By Madison Schwartz, Pharmacy Resident, BHMC-Little Rock
Table salt, also known as sodium chloride, is a regular dinner guest at Thanksgiving. If this particular condiment is a highly featured ingredient in your Thanksgiving meal, it may be more than just your in-laws making your blood pressure rise.
When you eat a large amount of salt, the amount of sodium in your bloodstream increases, disturbing the balance of fluid throughout the body and blocking your kidneys’ ability to remove water from the body through urine.
The kidneys play a major role in managing the body’s blood pressure. When the kidneys fail to remove excess water from the body, the extra fluid and strain on the blood vessels leading to the kidneys causes the blood pressure to rise. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for other serious medical conditions such as heart disease and stroke.
If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, or chronic high blood pressure, it is very important that you limit your salt intake to avoid dangerously high blood pressures.
Trying to limit your sodium intake at a Thanksgiving meal may seem like an impossible task, but there are simple ways to help you make smart eating decisions and still enjoy all your favorite holiday fixin’s.
Know Your Sodium Goals
Americans consume an average of more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily, which is 50 percent more than the recommended amount for the general population. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services recommend 2,300 milligrams daily intake for the general population, with a stricter recommendation of 1,500 milligrams per day for people 50 years of age and older, African-Americans, or individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, or chronic kidney disease.
Some patients with other cardiovascular conditions, such as congestive heart failure, may require even lower sodium goals. If you are unsure of what daily sodium goal is best for you, ask your health-care providers for information about your sodium intake limit.
Evaluate the Sodium Content of the Foods You Eat
The salt you use at the dinner table is not the biggest sodium contributor to your diet. In fact, the majority of the sodium is found in restaurant meals and processed food. Once you know where to look, it’s easy to determine the sodium content of the foods you eat.
Chain restaurants often provide nutritional information on their websites, and you can check ahead to find the low-sodium options. You can also ask the restaurant not to add salt to your food when preparing. Nutrition labels can be found on most pre-packaged foods and typically include the sodium content per serving in milligrams.
When assessing the amount of sodium in a food product, you must look at what a serving consists of and how many servings you plan to use or eat, and then multiply the number of servings by the milligrams of sodium per serving.
For example, one serving of tortilla chips contains 150 milligrams of sodium. If the serving size is approximately 12 chips and you eat 24 chips, then you have eaten two servings of tortilla chips, which is approximately 300 milligrams of sodium.
Once you realize just how much sodium you eat in a day, it’s easy to see how quickly it can add up. To put this into perspective, the typical goal of 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day is approximately one teaspoon of table salt, whereas the daily sodium goal of 1,500 milligrams of sodium for patients with high blood pressure is between 1/2 and 3/4 teaspoon of table salt.
A typical Thanksgiving dinner can easily exceed the recommended daily sodium intake, as evidenced by the table below. It is important to be aware of sodium content in these dishes to help you determine portion size. It may even help you to modify your current recipes.
Use Low-Sodium Recipes
Making sodium-conscious meal decisions is easier to do than ever before. There are countless cookbooks and cooking websites dedicated to providing low-sodium and heart-healthy recipes and meal ideas. One Google search can lead you to a variety of recipe choices for any dish.
Furthermore, the majority of these resources provide nutritional information on serving size and sodium content of various recipes, making it easy to prepare a delicious Thanksgiving dinner without stacking up the sodium.
Since a lot of the processed foods Americans eat regularly contain a generous amount of sodium, the FDA proposed a guide to the food industry that provides practical, voluntary sodium reduction targets for a variety of food products.
Hopefully in the near future, we will see food companies utilize methods to “hold the salt” in their products. Remember, it is important for your health to evaluate the sodium content in the foods you eat, even during Thanksgiving dinner.