Why Sodium is Deadly and How I’m Fighting Back

Sodium is a mineral essential for the body to function. We get sodium from the foods and drinks we consume. If you take in too much sodium, it pulls extra water into your blood vessels increasing the total volume of blood. With more blood flowing through the vessels, blood pressure increases.

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Picture a garden hose turned on just enough to have a steady stream. Now you grab onto the knob and turn it all the way to the left (this symbolizes a meal high in sodium). More water being forced through the hose, the pressure increases, and the water shoots out much faster. This is the same thing happening with your blood vessels!

Over time, increased pressure can overstretch or injure the blood vessel walls and tire out the heart. The heart must work harder to pump blood leading to even higher blood pressure and possibly a heart attack, stroke, and/or heart failure. High blood pressure is often known as the silent killer because there are rarely symptoms. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. For at-risk groups like those with hypertension or a family history of heart disease, it is recommended to take in less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Based on these guidelines, the vast majority of adults eat more sodium than they should– an average of more than 3,400 mg each day. It’s no surprise that 90% of American adults are expected to develop high blood pressure over their lifetimes.

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So where is all this sodium coming from? (Hint: it’s not the salt shaker) Approximately three-fourths the sodium we consume is from packaged and processed foods. Around 12% of our sodium intake occurs naturally in food and the other 10% is from the salt shaker. If all this is news to you, you aren’t alone!

I exercise often and always felt that I ate pretty healthy, but for some reason, my blood pressure was typically on the higher side. Based on my family history that I’m at high risk for hypertension and heart disease, so this always concerned me. I rarely eat fast food or item I thought were high in sodium but found that a lot of vegan/gluten-free things are high in sodium! I set a goal of 2,000 mg of sodium per day and started keeping track of my sodium intake. Cooking meals at home and eating more fruit and vegetables to satisfy my hunger were useful to reach my goal.

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Here’s my challenge for you: Keep track of what you’re eating for the next few days and note the sodium content. Use the notes section in your phone, a notebook, or journal to keep it organized. If you can’t find the sodium content on the package, use a website like fatsecret.com. Then, come back and let me know in the comments below what your sodium intake was!

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About Ryan Barnes, BSN, RN, PCCN

Cardiac Surgery RN from Baltimore, DNP student, and Army nurse.

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