Sources of Sodium that Will Shock You
This article will show secret sources of sodium that are causing you harm. Learn how to read your blood pressure and what foods to avoid.
Photo by Artem Beliaikin
My husband and I are going to the Publix grocery store to pick up a few things. We stop at the front of the store where they have the blood pressure cuff with the bench. I sit down first and feel overly squeezed by the automatic cuff. I swear the cuff blows up too much, which always makes me feel like I am having a panic attack. The machine checks my blood pressure and then the numbers flash on the screen: 110 over 75. “Okay, your turn,” I say to my husband, and we swap places. He sits down, puts his arm through the cuff, and waits for the numbers. His numbers pop up on the screen: 185 over 110.
He looks at me and says, “That can’t be right. The machine must be broke.” My husband is African American. One out of every two African Americans has high blood pressure, so he is considered at higher risk for high blood pressure. After his last regular physical, he had come home and said that the doctor had told him to watch his blood pressure. At that time, I didn’t ask much, but I started reducing the amount of salt that I put in my cooking. He stopped adding salt to his food. We figured everything was going along good until the numbers flashed 185 over 110.
“Okay, maybe there is something wrong with the machine,” I say. “There is another Publix up the street. Let’s ride over to that one and check again.” So we leave the store without any groceries and head to the next Publix. He sits down at the next blood pressure cuff and the reading is now 188 over 110.
“It’s not the same as the last one. I really do think it’s wrong,” he says in a state of denial. My husband works out five days a week. He runs, bikes, and lifts weights. He is forty-five with a muscular build, but lately his weight has gone up about fifteen pounds. I am one of those people whose mind starts to race to the very worst scenarios. So now, I am thinking that he is going to die of a heart attack the next time we have sex.
“Well, there’s another Publix two miles from here so let’s go to one more machine,” I say. So we get in the car and drive once again without any groceries to the next blood pressure machine. This one confirms the last two machines at 187 over 110. We look at each other and I ask him if he wants to go on blood pressure medication.
“No. Then I would have to take pills for the rest of my life.”
I tell him, “I read this book by Dr. Ornish. You should read it because high blood pressure can be controlled by your diet. It’s what you put in your mouth. It’s the same book Bill Clinton read when he had a heart attack.”
So we go home and I give him the book and he spends some time reading. And that is when we started to change our nutrition dramatically. We learn that it is not the salt that was in our salt shaker that was driving his blood pressure. It was not the salt that we were adding to our food, but the salt that the manufacturers were adding to our food. All of the salt that we couldn’t see, and, quite frankly, the salt that we didn’t know was there, was driving his blood pressure up. It’s the salt that can’t be removed unless the food manufacture removes it or we remove the food.
We stopped bringing animal products into the house and we stopped eating processed foods and fast foods. My husband also bought a blood pressure cuff, and he checks his blood pressure every day.
Yesterday, his blood pressure was 126 over 78. No medication.
And was it hard to eat differently? Was it hard to make changes? This is probably the wrong question, because, hell yes, it is hard! The real question is, “Is it worth it?” A reduction in blood pressure meant that my husband took control of his life, his health, and his nutrition. He became a living legacy of a pillar of health to our children. A reduction in blood pressure meant that he would not be controlled by medications and doctor’s visits. He would not be a victim of processed foods. If you ask him, he would tell you the change was absolutely worth it.
Take It with a Grain of Salt
Salt is an absolute necessity for your body. Sodium is a mineral that your body needs to survive. Salt has been used since the beginning of time and has even been used for currency. The word salary comes from the root word of sal, or salt, because some people were originally paid with salt. Salt is used not only to flavor food, but also to preserve meat and vegetables. Salt has historically been a highly prized trade commodity, and it is still an industry worth billions.
Salt causes high blood pressure, but it is probably not your salt shaker that is killing you. The properties of salt limit the growth of bacteria, which makes it a preservative and extremely valuable to the food manufacturers. Basically, salt, as well as other preservatives, puts the shelf life in processed foods. Salt allows a Twinkie to last forever (180 mg), a box of cereal that no one likes to still be good for three years after Grandma leaves (350 mg), a bagel to stay “fresh” for three weeks (400 mg), and vegetables to live in a can and never go bad (350 mg). Salt is virtually gold for the food manufacturers, and they pour it in to what you are eating.
