What’s so bad about a little snowflake-like crystal that has the power to help dry, preserve and flavor?
Salt, which is 40% sodium and 60% chloride, is a much maligned spice. Without sodium in our bodies we wouldn’t be alive.
Sodium is one of the body’s electrolytes. An electrolyte is a substance which can transmit electricity. Many of our body’s functions (such as muscle contraction) are controlled through electrical impulses by the movement of electrolytes.
But can we have too much of a good thing?Sodium is responsible for
- Regulation of blood pressure
- Regulation of blood volume
- Functioning of muscles and nerves
- Glucose absorption
Despite its vital role, we need very little sodium, a bit less than 500 mg a day (approx ¼ teaspoon of salt).
The human body is a delicately balanced organism, and usually it is able to maintain the proper amount of sodium by regulating how much is excreted in the urine. But when this balance is disturbed many things can go wrong.
There is agreement in the medical community that if you have hypertension (high blood pressure), excess sodium can make it worse. Excess sodium can increase the volume of fluid in the arteries and veins, making it more difficult for the heart to pump the blood throughout the body.
High Blood Pressure
If high blood pressure is not controlled, it can lead to congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathy and heart attack Not only is high blood pressure a problem for the heart, it can also lead to kidney failure. And since people with diabetes are at an increased risk of heart and kidney disease, watching sodium intake is important.
What if you don’t have hypertension, should you be concerned?
The evidence here is controversial. However, many studies have shown that even in people without hypertension, reducing sodium can reduce their blood pressure. And there are conditions where consuming large amounts of sodium is necessary, such as sodium-losing kidney diseases
However, for the vast majority of us, reducing our daily sodium intake to 2300 mg can only be helpful.
How Much Sodium Should You Have?
The 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines state that for healthy people limiting sodium to 2300 mg a day is sufficient to reduce risk.
For people with chronic diseases, a lower goal of 1500 mg a day is needed.
However, trying to keep sodium intake under 1500 mg in our culture is very difficult. In order to do so, you would have to make most of your meals at home from scratch. Therefore, the Joslin Guidelines suggest aiming for less than 2300 mg a day.
Where’s the Sodium? It’s Hiding!
Interestingly, most of the sodium we eat comes not from our salt shaker or what we add at the table. Processed foods provide about ¾ of the sodium people consume: think pizza, chips, hot dogs, canned soups–even condiments add up quickly.
How Can You Eat Less and Still Enjoy Your Food?
- Choose more fresh, unprocessed foods.
- Shop the perimeter of the supermarket.
- Limit the number of restaurant and take-out meals you have.
- Limit the amount of salt you add at table and in cooking to no more than ¼ teaspoon a day.
- Choose unsalted or low sodium, soups, cheese, snack foods and condiments.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables; they contain potassium, which helps control the damage done by too much sodium.
- Use herbs and spices to season your foods instead of salt.
If you’re interested in an organized way to reduce your sodium intake, look into following the DASH diet–Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Information on the DASH diet can be found at http://dashdiet.org/
Or see a registered dietitian who is a CDE (Certified Diabetes Educator) to help you plan a heart-healthy, diabetes-friendly meal plan.
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