By this point, you’ve probably heard that eating too much salt is a key contributor to high blood pressure and a host of other health problems. But you may be surprised to learn that a diet high in salty snacks and meals also could be robbing you of restful sleep.
A night of tossing and turning in your bed isn’t as frightening as a heart attack, but it can have a significant impact on your quality of life. And it’s yet another reminder of the dangers of ignoring dietary guidelines regarding salt.
Salt and Your Health
Sodium has a significant impact on your blood pressure. As you eat more salt, your body retains more fluids. That causes your blood vessels to narrow and stiffen, forcing your heart to work harder to keep up with your body’s needs.
Over the years, that extra work can wreak havoc on your body, contributing to conditions such as:
- Coronary artery disease: This can cause chest pain, irregular heartbeat and a heart attack.
- Enlargement of the heart: The lower left chamber of the heart (left ventricle) can thicken, increasing the risk of heart attack, heart failure and sudden cardiac death.
- Heart failure: When the heart is forced to work too hard for too long, it can become overwhelmed and fail.
- Stroke: This can occur when the narrowed blood vessels rupture or leak, depriving your brain of oxygen and nutrients.
- Dementia: Limited blood flow to the brain can lead to vascular dementia.
- Aneurysm: Narrowed arteries can weaken over time, resulting in ruptures and dangerous internal bleeding.
When considering the impact of high sodium diets, it’s also important to look at your sleep cycle. It again comes back to the fluid retention. When you eat a lot of salty foods during the day, you may find yourself needing to go to the bathroom more frequently at night. That’s going to make it difficult to get a peaceful night’s rest. You’ll wake up the next morning feeling sluggish.
How Much Is Too Much Salt?
Most people would probably be surprised to learn how much salt the American Heart Association recommends on a daily basis. Grab a teaspoon measuring spoon and fill it with salt. That’s 2,300 mg and the maximum you should eat in a day. And even that may be too much – the Heart Association recommends an ideal limit of 1,500 mg, or a little over half a teaspoon.
Unfortunately, most Americans don’t even come close to hitting that 2,300 mg mark. Instead, the average intake is more than 3,400 mg.
And if you think you’re limiting salt intake by avoiding the saltshaker, consider this: More than 70 percent of our sodium comes from packaged foods and restaurant meals.
Among the foods that are high in sodium:
- Breads, including crackers
- Breakfast cereal
- Canned foods
- Processed snack foods like potato chips and pretzels
- Frozen dinners
- Fast food
- Cold cuts, hot dogs and sausage
Cutting Back on Salt
To cut back on salt, pay particular attention to the kinds of foods you eat and what you buy at the grocery store. One strategy is to shop on the outside edges of the store, where you typically find non-processed foods, including fruits and vegetables.
Also remember that when you allow someone else – particularly restaurants – to prepare your meals, you likely have no idea what they’re putting in your food. There’s a good chance that if it tastes great, they’re loading it up with both butter and salt.
Some key strategies to reduce sodium include:
- Read the nutrition labels. You may find salt where you least expect it.
- When buying canned foods, look for “no salt added” labels.
- Choose low-sodium versions of food and condiments.
- Choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Make your own sauces and salad dressings.
- Roast a chicken and used the leftovers for sandwiches instead of cold cuts.
- Instead of sandwich bread, try a lettuce wrap or whole grain tortilla low in sodium.
- Incorporate other spices, including garlic and pepper, for flavor.
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