CINCINNATI—It’s the season for grilled hot dogs with relish, mounds of potato salad and margaritas with salted rims.
But University of Cincinnati heart experts say you may want to lay off the high-sodium smorgasbord to maintain good health.
“Reducing the amount of sodium you consume can help lower high blood pressure or prevent it from developing in the first place,” says Imran Arif, MD, a cardiologist with UC Physicians. “Keeping your blood pressure at healthy levels is important because high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, the No. 1 killer in the United States.”
Increased salt intake causes more fluid to be retained in the blood vessels. This increased volume of blood requires the heart to work harder to pump blood to all the tissues in the body, resulting in hypertension, or high blood pressure.
Now, new information shows it’s even more of a problem when dining away from home.
A new report released last week by the Center for Science in the Public Interest detailed which restaurants are worst when it comes to sodium-packed meals.
Some of the dishes contained four times the amount of salt needed daily in a single serving.
Arif, assistant professor in the division of cardiovascular diseases, says it is best to eat less than 2,300 milligrams of salt per day, but some populations—like African-Americans who are generally at risk for hypertension, middle-aged and older adults and people with high blood pressure—need less than 1,500 milligrams per day.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the average American consumes an average of 3,436 milligrams of sodium daily.
But it’s not salt from the shaker that is causing the big problem.
The AHA says people in the U.S. get up to 75 percent of their sodium from processed foods like tomato sauce, soups, condiments, canned foods and prepared mixes.
“It’s important to be aware of natural sodium content in foods when you are trying to lower your intake,” Arif cautions. “Read the labels to make proper nutrition choices and avoid products that are high in sodium.”
But even though it is important to watch these numbers, Arif says controlling your sodium intake doesn’t have to be a bummer during summer nights out on the town or picnics in the park.
“Just choose your food selectively,” he urges. “Don’t add extra salt—use pepper or lemon juice to add flavor instead—and be familiar with low-sodium foods before you get there.”
He adds that it is OK to “special order” your meal at a restaurant, being specific about how you want your food cooked and requesting that no salt be added to your dish during preparation.
“Without all the salt, it may take some creativity when preparing a savory meal or some willpower when ordering at a local bistro, but your heart will thank you for it in the long run,” Arif says.