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Sodium: The Good and the Bad. Why you should limit sodium in your diet.

What is sodium: Sodium is a mineral that is used by your kidneys to regulate your body’s fluid balance.

Benefits of sodium: Sodium is key to nerve impulse generation and muscle contraction. Endurance athletes who sweat an excessive amount should be aware that sodium is lost through perspiration and they may need to increase their sodium consumption in order to prevent hyponatremia (too little salt in the body).

Detriments of excessive sodium: Increased sodium in the body triggers the kidneys pull more water into the blood vessels in an attempt to dilute the body’s sodium content. This retention of water not only causes bloat, it also increases the total amount of blood volume within the blood vessels. Increased blood volume can be thought of as too much water in a small hose- it creates a pressure against the walls of the vessels, resulting in an increase in pressure. Chronically high blood pressure and increased blood volume puts a strain on the heart walls and kidneys, resulting in an increased chance of heart attack or kidney stones later on.

Other problems with increased sodium content:

  • Skeletal system: studies have shown that diets high in sodium put a person at higher risk for osteoporosis. High levels of sodium in the kidneys compete with bone-building calcium, and the result is calcium being secreted from the body in the urine.
  • Stomach: Studies have shown that patients with high sodium diets are more susceptible to stomach cancers.

How much sodium is recommended per day?

  • People over 55 years of age should eat less than 1,500 mg of sodium each day.
  • People under 55 years of age should eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium each day.

How much sodium is in salt?

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

What are common food sources of salt?

According to the American Heart Association:

“About 77% of the sodium we consume comes from packaged, prepared and restaurant foods. The rest of the sodium in our diets occurs naturally in food (about 12 percent) or is added by us when we’re cooking food or sitting down to eat.”

Other common sources are breads and rolls, pizza, soup, cold cuts and cured meats, poultry, and sandwiches.

How can I reduce my salt intake?

  • Reduce your visits to restaurants and instead opt for home-cooked meals.
  • Stay away from the salt shaker.
  • Read food labels: try and eat foods that contain less than 200 mg of sodium in a serving.
  • Track your overall sodium intake each day with a food log (Lose It, My Fitness Pal, other online food trackers or good old pencil and paper).