Did you know that both high sodium and low sodium intake can affect your health? Consuming high amounts of sodium may cause high blood pressure and heart disease. Not enough of it may cause seizures and coma. So, it is important to find a middle ground for your daily sodium intake.
How do you know if you are consuming too much or too less of sodium? And how much of sodium should you consume per day? This article answers these questions and more. Keep reading!
Let’s begin with the most basic yet important question.
Why Is Sodium Necessary For Health?
Sodium is an essential mineral necessary for health. It functions as a major cation (positively charged ion) in the fluid surrounding the cells. It helps maintain your body’s fluid balance and regulates blood pressure, muscle and nerve function, and cellular homeostasis (1).
Your body cannot make sodium (hence, it is “essential”). Therefore, you need to source it from the foods you consume. The most common source of sodium is salt (chemical name – sodium chloride), which is 60% chloride and 40% sodium (2). Some of the other sources of sodium are listed in the next section.
Food Sources Of Sodium Other Than Salt
- High-Sodium Foods
Canned beans and meat, salami, sausage, caviar, fries, burrito, pizza, frozen foods, cold cuts, bacon, sardines, anchovies, salted pork, salted nuts, packaged savory Indian snacks, potato wafers, fries, canned soup, buttermilk, cottage cheese, biscuit, waffle, pancake, packaged pasta, pickle, kimchi, packaged sauces, mustard, ketchup, packaged salad dressing, soy sauce, marinades, salted butter, instant pudding and cake, and restaurant foods.
- Low-Sodium Foods
Fresh meat, fish, poultry, water-drained canned fish/veggies/beans, fresh veggies, milk, yogurt, cream cheese, low-sodium cheese, homemade ricotta cheese, homemade bread, rice and pasta cooked without added salt, low-sodium crackers, low-sodium tortillas, homemade salad dressing and soups without added salt, veggies without sauces, desserts without too much salt, homemade mayonnaise, and unsalted butter and margarine.
It is now clear that most packaged, processed, and restaurant foods are loaded with sodium. So, if you consume these foods every day, you will consume high amounts of sodium. But what if you consume foods that do not taste salty or contain added salt? Could you still be consuming more salt? Or too less? Here’s how you can tell.
How Can I Tell How Much Sodium I’m Consuming?
The answer to this question lies on the label of the ingredients you use to cook your meals. Check the nutrition label at the back of the packaged foods that you consume. You will find ingredients like sodium citrate, sodium nitrate, sodium benzoate, or monosodium glutamate (MSG). These are all sources of sodium apart from salt (sodium chloride).
You must also check the serving size. If the serving size is, say, 3 oz, and you end up consuming 6 oz, you are consuming double the amount of sodium.
Finally, if you like to toss your salad veggies with a lot of soy sauce/packaged salad dressing, use extra salt with your meals, eat out frequently, and use the salt shaker quite often, you are consuming way too much salt.
NOTE: Some foods do not taste too salty (like blueberry scones), but they contain humongous amounts of sodium.
Now, the question is, if sodium is an essential mineral, why and how does it affect your blood pressure? Find the answer to that in the next section.
How Is Sodium Linked To Blood Pressure?
Excessive sodium in your blood causes your kidneys to retain water. This retained water puts strain on the blood vessels. As a result, the arterial muscles build themselves stronger and thicker, thereby reducing the space for free blood and oxygen flow. Now, the heart has to work extra hard to pump the blood. And that increases the blood pressure, causes the arteries to get clogged, and leads to heart problems (3), (4).
Note: Sodium sensitivity differs from person to person. If you are sodium-sensitive, you will be at higher risk of high blood pressure and CVD.
On the flip side, consuming too less sodium can also affect your health. Here’s what may happen.
Dangers Of Underconsumption Of Sodium
You need under 500 mg of sodium (less than ¼ of a teaspoon) per day for your body to function properly (9). But, if you completely avoid consuming sodium from natural sources of food, you may suffer from hyponatremia that may cause the following symptoms:
- Muscle cramps and muscle weakness
So, what’s the adequate amount of sodium that you may consume per day? Here’s what the experts recommend.
How Much Sodium To Consume Per Day
The American Heart Association recommends consuming about 1,500 mg of sodium per day (9). This may feel doable, but you’d be shocked to learn that the average American consumes about 3,000 mg – 3,500 mg sodium per day. Hence, cutting back on sodium becomes a little tough, especially for those who are used to high amounts of sodium in their food.
How do you cut back on sodium? Here are a few tips:
Tips To Reduce Sodium Intake
#1 Look for sodium-related terms on food packages.
- Sodium-free or salt-free
- Very low sodium
- Low sodium
- Reduced (or less) sodium
- Light (for sodium-reduced products)
- Light in sodium
- Sodium citrate, sodium nitrate, sodium benzoate, or monosodium glutamate (MSG)
#2 Consume fresh, green, and non-starchy veggies.
Fresh veggies (not packaged ones) are great sources of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. Spinach and celery are good sources of sodium. Including veggies in your diet will increase satiety, and your cravings for junk food will slowly wean off.
#3 Avoid using the salt shaker.
Adding extra salt increases your risk of consuming excess amount of sodium. Avoid using the salt shaker frequently.
#4 Avoid packaged foods.
Packaged foods like salad dressing, pre-mixed herbs, and frozen foods are loaded with sodium. Instead, make a light salad dressing using lime juice, olive oil, chili flakes, and a pinch of salt. Use fresh herbs and fresh produce.
#5 Follow the DASH diet.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Following a DASH diet (if you are hypertensive and your doctor approves) will help reduce sodium intake and high blood pressure.
To conclude, anything in excess or meager amounts can have an impact on your health, especially if it is an essential nutrient. Sodium is not an exception. Your body needs it – but in the right amounts. So, decrease or increase your sodium intake gradually and strike a balance. You will feel better and not suffer from the dangers of excess or too little sodium in your body. Have questions? Post them in the comments box below. Take care!
- “Sodium” Advances in Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Dietary Salt Intake and Hypertension” Electrolyte & Blood Pressure: E & BP, US National Library of Medicine.
- “How Salt Can Impact Your Blood Pressure, Heart and Kidneys” Cleveland Clinic.
- “Salt’s effects on your body” Blood Pressure UK.
- “Sodium intake and blood pressure in children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis of experimental and observational studies.” International Journal of Epidemiology, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Dietary sodium intake and arterial blood pressure.” Journal of Renal Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Reduction in dietary sodium improves blood pressure and reduces cardiovascular events and mortality” Annals of Translational Medicine, US National Library of Medicine.
- “The effect of sodium intake on the blood pressure related to age and sex.” Clinical and Experimental Hypertension. Part A, Theory and Practice, US National Library of Medicine.
- “How much sodium should I eat per day?” American Heart Association.
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