Salt is a constant topic of controversy. In my head the argument usually goes a little like this: Too much salt is bad for me, but my body needs it and my taste buds want it. So, how much is too much?
Lets break it down and reach a compromise.
The Role of Salt in Your Body:
- Sodium is an electrolyte and a mineral.
- Sodium has many jobs in your body, most notably it helps to maintain fluid balance and cardiovascular, nerve, and muscle function.
- Sodium deficiency (hyponatremia) can lead to headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, disorientation, tiredness, or seizures and coma.
- Sodium and fluid are regulated by intestinal absorption and kidney excretion. The body is constantly monitoring sodium and fluid levels to keep them balanced and adjusts absorption/excretion accordingly.
Salt and Blood Pressure:
- Blood pressure is affected by the volume of blood the heart is pumping, the greater the volume the greater the pressure and vice versa.
- The unique nature of sodium’s role in the blood helps to maintain appropriate blood pressure. When sodium levels in the blood are too high the body will absorb extra fluid into the blood stream to help dilute the sodium. This increases the total volume of blood and thus blood pressure. For most people this is a natural function that the body regulates well.
- Regulating fluid and pressure can be a significant factor for people with heart disease, kidney disease, and other risk factors.
- In the graphic below, imagine that the red particles are sodium. You can see the fluid increases where sodium is added to dilute the particles.
Sources of Salt in the Diet
- Sodium is naturally occurring in animal products- meats, cheeses, and seafood.
- Sodium can be added to food during cooking or from a salt shaker at the table.
- Most of the sodium we eat comes from packaged, processed, store-bought, and restaurants foods. (CDC)
How much Sodium Should I get Each Day?
- The US Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day and as low as 1,500 mg per day for higher risk populations
- An easy way to meet the above recommendation is to try to have 1mg of sodium per 1 calorie of food you eat.
But rather than checking packages and constantly tallying the sodium?
My recommendation is to worry less about numbers. Skip the packaged food, and eat more real food!