Do you sometimes have trouble squeezing your rings over puffy fingers? Are your shoes getting tighter? If so, it may be time to take a look at your salt intake. Too much salty food can cause fluid retention and swelling.
Worse, too much salt puts you at risk for hypertension (HTN), a harmful and all too prevalent condition.
Physicians are reporting an alarming rise in the number of children and teens who have high blood pressure.
The Dangers of High Blood Pressure
Hypertension damages the kidneys and increases the risk for stroke. Stroke is a leading cause of disability and the third leading cause of death in America. And high blood pressure raises the risk for heart disease, the number one killer worldwide, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Untreated or poorly controlled HTN can also trigger hemorrhages in the blood vessels at the at the back of the eye. And damage to the retina can cause vision loss.
Because elevated blood pressure usually produces no symptoms, many people with the condition are unaware they have it, so they are not taking precautionary measures like decreasing salt use. But the U.S. 2010 Dietary Guidelines caution that too much salt is not good for anyone. People should not wait for a diagnosis of HTN to cut back.
Those especially vulnerable to the dangers of dietary salt are people over 50, children, and anyone who already has hypertension, prehypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Also at high risk are African Americans, who are 11% more likely to have hypertension.
Hypertension and Prehypertension: The Numbers
Does your blood pressure fall within normal range? Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or below. Hypertension is a blood pressure of 140/90 or higher. Blood pressure between 120/80 and 140/90 is classified as prehypertension. Blood pressure of 180/110 or higher is a hypertensive crisis. The AHA advises emergency medical treatment for a pressure that high.
Frequency of Blood Pressure Checks
The American Heart Association recommends a blood pressure screening at least every two years for low-risk adults, more often if you have risk factors. Children should have a blood pressure check once per year beginning at age three. Of course, it is always best to follow your doctor’s advice regarding all health issues, including frequency of blood pressure checks.
Be Proactive: Know Your Numbers
During exams, ask what your blood pressure is. Write it down, noting the date. You can also check your blood pressure. Some pharmacies have a free, easy to use blood pressure station. If you need to keep closer tabs on your blood pressure, buy a home kit.
Knowing your blood pressure will motivate you. If it is in the normal range, you will have an incentive to do all you can to keep it there. If your blood pressure is too high, at least you are aware of it. You can begin following your doctor’s recommendations, including lowering your salt consumption.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Regarding Salt
How much is too much? To help protect against the risk of hypertension and its complications, daily sodium intake should be no more than 2300mg, the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt. That is provided you are not in a high-risk group. People in high-risk groups— and that includes children— should consume no more than 1500mg of sodium or slightly more than ½ teaspoon of salt per day.
Change is Key to a Longer Healthier Life
Due to busy schedules, it often seems easier to eat out or order in. But one average fast food or restaurant meal contains much more salt than your allowance for an entire day. Portions are often larger than recommended, and more food equals more salt. So be careful. Ask questions and choose wisely. Remember: plain is probably better.
Beware of grocery items like cakes, crackers, and bread. Check labels on bags, cans, and boxes. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines say to aim for sodium content of 15% or less per serving. If you bake, don’t use baking soda.
One problem with eating food that you have not prepared is that you have no control over salt content. So whenever possible, prepare your meals. Use fresh, minimally processed foods. Consider brown bagging it for work and informal social gatherings.
For an easy, portable meal, try a fruit-based protein salad. Top fresh fruit squares or canned pineapple tidbits with unsalted walnuts and cubed chicken breast or tofu. Garnish with raw carrot shreds (colorful and surprisingly sweet). Drizzle with olive oil and fresh lime.
Toss the Salt Shaker?
After figuring in all of the sodium in prepackaged foods, including bread and cereal, frozen entrees, and fast food, there does not appear to be room on the table for the salt shaker. As you transition to fresher, more wholesome foods, why not plan, at least as a long-range goal, to toss the salt shaker.
Some aspects of health are beyond your control. But you can take control of your salt consumption. A decision to reduce salt intake will decrease your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart and kidney disease. As for young people, less salt will get them off to a much healthier start in life.
Getting used to less salt may not be easy at first. Be patient; your taste buds will adjust. Remind yourself that wiser choices and determination add up to an investment in healthier living.
Starting at age 20 year old, you should get a blood pressure checkup every two years. If the pressure is higher than 120-139/80-89, screening should be done yearly.
It is important to have a physical exam every year to monitor eating and exercise habits, emotional well-being and height and weight. Our doctors will take the time to assess your overall health and help you develop a healthy lifestyle so that you can keep doing all of the activities you enjoy. It also reduces unexpected and unwanted visits to the doctor.