By Kerri-Ann Jennings, M.S., R.D.
Your blood pressure shouldn’t be your only consideration when it comes to figuring out how much sodium you should be consuming. Here’s what to keep in mind:
1. Your age.
Salt sensitivity, the likelihood that sodium will raise your blood pressure, increases with age. While slightly over a third of 45-year-olds have hypertension, that number jumps to more than half by age 55 and over 70 percent by age 75. Which is why after age 50 it’s more important than ever to keep an eye on your sodium intake.
2. Your blood sugar.
“The blood vessels of people with diabetes are already stiffer, more brittle and more calcified, so they are more likely to experience the adverse effects of high blood pressure,” says Elliott Antman, M.D., a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and past president of the American Heart Association. That makes prevention crucial. If you’re diabetic but don’t have high blood pressure, the American Diabetes Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. If you have hypertension, limit yourself to 1,500 mg daily.
3. Your ethnicity.
African-Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure than whites or Hispanics — and they develop it at an earlier age. They may carry a gene that causes extreme salt sensitivity. That’s why experts advise that African-Americans limit sodium to 1,500 mg a day. Forty-three percent of African-American men and 46 percent of African-American women have high blood pressure compared to 34 and 33 percent of all American men and women.
4. Your workouts.
Because sodium holds on to fluid, it helps you stay hydrated when you’re sweating up a storm. While that doesn’t usually mean you need extra sodium at mealtime, you might need a little more when you work out. If you break a sweat for an hour or longer, sip a sports drink during exercise to help fend off dehydration.
5. Your kidneys.
Keeping your salt intake in check can help prevent kidney disease. The reason: Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which is one of the most common causes of kidney disease. “If you already have kidney disease the stakes are even higher, especially since most people with kidney disease are salt sensitive,” says Joseph A. Vassalotti, M.D., chief medical officer for the National Kidney Foundation. “The better your blood pressure control, the less likely you are to lose kidney function over time.”
6. Your bones.
Eating a high-sodium diet may also slowly weaken your bones. In a study in the Journal of Human Hypertension, for every additional 2,300 mg of sodium participants consumed daily, they excreted an extra 42 mg of calcium. That may not sound like much, but it’s the equivalent of losing an entire day’s worth of calcium each month, which, over time, could impact bone calcium levels. Here’s the good news: Your body holds on to that calcium when you limit your daily sodium to less than 2,000 mg.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)