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!
Overtime, the increased pressure can overstretch or injure the blood vessel walls and tire out the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood through the body leading to high 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 and it is a major risk factor for heart disease- the No. 1 killer worldwide.

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, hypertension, or stroke, 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 shouldβ€”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. Actually, approximately 77% of the sodium we consume is from packaged, prepared, and restaurant 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- running, hiking, weight lifting- and always felt that I ate pretty healthy, but for some reason my blood pressure was typically on the higher side. I know based on my family history that I’m at high risk for hypertension and heart disease, so this always concerned me.

I figured I could workout more to fight back against my blood pressure, but never really saw any improvement. It wasn’t until I started doing some research and looking at my eating habits that I realized how high my sodium intake was. I rarely eat fast food or food items that are thought of as “salty” but even a lot of vegan/gluten-free things are high in sodium!

So, what am I doing about it? I’ve started keeping track of my sodium intake throughout the day to be sure not to exceed 1,500 mg. It’s been almost a week and I’ve stayed below this goal every day! I’ve also been cooking all my meals and eating a lot more fruit and vegetables to satisfy my hunger in a heart-healthy way. When I had my vital signs taken at my doctor’s office yesterday, my blood pressure was down to 127/87. This is still slightly high, but I’m committed to lowering this number even more.


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, RN, BSN

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

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