If you're afraid that salt is affecting your cholesterol levels, relax -- the white stuff doesn't contain any cholesterol or saturated fat, and has no impact on cholesterol in your blood. But don't reach for those salty pretzels quite yet: A high-sodium diet can still spell trouble for your heart by raising blood pressure, possibly contributing to cardiovascular illness.
Salt is 40 percent sodium, and it doesn't contain any calories or other nutrients. Salt makes food taste good, and it isn't all bad -- you need some sodium to manage fluid levels and blood pressure, and it also plays a role in muscle function. The trouble is that most Americans get far more sodium than they need. The daily recommended maximum is 2,300 milligrams for healthy adults, but the national average is 3,300 milligrams. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease, more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day is too much.
Eating a high-sodium diet may cause you to retain fluids and could spike your blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can eventually lead to heart disease and stroke, the most common causes of death in America for females and males. To make matters worse, some people are sodium sensitive, meaning they retain more sodium than others -- and there's no way to gauge your sensitivity level. Although some individuals seem to be able to eat salt without negative side effects, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urge Americans to stick to recommended levels to keep blood pressure down.
Cholesterol may seem like your enemy, but your body uses it to make hormones such as vitamin D, as well as bile acid. In fact, every part of your body needs small amounts of cholesterol. Too much cholesterol, however, can gum up your arteries, eventually leading to serious cardiovascular problems. High LDL cholesterol levels are cause for concern, whereas HDL cholesterol is considered healthy. Your body makes some cholesterol, and you also get it from foods such as egg yolks, dairy and poultry. Plant foods have no cholesterol.
Managing Cholesterol Levels
More than half of adults in America have high cholesterol levels, but there's plenty you can do to manage cholesterol in your body. Keep fat intake below 25 to 35 percent of total calories, and get most of your fats from vegetarian sources such as nuts, avocado and olive oil. Eat no more than 200 milligrams of cholesterol per day and fill up on foods with high fiber content, which may help manage cholesterol according to the New York Times Health Guide. The Times also recommends shedding pounds if you're overweight, as well as getting plenty of exercise.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.