Sodium, which is a component of salt, is a very important mineral for the body. It helps maintain appropriate fluid balance and impacts muscle function and nerve impulses [i]. However, the human body only needs a small amount of sodium from the diet to perform these functions, and most individuals consume way too much of it. In fact, 9 out of 10 Americans consume too much sodium [ii].
All of this excess dietary sodium typically comes from processed foods and restaurants. More than 70% comes from processed foods and restaurants, 11% is added during food preparation, and 14% occurs naturally [ii].
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1500-2300 mg of sodium per day. However, Americans consume an average of 3400 mg of sodium per day [ii]. To put this into perspective, 1/2 teaspoon of salt = 1150 mg sodium and 1 teaspoon salt = 2300 mg sodium [iii].
Too much sodium can increase the risk for hypertension, chronic kidney disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, osteoporosis and more [i]. Eating less sodium can reduce the risk for these conditions, especially if an individual is predisposed to them [i]. In certain conditions, such as chronic kidney disease and hypertension, it is essential to limit sodium in order to control fluid retention and to help lower blood pressure [iv].
Although it may seem difficult to limit sodium intake, the following tips can help you to do so without compromising your health and the flavor of food:
- Adding herbs and spices to food is a great way to enhance its taste and flavor, while keeping the sodium content low. Some delicious herbs and spices include parsley, oregano, pepper, cilantro, garlic powder and more.
- When buying canned beans or vegetables, make sure to look for labels that say “no salt added” or “low sodium.”
- Limit processed and packaged meats as they are often very high in sodium. Opt for fresh cuts of meat more often instead!
- Be careful when buying condiments such as soy sauce, salsas and ketchup. Most of these are very high in sodium! Choose condiments that say low or reduced sodium and eat them in moderation.
- Most canned beans and vegetables contain a lot of sodium. You can reduce the sodium content by up to 40% by draining and rinsing the beans or vegetables prior to eating them.
- Restaurants tend to add a lot of salt to food. Although this is difficult to control, ask your server if your dish can be prepared without extra salt.
- Cook pasta and other grains without salt.
- Taste your food before adding extra salt.
Essentially, sodium is an important mineral that the body needs to function. However, it is key to remember that the human body only needs a very small amount of sodium from the diet. In certain conditions, such as chronic kidney disease and hypertension, it is even more important to limit sodium in order to manage symptoms and prevent further complications. Nonetheless, the tips in this article are useful for anyone that wants to lower sodium intake and find different alternatives to keep food flavorful and healthy!
[i] Get the Scoop on Sodium and Salt. (2022). Retrieved 11 August 2022, from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/sodium-and-salt
[ii] Effects of Excess Sodium Infographic. (2022). Retrieved 11 August 2022, from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/effects-of-excess-sodium-infographic
[iii] How much sodium should I eat per day? – Ashchi Heart & Vascular Center. (2017). Retrieved 11 August 2022, from https://drashchiheart.com/much-sodium-eat-per-day/#:~:text=1%20teaspoon%20salt%20%3D%202%2C300%20mg,sodium
[iv] Nahikian-Nelms M. Nutrition therapy and pathophysiology. 4th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage; 2020