I’ll never forget a patient I treated a few years ago who was living with chronic hypertension. One Easter Sunday, he ate his fill of canned ham (packed with salt) and found himself in the hospital emergency room the next day. He was in a hypertensive crisis and suffering with acute heart failure. His heart just couldn’t handle the large amount of salt he had consumed.
His was an extraordinary situation, but it underscores the need to be careful with salt intake. So please let his story be a lesson to you. And please share it with family and friends who may be dealing with cardiovascular problems.
Here are some things you need to know about salt consumption:
- Your body requires sodium (a component of salt) to regulate fluid balance and distribution, as well as nerve and muscle cell function. Although you need some sodium, the standard diet includes way too much.
- “Salt sensitivity” is a key factor in determining the response to dietary salt intake. Cardiovascular problems, including heart attack and stroke, are more common in “salt sensitive” patients than in “salt resistant” ones.
- I recommend limiting sodium to about 2.8 grams daily if you're healthy.
- Many items at fast food restaurants are high in salt, so you can easily exceed the recommended level with one serving.
- You can easily make up for the reduced salt in your diet by cooking with fresh herbs and spices such as basil, garlic, oregano, rosemary, chives, parsley, and onion. What’s more, all of these flavorings contain natural substances that are good for your health. Garlic, in particular, has been shown to have a positive effect on blood pressure when consumed on a daily basis.
- Beware of cutting your salt consumption too much. You need a minimum amount of sodium in your system to maintain proper electrolyte balance, regardless of your blood pressure status. For that reason, don’t let your daily salt intake fall below about 1.8 grams.