Nutrition Cove: The Effects of Salt on Health

Did you know that African Americans have higher rates of hypertension (high blood pressure) than any other racial or ethnic groups, and only about 20% have it under control? Black men and women also develop hypertension at younger ages, and suffer more severe outcomes than other populations. Consuming large amounts of salt (sodium) has been shown to contribute to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of kidney failure, heart disease, and stroke. Once you start to suffer from hypertension, it can lead to a vicious cycle of dysfunction if not addressed.

Your kidneys serve to filter your blood, removing toxins and unwanted fluid from your body. When you consume too much salt, your kidneys have a hard time keeping up – so your body retains more fluids to dilute the sodium. This fluid retention increases the blood volume of your bloodstream. The increased blood volume creates more work for your kidneys’ filtering system, which creates scarring, which then affects your kidneys’ ability to regulate fluid, which increases your blood pressure even more. This strain can ultimately lead to kidney disease, and even failure.

Over time, high blood pressure also causes your arteries to narrow and stiffen. This makes it harder for blood and oxygen flow to reach all of your organs effectively. Your heart compensates for this by pumping even harder to push the blood through your system, which in turn increases blood pressure even more. The damage hypertension causes to your arteries also increases fat collection in your arteries. All of this increases your risk of heart disease, suffering a heart attack, or even a stroke.

According to the FDA, you should only consume 2,300 mg of sodium per day – and only 1,500 mg if you have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure. You should be conscious of your salt intake. Pre-packaged food and fast food are high in sodium, so you shouldn’t eat them for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner everyday. Unprocessed whole foods are naturally low in sodium. When cooking your food, go easy on the salt, and stay away from pre-mixed seasoning, as they usually also contain salt. Instead focus on various herbs, spices, and acids to add flavor. Limiting your salt intake can have a dramatic effect on your health and longevity.

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