December 15, 2021

Don’t Let too much Sodium be the Grinch this Holiday Season

By Dr. Ricardo Cigarroa II, Interventional Cardiologist

Tamales, menudo, pozole, buñuelos, champurrado, atole—the list goes on and on when naming some of the foods enjoyed during the holidays by our South Texas culture. And why wouldn’t we enjoy the savory flavors of South Texas? These foods and special recipes have been handed down by our bisabuelas and abuelas and are nothing short of delicious, comforting and embedded in our holiday traditions. The problem though comes from the usual overload of sugar and fat found in each, as well as many being packed with sodium and salt. So, what are we to do went it comes to holiday binging? In short, it’s all about moderation and finding balance.


I’ll start with a simple explanation of the difference between sodium and salt. While sodium is a mineral that helps regulate our kidneys and control our body fluid’s balance, salt is a combination of sodium and chloride. Salt is an additive we add to our foods for flavor, while sodium occurs naturally in food or is added during manufacturing, or both.


As much as sodium is essential for life (and quite frankly adds good flavor to many of the foods we enjoy), too much of a good thing is a bad thing—and it all has to do with the affect sodium has on our heart. Extra sodium in our bloodstream causes additional water to flow in our blood vessels. When this happens, more blood is pulled into the vessel which causes blood pressure to increase. This over time can cause the blood vessel walls to overstretch, causing plaque to build up in the vessels which will eventually block blood flow that could lead to cardiovascular disease and other conditions that could be fatal.

The worst part about high blood pressure is that most people will never know they’re suffering from it, which is why the medical community calls it a ‘silent killer’. There are no obvious symptoms, but ironically, heart disease is the number one killer worldwide. Ninety percent of American adults are expected to develop high blood pressure over their lifetimes.


According to the American Heart Association, if Americans moved to an average intake of 1,500 mg/day sodium, it could result in a 25.6 percent overall decrease in blood pressure and an estimated $26.2 billion in health care savings. Another estimate projected that achieving this goal would reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease by anywhere from 500,000 to nearly 1.2 million over the next 10 years.


There are many ways you can cutback the amount of sodium/salt you take in while cooking and when grocery shopping. The American Heart Association website lists many useful tips of which I’ve included a few of them below.

When cooking:

  • Use ingredients that pack a good punch in flavor that can be used as a salt substitute. Some of these include onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices and vinegars.
  • Drain and rinse canned beans and vegetables. This will reduce your sodium by up to 40 percent.
  • Combine lower-sodium versions of food with regular versions. This will help balance the flavor of low-sodium foods with a small portion of the regular version.
  • Cook by grilling, braising, roasting, searing and sauteing to bring out natural flavors so that salt will not be necessary.
  • Use salt substitutes, but check with your doctor to make sure salt substitutes is right for you.

When grocery shopping:

  • Choose packaged and prepared foods with the lowest content of sodium (information can be found on the label).• Pick fresh and frozen poultry that hasn’t been injected with a sodium solution, such as broth (information can be found in the fine print on the label).
  • Select reduced or lower sodium versions of condiments.
  • Choose canned vegetables labeled “no salt added” and frozen vegetables without salty sauces.
  • Look for products with the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark for foods that are heart-healthy.

At a restaurant:

  • Ask for your dish to be made without extra salt or ask for salt or low-sodium meal options.
  • Taste your food before adding salt.
  • Control portion sizes.

The holidays are a time for enjoying family and friends. And while most people will celebrate the end of the 2021, the beginning of 2022 is a great time to reflect on personal health. As you bring in the new year, pledge to do little things—such as cutting back salt intake, exercising more, and finding some time to meditate or relax. This will indeed ensure a healthy heart in the new year to come. On behalf of the Cigarroa Clinic, have a joyful holiday season and a heart-healthy 2022!


For more information on cardiovascular disease or for a free screening for Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) or Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD), call the Cigarroa Clinic for a same-day appointment at (956) 725-1228. You can also follow the Cigarroa Clinic on FB and Instagram or visit their website at The American Heart Association also is a great resource on heart health. You can visit their website at

As always, the minute you feel you may be experiencing a heart attack, call 911 or head to your nearest Emergency Room.