20 February 2018Sodium: Yes, it's a big deal

Perhaps you have been advised by a health care provider to reduce sodium in your diet. Or maybe you have read about the importance of cutting down on sodium. So, what's the big deal? And is it really that bad to ingest a lot of sodium? Well, sodium is actually an essential mineral that our bodies need to control fluid balance, is required to send nerve signals, and is involved in muscle function. However, excess dietary sodium intake can cause health problems. Extra sodium in the blood pulls water into the blood vessels. This increases the volume of blood inside the vessels and leads to increased blood pressure (BP). Increased BP creates extra workload for the heart muscle, blood vessels and kidneys. Over time, this is a huge risk for stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease, the leading causes of poor health and death around the world.

So, how much is too much? Sodium is measured in small units called milligrams (mg). The recommended upper daily sodium limit is a topic of controversy amongst health organizations. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 2,300 mg sodium per day, with an ideal limit of less than 1,500 mg per day for most adults, especially those with high BP. I have to say, 1,500 mg per day is a lofty goal for most people, unless you cook mainly from scratch, and strictly limit intake of processed foods and salt. In fact, according to the CDC, most adults and children in the United States exceed the recommended sodium intake. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that most people consume about 3,600-4,800 mg sodium per day. WHO estimates that 2.5 million deaths could be prevented each year if global salt consumption were reduced to the recommended level of 2,000 mg per day. Not sure about you, but these statistics get my attention!

So, how can you lower your sodium intake? Here are some practical tips:

  • Become sodium aware. Perhaps you are mainly focusing on calories or carbohydrate grams. Start looking at sodium on food labels. Compare food products and choose those with less sodium. Look at your MyNetDiary daily sodium totals, and see if there are any big sodium contributors. Could you make a lower sodium substitution or cut the portion size?
  • But more than 75% of consumed sodium comes from processed foods. Sodium compounds are used to preserve, flavor, or thicken processed foods. Read the food label.
  • Watch out for the "Salty 6": Breads/rolls, pizza, soup, cold cuts/cured meats, poultry, sandwiches. Look to make lower sodium choices.
  • Flavor foods with herbs, spices, lemon, lime or vinegars instead of salt.
  • Include more fresh, less processed, foods in your diet. For example, have carrot sticks instead of chips, a pork chop instead of sausage, or an apple instead of cookies.
  • Try not to add salt to food at the table. One tsp of salt (sodium chloride) contains 2,300 mg sodium.
  • For additional tips on reducing sodium intake, visit AHA "Be Salt Smart".
  • Go to the American Heart Association's BreakUpWithSalt Sodium Reduction Initiative to learn about how you can get involved.

Keep in mind that salt is an acquired taste. You can develop a preference for less salty foods when you cut back. I personally experienced this when I moved away from my parent's home. You may also want to consider adding the DASH diet approach to your low-sodium focus. The DASH eating plan is supported by the highest-quality evidence proving that it improves lipids and reduces BP. The DASH diet is high in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, poultry, fish, non-tropical oils and nuts, while limiting sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meat. The diet's high potassium, magnesium and calcium content has a positive impact on BP and lipids.

Also, always consider your own health issues when deciding how much sodium to include in your diet. For example, the American Diabetes Association offers the following advice for individuals with type 1 or type 2 diabetes: "In the absence of clear scientific evidence for benefit in people with combined diabetes and hypertension, sodium intake goals that are significantly lower than 2,300 mg per day should be considered only on an individual basis." If you are not sure, ask your doctor or registered dietitian about your upper recommended limit.

Brenda L Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN,CDE

Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in Indialantic, Florida

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Nutrients/Salt/Sodium Other Health Issues/Cardiovascular Disease

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