The numbers are surprising: The average American consumes 7,000 milligrams of sodium per day. That far exceeds the daily intake recommendation, which is less than 2,500 mg (and even less if you have high blood pressure).
Even if people are judicious with the salt shaker, there are a few things at play that’s causing Americans to consume far too much sodium.
For starters, processed foods — even the ones you don’t think of as being salty, like ice cream and cookies — are high in sodium, which is commonly used as a preservative.
Companies also add more salt to foods sold in the United States with the rationale that taste tests show Americans want it. For example, a can of tomato soup sold in America has 30 percent more sodium than one sold in the Europe, even though it’s made by the same company.
If you eat out frequently or frequent the drive-thru, it’s likely your meals are extremely high in sodium because restaurants are notorious for adding on the salt.
So, what’s the problem with sodium, aside from feeling “puffy” after eating a particularly salty meal?
Salt causes fluid retention, which increases blood pressure. One in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High blood pressure can lead to strokes or heart attacks.
By changing your eating habits, though, you can significantly bring down your blood pressure. The more processed foods you eat, the higher your sodium intake. As a result, I recommend avoiding meals and foods that are mass-produced and embrace a plant-based diet. By doing so, you’ll eliminate those highly processed foods and instead fill up on nutrient-rich fruits and veggies.
Instead of bad fats from, say, french fries and chicken nuggets, you can opt for healthy fats that are found in nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocados.
When you’re cooking at home and eating fewer processed, packaged and canned foods, your sodium intake will decrease and your taste buds will become accustomed to the less-salty meals. Instead of salt, you can use lemon juice, herbs or spices to season your food.
The reward? A study from the British Medical Journal found that by cutting 1,000 mg of sodium a day, you can decrease your risk of heart attack or stroke by 25 percent. Your health is worth it.
(Dr. Priya Kansal is a cardiologist with Kaiser Permanente Northwest.)