According to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) report published by National Institute of Health (NIH), blood pressure is the force of blood against artery walls. When they put the cuff on your arm at the doctor’s office, they are measuring your blood pressure. There are two numbers to blood pressure, the systolic pressure (when the heart beats) and the diastolic pressure (when the heart relaxes between beats). When the blood pressure is elevated, it is called high blood pressure. High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard. High blood pressure causes strain on and damage to your heart and leads to cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes), which is the number one killer in the United States. More than one thousand people will die today from heart disease. It is a disease of affluence and it is preventable.
Know Your Blood Pressure and What It Means
Source: National Institute of Health
The US Dietary Guideline upper limit for the amount of sodium is 2,300 mg per day, but the actual recommended amount is 1,500 mg per day. The average American ingests 3,600 mg of sodium per day, or over three times the recommended daily amount. The upper limit for African Americans, who are a high-risk population, and for people already diagnosed with high blood pressure, is 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
The recommendation from the American Heart Association (AHA) is 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Ninety percent of Americans eat more sodium than is recommended.
Processed and restaurant foods are the main source of salt for most Americans. Seventy-five to eighty-five percent of your daily salt intake comes from processed foods. The government knows this. The food manufacturers know this. The fast food restaurants know this. But just like our family used to believe, the American public believes that we are sprinkling too much table salt on our food and into our cooking, and that this is what causes our high blood pressure.
In the graphic below, the CDC shows that 77 percent of your sodium intake is from processed foods and restaurant foods. The CDC also tells us that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the United States. So why is our government not doing more to control the manufacturers who are oversaturating our diet with salt?
Sources of SodiumSource: Center for Disease Control and Prevention
We are being poisoned by the food manufacturers, including companies like Kraft, Campbell’s, Del Monte, and Bush’s, just to name a few. We are fed excessive amounts of sodium in their products when they have the means to produce food with much less sodium. Does a serving of canned green beans still need to contain 380 mg of sodium if the can next to it says “no salt added and has 0 mg of sodium”? They can make canned beans with no salt, but they still pump out the canned beans full of sodium. If Campbell’s is able to make a chicken soup with just 140 mg of sodium, why do they still need to produce the can that has 890 mg? Do they care about the product that they are producing and its effect on the American people, or are they just out to make money? Mmm, mmm good.
Does a 6” turkey Sub or a Big Mac contain more salt?
Fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and Subway are not any better than the food manufacturers. Yes, I said Subway, and you thought that was the healthy option! Their six-inch Black Forest Ham and Cheese sandwich contains over 1,320 mg of sodium, which is more than a Big Mac, which contains 950 mg. And we thought McDonald’s would be the biggest offender in terms of sodium!
950 mg Sodium in McDonald’s Big Mac
1320 mg Sodium in Subway 6” Ham and Cheese
Big businesses are killing their consumers one grain of salt at a time. The salt is in our food supply, and we cannot take it out when we purchase these items. Credit the lobbyists of these industries for doing a phenomenal job. The government knows that the majority of the salt is found in the processed and restaurant foods that we eat and that it is killing the American public, but their answer has been for us to curb our intake of table salt. Okay, government, people are cooking with and sprinkling less table salt in their food, but there are still over one thousand people dying every day from a disease whose root cause is predominantly excessive sodium.
In a press release from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dated June 1, 2016, “the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued draft guidance that provides practical, voluntary sodium reduction targets for the food industry.” Basically, the FDA published a document that says, “Hey, food manufacturers, could you please put less salt in the food because you are actually killing us, but don’t worry, this is voluntary.” The key word here is voluntary. These guidelines are not mandatory.
According to the World Hypertension League, “Industry-based voluntary approaches to reduce salt additives to food . . . have a long history of being ineffective.”
One of the only mandates for food manufacturers from the FDA is that if the word healthy is added to a label, the food has to have less than 600 mg of sodium. This one mandate is not enough. The government needs to aggressively attack the food producers and manufacturers with regulations regarding sodium in processed and restaurant foods. For the food that we are being served and the food that is available in our stores, there needs to be regulations regarding the amount of sodium that is allowed.
Where are the doctors in relationship to high blood pressure? Of course, doctors know that blood pressure is the signal to a heart attack or stroke and that heart attacks and strokes are our number one killer. They prescribe medication to lower your blood pressure and send you on your way. And when one medication isn’t bringing your blood pressure down, they give you a second or a third blood pressure medication to take. As the Mayo Clinic’s website supports, “Sometimes a third medication, or more, is needed to achieve your blood pressure goal.” Simultaneously, people are being prescribed multiple blood pressure medications to control blood pressure, which is controllable through our nutrition. Does anyone see a problem here? High blood pressure is the number one reason why you go to the doctor, and your need for medication is what keeps you coming back. Your high blood pressure, your sodium intake, is their salary.