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  • Writer's pictureDr. Sarah Penney, ND, MSc

Sodium: How Much is Too Much?

Maybe at your last check-up your blood pressure was a bit high, or you decided to measure it at a drug mart and were surprised by the results. Ideally your blood pressure should be below 140/90 mmHg if you are otherwise healthy, or 130/80 mmHg if you have diabetes or kidney disease. Readings higher than this can increase your risk of stroke, heart attack or heart failure and kidney damage, which is why blood pressure is an important reading to keep your eye on. More importantly, high blood pressure is mainly asymptomatic, which means most people do not know if their blood pressure is high or not. Depending on your overall health, after detecting a high blood pressure reading your family doctor may recommend a period of lifestyle changes to see if your numbers can be controlled without medications.

One of the most well known links between lifestyle factors and high blood pressure is sodium intake, aka the amount of salt you consume in your diet – but how low do you have to go? Many patients I see as a Naturopathic Doctor know that they should decrease their intake of sodium, but don’t know why, what to look for or where it is commonly found! The recommended amount of sodium for someone looking to control their risk factors for heart disease determined by the American Heart Association is 1500mg per day. These guidelines are based on the idea that sodium increases our retention of fluids, which increases the pressure inside of our blood vessels. This extra volume can also create more work for our heart to pump which over time can cause it to enlarge.

Controlling your sodium intake often involves decreasing your intake of packaged and processed foods, and keeping a strict eye on nutritional labels. When it comes to making smart choices in your diet, it's important to know that sodium can be found in unexpected places. Get into a habit of looking at the nutrition table on all packaged products you buy to get a sense of how much sodium you are eating. Keep in mind your goal of 1500-2000 mg per day, and you might be surprised at how quickly it can add up. For example, 1 serving of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup (which by the way is not the whole can) contains 890mg of sodium – half your recommended daily intake. A slice of pizza can easily contain 750mg of sodium! It is important to notice the SERVING SIZE (usually found at the very top) when you are looking at labels and estimate how much sodium you will get according to how much you will eat. For example – will you be having just 1 slice of pizza? Increase accordingly!

The American Heart Association released “ The Salty Six” in 2012, a list which identified the saltiest foods found in our diet. Topping the list was bread and bread products like rolls, which is one we don’t often think about. Other foods on the list are cold cuts and processed meats, pizza, prepared poultry products (often even injected with sodium), soup and sandwiches. You can check it out here:

As a Naturopath, one of my passions is helping patients prevent future health complications, and I recognize blood pressure as an important part of that puzzle! While restricting sodium is an important step, it may not be the only answer for you. Contact me today at either one of my two Hamilton locations for a free 15 minute consult!

As originally written for Ace Nutrients -

- Dr. Sarah Penney, ND, MSc

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