The right level of sodium intake is essential to our good health, ensuring the normal function of our nerves, muscles, brain and heart. Important as it is, we should consider our salt intake each day, but likely don't. As a food preservative and flavor enhancer, sodium is found in virtually every grocery item that we buy each week – cereal, milk, juice, lunch meat, cheese, canned vegetables, soups, sauces, pickles, boxed dinners, soda, cookies, chips, et al. We need sodium to ensure the normal function of cells and organs in our bodies, including the nerves, muscles, brain and heart.
Sodium is normally excreted out of the body by our kidneys, but when sodium levels get too high, we retain that water and bloating occurs. When that happens, our hearts have to work all the harder to move blood through the arteries, in turn causing the walls of our arteries to stretch in order to accommodate the increased blood flow. Over time, that higher blood pressure damages both our heart and the arteries, potentially leading to heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage and aneurysms. Excessive salt intake is one of the causes of high blood pressure, which a third of all Americans over the age of 20 suffer from (many of whom don’t even know it).
The US Food and Drug Administration recommends a maximum salt intake of 2300 mg/day. An eating plan known as DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) recommends a maximum 1500 mg/day, essentially the same effect as taking a medication to lower high blood pressure. Medical studies indicate that on average, American men consume more than 4000 mg/day and women at just over 2900 mg/day. If such rates of salt intake continue, the majority of us will develop high blood pressure in our 50s, 60s and 70s.
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