If you’re like many people, you’re getting far more sodium than is recommended, and that could lead to serious health problems.
You probably aren’t even aware of just how much sodium is in your diet. Consider that a single teaspoon of table salt, which is a combination of sodium and chloride, has 2,325 milligrams (mg) of sodium – more than the daily amount recommended in the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
And it’s not just table salt you have to worry about. Many processed and prepared foods contain sodium.
See how sodium sneaks into your diet and ways you can shake the habit.
Sodium: Essential in small amounts
Your body needs some sodium to function properly because it:
- Helps maintain the right balance of fluids in your body
- Helps transmit nerve impulses
- Influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles
Your kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in your body for optimal health. When your body sodium is low, your kidneys essentially hold on to the sodium. When body sodium is high, your kidneys excrete the excess in urine.
But if for some reason your kidneys can’t eliminate enough sodium, the sodium starts to build up in your blood. Because sodium attracts and holds water, your blood volume increases, which makes your heart work harder and increases pressure in your arteries. Such diseases as congestive heart failure, cirrhosis and chronic kidney disease can make it hard for your kidneys to keep sodium levels balanced.
Some people’s bodies are more sensitive to the effects of sodium than are others. If you’re sodium sensitive, you retain sodium more easily, leading to fluid retention and increased blood pressure. If this becomes chronic, it can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and congestive heart failure.
Sodium: How much do you need?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day.
Keep in mind that these are upper limits, and less is usually best, especially if you’re sensitive to the effects of sodium.
Tips for cutting back on sodium
Virtually all Americans can benefit from reducing the sodium in their diets. Here are more ways you can cut back on sodium:
- Eat more fresh foods. Most fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium. Also, fresh meat is lower in sodium than are luncheon meat, bacon, hot dogs, sausage and ham. Buy fresh or frozen poultry or meat that hasn’t been injected with a sodium-containing solution. Look on the label or ask your butcher.
- Opt for low-sodium products. If you do buy processed foods, choose those that are labeled “low sodium.” Better yet, buy plain whole-grain rice and pasta instead of products that have added seasonings.
- Remove salt from recipes whenever possible. You can leave out the salt in many recipes, including casseroles, soups, stews and other main dishes that you cook. Look for cookbooks that focus on lowering risks of high blood pressure and heart disease.
- Limit use of sodium-laden condiments. Soy sauce, salad dressings, sauces, dips, ketchup, mustard and relish all contain sodium.
- Use herbs, spices and other flavorings to season foods.Use fresh or dried herbs, spices, zest and juice from citrus fruit to jazz up your meals. Sea salt, however, isn’t a good substitute. It has about the same amount of sodium as table salt.
- Use salt substitutes wisely. Some salt substitutes or light salts contain a mixture of table salt and other compounds. To achieve that familiar salty taste, you may use too much of the substitute — and get too much sodium. Also, many salt substitutes contain potassium chloride. Although potassium can lessen some of the problems from excess sodium, too much potassium can be harmful especially if you have kidney problems or if you’re taking medications for congestive heart failure or high blood pressure that cause potassium retention.