What. The. SALT?!? The truth about sodium in your diet

salt question markI come from a family where high blood pressure is fairly common, so I’ve always been taught that too much salt is bad news. Other than that general warning, no one has said how much salt is too much! Do I cut out completely?? Is 5,000 mg a day bad? Is 2,500 mg good?? What do I do??

So I’m taking a stab at answering these questions based on what I’ve deduced from the experts and my studies…

What I learned is that sodium is necessary to help our bodies regulate fluids and blood pressure  by retaining water. However, if you consume too much sodium, you may retain too much water, which puts an extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. This is precisely what causes high blood pressure over time. Over-consuming sodium can also cause swelling of the joints and bloating because the body is holding on to water that it needs to let go!

How much is too much?

So this is a shocker… Your body only needs 200 mg of sodium each day. BUT on average, Americans eat about 3,000 mg each day!  Even in my research, there was some confusion about how much you should have. What I found is this:

  • 3,000 mg of sodium a day is TOO MUCH (cut back if you’re closer to this range)
  • The USDA (makers of the food pyramid and now “My Plate“), recommends that we limit our daily sodium to 2,300 mg
  • People over 51 years old, African Americans (of any age!), and people with chronic diseases should limit sodium to 1,500 mg a day
  • The American Heart Association says EVERYONE should limit daily sodium intake to 1,500 mg a day

So basically, if you don’t have health conditions, you should try not to consume more than 2,300 mg of sodium in a day. But if you have a family history of high blood pressure or you really want to maintain your health and protect your heart, 1,500 mg or less is a good way to go.

How Can You Cut the Salt?

Now the trick is how not to expend that 1,500-2,300 mg of sodium in one bite! Apparently, sodium is hiding all around us. It’s in ALL (yes all) processed foods. It helps preserve our favorite frozen meals, canned veggies and soups and even some of our medicines! Restaurant meals are packed with sodium, as are sodas and even the store-bought sweets! So the easiest way to keep sodium down is avoid processed foods. That means pretty much anything in a plastic package that was made in a factory rather than by nature itself.

Spot the Salt:

nutrition label sodiumThe next step is to keep your sodium cut-off  in mind while reading nutrition labels. Try to stay away from foods that are around 1,000 mg per serving. And remember to look at the serving size! Yes seven chips might have 600 mg of sodium, but you know you aren’t stopping at seven chips! Also, skim over the ingredient list of your favorite foods. Apparently BAKING SODA contains a ton of sodium (1,000 mg per teaspoon). If baking soda or any other “soda” ingredient is listed, you’ve got a high-sodium food in your hands.

Lose the Salt, Keep the Flavor

Some people have tried “healthier” salt options in their homes like kosher and sea salts. While these salts are produced differently and may be more natural than your typical table salt, the sodium levels are still the same. If you purchase these,  check the nutrition label to find out how much sodium is in each sprinkle.

When cheffing it up in your own kitchen, swap out salt for spices like red pepper, garlic, basil, thyme, chili pepper, or oregano. You’ll be able to vary up your dishes and protect your health! Also try to use fresh ingredients as much as possible:

  • Fresh tomatoes instead of canned can save 100-200 mg of sodium
  • Dried beans rather than canned beans can save up to 400 mg of sodium
  • A homemade balsamic vinaigrette instead of the store version to save over 250 mg of sodium

The good news is that you can actually lose weight by cutting back  on sodium. So you’ll be feeling good inside and out!

Here’s a sprinkle of more info on sodium:

USDA: 10 tips to help you cut back

American Heart Association: FAQs About Sodium

*Keep it moving!

© June 9, 2014

Comment 1

  1. Jessica
    June 9, 2014

    I know PLENTY about the dangers of sodium intake (from dialysis). Yes, salt is pretty much like instant coffee: Instant Water Weight. And salty foods make you thirsty so it increases your fluid intake…which may not be so bad if you’re drinking water (and exercising regularly) but for people like me who have to watch how much fluid they take in, it’s a big factor in why we can’t have too many salty foods.

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