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High Sodium Effects on Health

By Linda H. Lamb

Many recipes call for a pinch of salt — but if you take in too much sodium, that might be a recipe for health problems. Thousands of studies have been done on the health effects of sodium, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, with most of them focusing on possible risks to cardiovascular health. Because a high-sodium diet is linked to high blood pressure and other ailments, you might benefit from a diet that’s lower in salt — which is 40 percent sodium by weight.

Sodium and Health

Sodium is essential for your health, including helping with fluid balance, nerves and muscles. But most Americans consume much more than the recommended daily amount — 2,300 mg or about 1 tsp. if you are healthy and 1,500 mg or about 2/3 tsp. if you have diabetes or other risks for high blood pressure. Too much sodium makes you retain fluid and pumps up the volume of your blood.

Heart and Kidneys

Your kidneys can have a hard time flushing out sodium when you consume too much of it, and your body retains water to dilute the excess sodium. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, too much salt may damage your kidneys and heart even if you don’t develop high blood pressure. But heart disease and high blood pressure may develop as your heart and blood vessels cope with increased blood volume. One long-term study published in 2009 found that higher salt intake was linked to a 23 percent increase in stroke and a 14 percent increase in heart disease, notes the Harvard School of Public Health.

Stomach and Bones

Other research has examined a possible connection between sodium and cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research concluded that salt and salty foods are a “probable cause of stomach cancer,” the Harvard School of Public Health reports. Excess sodium also may weaken bones, especially as you grow older, because more calcium is flushed out through urine when you are taking in too much sodium.

Tips on Cutting Sodium

Reducing sodium in your diet could help limit your risks for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and other health problems. Look for sodium content on nutrition labels — paying special attention to the processed foods and restaurant meals responsible for most of the sodium you consume. Fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium, and rinsing canned vegetables will wash away much of the salt. Roasting foods may result in more flavor than microwaving or steaming, and try flavorings like herbs, spices and lemon juice to enhance taste without adding sodium.

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