PHOENIX - The holidays can be a stressful time, and Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days in the emergency room when it comes to patients with heart problems.
Dr. Div Verma, a cardiologist with Banner University Medical Center Phoenix, sees anywhere between a 25 and 30 percent increase in ER visits on Thanksgiving as opposed to a normal day.
"The most common problems are usually shortness of breath, heart failure, palpitations," Verma said. "Some people even faint from arrhythmias. If you have valvular heart disease, you'll come in with heart failure and stuff like that."
So why the increase on this one day?
The answer boils down to salt.
"Absolutely, salt is the biggest culprit. Nobody really estimates the amount of salt they're consuming because it is hidden. The food tastes so good, they don't think about the salt content of the food," said Dr. Verma.
Thanksgiving meals are known not only for their high calorie count, but for their high sodium levels as well.
According to nutritionists, a Thanksgiving meal may contain upwards of 2,000 milligrams of sodium, which is what you are supposed to consume throughout your entire day, rather than a single meal.
Salt retains fluid, which makes the volume of your blood go up, causing all sorts of symptoms including high blood pressure, heart failure or heart attack, sending you to an emergency room.
So what should you watch out for?
Jason Sani, a Scottsdale nutritionist and trainer, says any store-bought meats or dishes will most likely be very high in sodium.
"Just think that salt is one of the most common preservatives and when you think about preservative, that's preserving the life of the food, but also makes it more challenging for the body to break down," said Sani.
Be wary of store bought-turkeys, gravy and anything cured, like ham.
Want your Thanksgiving meal to be healthier this year?
Sani suggests substituting refined sugars with natural sweeteners like stevia or xyletol.
For a healthy alternative to sweet potatoes and marshmallows, he suggests whipping up coconut cream or using marshmallow substitutes that come from chickpeas.
The same goes for baking pies: Use coconut butter instead of conventional butter.
"My philosophy is learning how to upgrade these foods," said Sani. "When I say upgrade, I mean taking the foods we love and enjoy, traditional foods that bring us together, but just looking at, 'Are we using the best-quality ingredients?'"
Follow these tips and watch your portion size and hopefully you'll avoid a trip to the ER.