Approximately 68 million people, or one in three adults, in the United States suffer from high blood pressure and nearly half of them are women, according to the American Heart Association. Although taking birth control pills, being pregnant and going through menopause increase your risk, consuming high levels of sodium also affects your blood pressure. To lower your risk, follow a low-sodium diet, which requires you to understand how sodium affects your body, how much sodium to consume each day and how to read a nutrient panel.
Sodium, classified as an electrolyte, balances the amount of fluid in your body, plays a role in nerve transmission and stimulates muscle contractions. Sodium ions attract water. Excess sodium in your blood increases the amount of water in your blood, increasing blood volume. Your heart must then work harder to pump the added volume through your blood vessels, causing high blood pressure.
The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends that adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Adults with other risk factors for high blood pressure, including those over the age of 50, African-Americans or those with diabetes or kidney disease, should limit their intake to less than 1,500 milligrams per day. The average American adult consumes 3,375 milligrams per day and one-fourth of women consume more than 3,500 milligrams per day.
Many foods, including fruits and vegetables, naturally contain sodium. The majority of your sodium intake comes in the form of sodium chloride, or table salt, found in processed foods. The only way to know how much sodium you consume is to carefully read the nutrient panel found on the food label. Each panel will disclose the amount of sodium in each serving and the percent daily value that amount represents.
Percent Daily Value
The percent daily value of a nutrient tells you the contribution that a serving of that food makes to your total daily diet. Food manufacturers calculate the percent daily value based upon a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet. The daily value of sodium is 2,400 milligrams, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A percent daily value of 5 percent or less is considered a low-sodium product.
With so many people conscious of their sodium intake, food manufacturers add claims to the food labels to entice consumers to buy their products. These claims must meet specifications to be valid. A label that reads “low sodium” must have 140 milligrams of sodium or less in each serving. A label that reads “very low sodium” should contain no more than 35 milligrams of sodium per serving. A “reduced” or “less sodium” label indicates the product contains at least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version of the product. “Light in sodium” means the food contains 50 percent less sodium than the regular product. To make the claim of “sodium-free” or “salt-free” the food must contain less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving.
- Mayo Clinic: Sodium -- How to Tame Your Salt Habit
- American Heart Association: Reading Food Nutrition Labels
- Food and Drug Administration: Using the Nutrition Facts Label
- HeartHealthyWomen.org: Heart Healthy Diet -- Sodium and Potassium
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- American Heart Association: High Blood Pressure and Women
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: High Blood Pressure Facts and Statistics
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Calculate the Percent Daily Value for the Appropriate Nutrients
- Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images