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When you eat salty foods, you get thirsty. So do your blood vessels. When there is too much salt in your body, blood vessels pull in water and this creates high blood pressure. Think of a garden hose on full blast. The pressure in the hose is very high when it is working overtime moving a large volume of fluid (in your body, blood plus excess water). Over time, high blood pressure causes your heart to work harder than it needs to, increases your risk of build-up of plaque in the arteries, and can damage the blood vessels. That’s why high blood pressure is one of the leading causes of heart disease; one-third of American adults are living with the condition.


Salt also affects our kids. About 80-90 percent of children get too much sodium. Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, you can benefit from reducing the sodium in your diet because blood pressure increases with age. By reducing sodium intake now, you can have a leg up on heart health.


How do we cut salt from our diet? It’s not as easy as ditching the salt shaker. In fact, the salt you add to your food accounts for only about 10 percent of the sodium in our diet. The real culprit is packaged and restaurant-prepared foods. For a healthy heart, your diet should include less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.  Given that most entrees at a restaurant are well over this amount, it takes some effort on your part to be aware of salt in your diet and find ways to limit it.


Here are some suggestions:


  1. Cook more fresh meals at home. When you prepare your own food (not frozen or convenience foods), you can control the amount of salt. A grilled chicken breast seasoned with cumin, paprika and garlic powder has very little sodium, about 115 mg. The typical restaurant grilled chicken breast has about 2,400 mg of sodium.


  1. Reduce the amount of bread you eat. Bread is a top culprit for high amounts of sodium. There is no getting around it – the salt is needed to help the bread rise. One slice of typical bread contains 100 to 172 mg of sodium. Even using the lower amount, two slices can account for nearly 13 percent of your daily recommended intake.


  1. Read food labels. Doing so can help you make healthier choices. Most people have no idea the high amount of sodium in many pre-packaged foods.


  1. Be wary of condiments. Items like soy, steak, teriyaki and cocktail sauce are high in sodium as are ketchup, salad dressings and relish. Adding these to your food can negate all the good work you have done to choose healthy foods. Read labels, reduce your intake, or make your own dressings.


  1. Eat more potassium through foods like bananas, sweet potatoes, greens and tomatoes. Potassium helps counter the effects of sodium and may help lower your blood pressure.


Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Offering primary and specialty care under one roof, UCF Health treats patients age 16 and up in primary care and age 18 and up for specialty care. Most major insurance plans are accepted. Two locations are now open: the original in East Orlando at Quadrangle and University boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus, and the newest one in Medical City at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard. Information for both facilities can be found at, or call (407) 266-DOCS to schedule an appointment.

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