Rita Hodges

Extension Service

A little bit of salt seasons the pot but too much can be bad for your health.

Sodium is a nutrient the body needs in very small amounts in order to work properly. It is involved in many processes, such as regulating blood pressure, moving body fluids in and out of cells and sending nerve impulses.

Salt is not the same thing as sodium, although many consumers use the terms interchangeably.

Sodium is just one component of salt. Salt is made of two elements: sodium and chlorine. One teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 milligrams of sodium. This is more than the amount of sodium that should be consumed daily.

Unfortunately, most Americans consume more sodium than that each day. This can lead to high blood pressure, also called hypertension, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Other risk factors are: age (older than 45 if male and older than 55 if female), being overweight, a family history of hypertension and blood pressure in the high-normal range. Drinking too much alcohol, not getting enough dietary potassium and not exercising can also contribute to the risk of heart disease.

Limiting sodium in the diet can be a step in cutting the risk of developing hypertension. It is important to consume sodium in moderation-less than 2300 milligrams each day and further reduce intake to 1,500 milligrams among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500 milligram recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children and the majority of adults. Since more than 75 percent of dietary sodium comes from processed foods, this should be the main focus area.

The best way to reduce dietary sodium from processed foods it to read nutrition labels and buy the items with the lowest amounts of sodium. Any food that contains more than 10 percent of the daily value per serving (for sodium) is considered a high source. An easy to limit sodium is to consistently choose products that have less than 10 percent of the daily value.

For more information, contact Rita M. Hodges, county extension agent for family and consumer sciences, 701 S. Interstate 35E, Suite 3, Waxahachie; call 972-825-5175; or email rmhodges@ag.tamu.edu.