“Salt is like a sponge. When you have a lot of it in your body, it will draw more water to it and make you feel like an unhappy water balloon.”
There’s no doubt about it: sodium has gotten an extremely bad rap. And because of that, a LOT of people are starting to pay more attention to it. When I hear the word sodium, these are some things that come to mind:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
When I worked as a cardiac rehab nurse, I preached the dangers of salt on a daily basis. I would recite: 1,500 mg of sodium max if you have a history of high blood pressure or you’ve had a cardiac event/diagnosis (heart attack, heart failure, etc.). An honorary member of the salt police, I would instruct people to look at all food labels. I’d let them know that 1 teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 mg of sodium, easily over their 1,500 mg of allotted daily sodium intake. So they should definitely not add salt to their food while cooking – they get enough in processed foods (which they should be avoiding anyway). And Himalayan pink salt still has lots of sodium in it, so they shouldn’t eat that either!
Needless to say, I started finding myself subconsciously putting less salt in my own food. It was only later on that I remembered: salt is necessary. If I have a day I cook entirely at home, eating whole foods and nothing processed, should I be adding at least some salt to my cooking?
I’ve heard there’s problems when people eat too much and too little. So what’s the answer? How much sodium per day is advised?
And like with all things, how can I create healthy sodium habits so I don’t have to really think about it on a daily basis?
Because I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of overthinking this whole eating thing. It’s supposed to be simple!
So let’s dissect this sodium topic and get to the bottom of it.
Is eating too much sodium something I should even be concerned about?
The answer: unfortunately, yes.
Excess sodium truly can increase blood pressure in healthy adults. And high blood pressure is a risk factor for strokes, heart attacks, and heart failure. And it’s not something to just pay attention to when you get older; the American Heart Association (AHA) reports that kids with high sodium diets are two times more likely to develop high blood pressure later in life.
KIDS with high sodium diets.
The days of thinking we can eat whatever we want when we’re young are long gone. Your nutrition matters TODAY.
I was also really surprised to learn that a high sodium diet can lead to other seemingly random problems, including headaches, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and kidney disease/stones. Of course, when you think about it, the chemistry/biology behind how sodium effects the body explains why these things can happen – but I won’t get into that here.
Jeez, okay. I’m a little afraid to ask…anything else?
The answer: unfortunately, yes.
The bloating I mentioned earlier? Yep, it’s not a myth. And most of you have probably experienced having a super salty meal and feeling like you’re 5 months pregnant a few hours later.
This bloating, puffy feeling is due to water retention. Salt is like a sponge. When you have a lot of it in your body, it will draw more water to it and make you feel like an unhappy water balloon. That’s why you also will have “weight gain” with excess salt. You haven’t actually gained any fat, but your weight may go up on the scale because you’re temporarily holding onto more water.
Don’t worry, your progress isn’t ruined. You didn’t actually gain two pounds overnight.
So how much sodium per day should you be eating?
Remember that teaspoon of salt I mentioned earlier? Well, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a max of 2,300 mg of sodium per day for healthy adults. So when they say “% Daily Value” on the nutrition label, they mean out of that amount.
Remember: if you have high blood pressure or a heart diagnosis, the recommendation is decreased to 1,500 mg.
And actually, the AHA is leaning towards decreasing their recommendation to 1,500 mg for all adults.
How do I know if I’m eating too much sodium?
Chances are, you’re already eating too much. Even if you use the table salt sparingly, the majority of salt in our diets comes from processed foods and eating out. The AHA estimates that the average American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium a day.
While bloating and high blood pressure can be two obvious indicators that you’re having too much, it’s best to do some investigating at the source (your food) – so it doesn’t get to that point.
Tally up the milligrams of sodium you’re eating on your nutrition labels throughout the day. If you cook with salt, remember that 1 teaspoon is about 2,300 mg of sodium, and calculate based on how much you’ll be eating.
Where does sodium hide?
Sodium is hidden in pretty much every restaurant’s food. From McDonalds to Chipotle to Maggiano’s, it’s there. That’s how they make their food taste good so you keep coming back for more.
Sodium is of course also in processed foods, like crackers, cheeses, sauces, dressings, sausage, deli meats, canned vegetables, cereals, granola bars, pre-made dinners, and yes, it’s also abundant in low-sodium chicken broth.
It’s not just “salt” on nutritional labels, either. Sodium also comes in the form of monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium benzoate, and sodium citrate, among others. It’s present in baking powder and baking soda. Read deeply for the things with “sodium” in the name. Because it’s probably in there.
Just because something doesn’t taste salty doesn’t mean it’s low in sodium. For example, a Pepperidge Farm plain bagel has 330 mg of sodium in it. And remember, not all products are created equal. A plain bagel from Einstein Bros. Bagels has a cringe-worthy 480 mg of sodium. That doesn’t even include the cream cheese.
So unless you cook ALL your meals from complete scratch, including your sauces and dressings, you are absolutely getting sodium from somewhere.
What about sodium deficiency? Can I have too little?
I mean, it’s possible. But again, extremely unlikely.
Your body actually only needs a little less than 500 mg of sodium per day. Plus, your kidneys are good at holding onto the sodium that you need. So pretty much, your body’s got you covered.
Does it make a different for athletes? What if it’s a hot day and you sweat a ton?
The guidelines for decreasing sodium towards 1,500 mg per day doesn’t really apply to athletes or people whose jobs expose them to extremely hot temperatures for long periods of time: think construction workers, etc. They will lose a lot of sodium in their sweat.
But for the average American, a day of sweating on the beach or during a bit of daily exercise will not change these guidelines for you.
What’s the deal with sea salt and Himalayan pink salt?
This is one of those fads that drives me crazy. Kind of like the keto diet, most facts about sea salt and Himalayan pink salt are vastly misconstrued.
These two types of salt have the same amount of sodium in them as table salt.
So how did the rumor of less sodium begin?
Because sea salt and Himalayan pink salt come in larger crystals. If you take a teaspoon of them and compare it to a teaspoon of fine table salt, there’s going to be more sodium in the table salt simply because there’s more volume of it on the spoon.
But you’re not going to add big chunks of sea salt to your cooking. You’re going to grind it up into an easy-to-use consistency.
So all of these types of salt actually have the same amount of sodium in them. The only way to eat less sodium is to eat less sodium.
How do I make hitting my sodium “goal” easier?
I’m all about making healthy habits easy. So how can we make it so we don’t have to sit there counting our milligrams of salt with each meal?
After you’ve counted how much sodium you normally eat in a day, start making the necessary changes to decrease that number. Once you change your habits, it’ll be easier to stick with.
Make whole, natural foods the majority of your diet. By whole foods, I mean things like apples, berries, carrots, lettuce, lentils, peas, almonds, and sunflower seeds. Foods in their most natural form.
Season your foods with other spices: onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, cumin, oregano, basil, thyme, pepper, chili powder, etc.
From there, you can sprinkle in the processed, more sodium-laden foods: a tablespoon of almond butter with your apple, a serving of hummus with your carrots, or a small portion of pesto sauce on your pasta.
If you make little changes like this, you’ll have a much easier time hitting your sodium goal every day!
Did this answer your questions about salt and sodium intake? If so, I’d greatly appreciate if you’d share this post with your family and friends! Thank you!