How dietary sodium affects our health and how to strike a balance
by NatureBox Nutritionist Kat Brown, MS RD RYT
Sodium is an element that is a component in table salt whose purpose is to maintain fluid balance, hold onto other minerals through intricate pathways in our bodies, and send nerve signals. This means that salt is essential in our diets. Unfortunately, this necessary ingredient has many negative affects if consumed in excess. Overall, Americans today consume far too much sodium- the average intake is about 3,400 milligrams (mg) per day with the recommended amount being 2,300mg or less per day. Risks of a high sodium diet include heart disease due to the excess pressure on your heart and blood vessels by high blood pressure. Too much salt can also lead to bone thinning because of the way we flush out the excess- our kidneys get rid of it hand in hand with calcium.
So now that we know why it is important to be mindful of salt intake, let’s learn where it comes from and how we can keep it in check. Read on to discover stealthy steps for reducing your intake of sodium.
- Emphasize produce in your diet. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium, can take the place of processed, high-salt foods, and many contain potassium, which can help keep blood pressure levels in check. Foods that are naturally high in potassium are bananas, potatoes and sweet potatoes, leafy greens, and oranges.
- Choose less processed, whole foods, which are naturally lower in salt and overall better for your health. Salt is used to flavor and preserve processed foods and is even used to bring out the sweetness in sugary foods. As you shop for prepared foods, review the label and try to choose foods with less than 300mg of salt per serving. Compare different brands of the same product- there may be a big difference in the sodium content across brands.
- Screen for high sodium foods and ingredients, and limit portions of them. Some of the foods with the highest sodium content include jarred pasta sauces, spice mix packets, lunch meats, cheeses, frozen meals and canned foods.
- Season your foods with alternatives to salt like herbs and spices and be mindful of how you use salt in cooking. Try lemon or lime juice, garlic, vinegars, or commercially prepared no-salt spice blends.
- While most of the salt in our diets comes from prepared foods and restaurant eating, salt added to our meals at home is important to be mindful of as well. When cooking at home, add salt sparingly at the table rather than during meal preparation and at the table. And how about this interesting fact- most people can’t taste the difference between a food with 25% less salt. Keep this in mind when preparing your meals!
Remember- flavorful food can be one of the most enjoyable parts of life. When you make changes to your diet, be sure to make gradual changes in a steady fashion to slowly dial down the salt, which will make it easier to develop lasting healthy habits . Your heart and bones will thank you.
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Kat Brown MS RD RYT is a San Francisco Bay Area based Registered Dietitian and Yoga Teacher. As a nutrition counselor, writer, cook, and yogini she seeks to inspire others to nourish themselves and live balanced, fulfilled lives.