesting that it might be protective against heart disease.
What’s a Salt Lover To Do?
Overall, the findings from these studies re-confirmed previous evidence that reducing sodium, while increasing potassium offers the greatest benefits for those with high blood pressure. Below are a few tips to help salt-lovers achieve a more “heart healthy” balance.
- Avoid hidden salt culprits: though limiting the saltshaker is an easy step to start, the largest contributors of salt in the diet are packaged, canned, and frozen foods. Check the “Nutrition Facts” panel, and choose “low-salt” or “no salt added” products when possible. Other foods with hidden sodium include bread products, deli and processed meats, certain cheeses, marinades and condiments.
- Add potassium-rich foods: Most fruits and vegetables have potassium, especially the orange-, yellow-, and red-colored options, such as bananas, sweet potatoes, oranges, grapefruit, apricots, and tomatoes. Beans and legumes, and fat-free or low-fat milk products also contain or provide potassium.
- Remember physical activity: The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends regular physical activity for heart health. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity for five days per week, plus two days per week of muscle-strengthening activity. Walking counts and is a great place to start!
Looking for other heart healthy tips?
The American Heart Association has a variety of resources for eating a heart healthy diet—from recipes and shopping tips, to physical activity ideas, and more. Check out the link here!