The truth about sodium

When you have heart disease, chances are your doctor will say to watch your cholesterol. In addition to cholesterol, sodium may be a concern.

Most of us love salt. Too much isn't good, but neither is too little.

Cardiologist Dr. Andrij Baran said, "Sodium is not evil. Sodium is an important element in our system. It helps control how much water we're able to hold onto. It is important the way the nerves conduct. It is important how muscles work."

Sodium affects your blood pressure.

Dr. Baran said, "If you eat salt, you're making your blood more salty, if you will, so the body is going to hold on to water to dilute it . If you put more water into the pipes, the pressure goes up, causing your volume of water in your system to increase and thereby pressure goes up and people get puffy ankles."

The average American takes in approximately 3,300 milligrams of salt a day. The RDA recommends no more than 2,300 mg per day for adults. But if you are elderly, have diabetes or kidney disease, it's lowered to 1,500 mg per day. Some studies do suggest a high sodium diet may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Baran said, "By raising your pressure, that in turn increases the risk of clogged arteries because the pressure then damages the lining of the arteries and permitting cholesterol to get in and we have a domino effect."

You might know the symptoms of having too much sodium. Hands are tight and you feel bloated. It may seem reasonable if you are bloated to drink more water to wash it out, but according to Dr. Baran, that's against his advice.

"Water won't flush it out; it may make it worse. In terms of drinking water, drink when you are thirsty, don't push past that and dilute your blood and you could get hyponatremia, which is worse," Dr. Baran said.

Use spices to cut out the salt but not the flavor.

Dr. Baran suggests, "Cloves, nutmeg and other things to spice your food."

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