Let’s take a quick look at sodium and its effects on the body. Sodium is an inorganic element that must be replaced exogenously, which means that we must get what we need through diet or nutritional supplements because the body cannot produce sodium naturally. Why should we care?
Replacing and maintaining adequate levels of sodium is important for optimum cellular balance (or homeostasis) and to assure the body can operate at a functional, healthy level. But the big question about sodium is always this: How much is too much?
More Than a Pinch for Taste
Most would agree that salt makes food tastier. Did you know that it’s hidden in most processed foods in excessive amounts? Most, if not all, packaged or processed foods contain higher amounts of sodium than any whole or natural foods. This is why clean eating is the way to go. Too much sodium can be dangerous — research has proven this! And yet excessive sodium consumption continues to go unseen by most people in the Western world.
So how to determine the right daily limits? The current recommendation is no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day — equivalent to about one teaspoon. For some perspective, three slices of flavorful bacon amounts to approximately 579 milligrams of sodium. Even seemingly healthier dietary choices, like a glass of vegetable juice, can also be loaded with sodium (640 milligrams)! The American Heart Association (AHA) is urging adults to actually move toward a more ideal daily limit of 1,500 milligrams. According to information shared by the AHA here, reducing sodium intake alone can significantly improve both blood pressure and heart health.
Myth v. Fact: Let’s Cut to the Truth
Here are just a few of the messages floating out there about sodium intake. We’d like to set the record straight.
High levels of sodium increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, hypertension and kidney disease.
You may think this is just relevant to those who are salt sensitive, elderly or have underlying medical problems, but you should care, too. Here’s some great information from The Nutrition Source, brought to you by Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition.
With electrolyte drinks and powders, more is better.
Some electrolyte drinks and mixes boast sodium content with amounts of 1,000 milligrams or more (nearly a day’s worth of intake)! Yet only athletes who are training for two or more hours need this level of sodium replacement because of what is lost through sweat. There are few exceptions to this rule.
Excess sodium makes the body retain water, which in turn leads to water weight gain.
The body will hold on to water when there’s too much sodium in your system, presenting as swelling or bloating. According to this article by Medical News Today, that can mean fluctuating as much as two to four pounds in one day.
The truth is, sodium isn’t all bad. We still need it to survive and function at optimum levels. Too little of this important element can cause vomiting, cognitive impairment, coma, seizures and even respiratory distress. Too much sodium can cause swelling, heart and kidney disease, stroke, hypertension and maybe even gastric cancer (although more research is needed on this). Try to strike a balance and aim to fuel up on a well balanced, naturally low sodium diet full of whole, fresh foods wherever possible.