The Hypertension Epidemic

A salami and ham sandwich on white bread, chicken noodle soup, pickles and potato chips. Sound like the typical deli lunch? It’s no secret that Americans love food. Salty food. As a nation, we consume outrageous amounts of sodium in our daily life.  Yet, many of our favorite foods are incredibly high in sodium. On average, Americans consume over 3,400 mg of sodium per day. Unfortunately for us, high levels of sodium in our food is unhealthy for our bodies, especially as we age.

Hypertension is a common disease amongst many Americans, with nearly 70 million adults having high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The Western Diet as we know it is filled with excess sugar, calories and, oftentimes, sodium and salt. While excess intake of sodium and salt can affect overall health, particularly blood pressure, reducing salt intake is not the only method for preventing high blood pressure.

What is hypertension?

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Arteries carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body. Blood pressure naturally rises and falls throughout the day. Hypertension occurs when your kidneys work to reabsorb water. The reabsorption of water increases the amount of water in the blood, increasing the amount of volume being pumped through the veins and arteries.

Often, when you eat a meal with a large amount of sodium or salt, the kidneys will try to balance by reabsorbing water (and then increasing blood pressure). In a healthy heart, blood flows easily through the vessels and pumps at a normal rate. However, when blood pressure is high, it is much harder for blood to flow and the heart pumps harder and harder. Over time, if blood pressure remains high, damage may occur to your heart, potentially raising the risk for heart disease.

Hypertension can be linked to age, ethnicity, family history and diet (specifically salt/sodium intake). However, studies have shown a significant increase for those who work stressful jobs. Exposure to high job strain, which is a combination of high psychological demands and low job control, is one of the major factors that influences blood pressure for the working American.

How can hypertension be prevented?

There are several dietary and lifestyle approaches aimed at decreasing the risk of hypertension. One of these approaches is The DASH Diet: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

The DASH diet includes:

■ Weight loss and increasing exercise

■ Eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains

■ Including low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetable oils in your diet

■ Limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products and tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel and palm oils (some of these can be healthful, but in moderation)

■ Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets

■ The biggest challenge for most: limiting sodium intake to 2,300 mg/day (or 1,500mg/day for a more beneficial effect)

How Much Sodium Should You Really Consume Per Day?

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg a day and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults. They further state that, because the average American’s sodium intake is so excessive, even cutting back to no more than 2,400 mg a day will significantly improve blood pressure and heart health.

Here are the approximate amounts of sodium in a given amount of table salt:

½ tsp. salt = 1,150 mg sodium

1 tsp. salt = 2,300 mg sodium

Living a healthy life can include delicious food. The bottom line is to dig deep into what you consume on a regular basis, then exercise balance and portion control. Take the time to read nutrition labels for sodium and become a sodium detective! If you are choosing the Reuben sandwich (one piece of bread only), skip the pickle and the cheese. If you are choosing the grilled cheese, skip the tomato soup and opt for tomato slices instead. Make healthful choices that will help you to live a long and prosperous life.

Stay’s Swaps

In the food industry, many packaged products found in the grocery store are loaded with sneaky salt additives. Salt is used as a preservative and flavoring for many foods, even desserts and sweets. It is important to be aware of sodium in foods and reading food labels can help you to make better choices.

Cereals should contain no more than 250 mg of sodium per serving, but most common brands have far more than that. One cup of Grape Nuts cereal has approximately 580 mg of sodium.

Bagels may not taste very salty, but can have up to 500-700 mg of sodium, depending on size and flavor — and we haven’t even added the shmear of cream cheese yet.

Nuts are an amazing snack in moderation, but watch the salt. Salted nuts can contain hundreds of milligrams of sodium in just one serving. Add your own salt to unsalted nuts if you must have some, and do so sparingly.

Asian-inspired dishes and sushi can be a healthful choice; however, they are often drenched in soy sauce and other high-sodium stir fry sauces. By switching to low-sodium soy sauce, you can save 70 mg of sodium per teaspoon. Try using coconut aminos as a soy-sauce alternative to save even more sodium, and still gain the Asian flavor.