To the surprise of many, our bodies actually require sodium in order to function properly. Sodium helps maintain our fluid levels. It influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles and helps transmit nerve impulses. Our kidneys naturally maintain our fluid levels by flushing out excessive amounts or by storing sodium when we’re low.
Sodium is so important for our health that good ol’ mother earth produces it. Unfortunately though, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing…and most American’s are walking the line on the bad side of sodium.
What is the daily recommend amount of sodium?
Excessive amounts of sodium can lead to several health issues including (but not limited to) chronic kidney disease, cirrhosis, high blood pressure, fluid retention and congestive heart failure. The average American is consumes an average of 3,400 mg of sodium a day.
- The 2010 Dietary Guideline for Americans recommends we consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day.
- If you’re over 51 or are African American, then the recommendation of sodium drops down to 1,500 mg a day.
Twelve years ago my Doctor put me on a low sodium diet and I try to make sure I don’t exceed 1,500mg. To put things in perspective for you, one teaspoon of table salt has 2,325mg of sodium.
How can I start to reduce the amount of sodium in my diet?
If you are accustomed to having salt in your diet, you’d probably find more success if you gradually reduced the amount of salt you consume. Salt is an acquired taste, and by slowly removing it from your meals, your taste buds will change.
Whenever possible, and as much as possible, buy fresh and cook at home. When preparing your meals at home, you can almost always leave the salt out of your recipes (baked goods are the only ones where you can cut it in half, but maybe not totally eliminate it). There are many great seasonings available now, like Mrs. Dash, that provide a great alternative to salt.
Also, don’t leave salt on your table when you eat. It’s just too easy to reach for that little extra pinch, so if it’s not there, it’s not a problem!
You may be surprised to learn how much salt is in our packaged and processed foods. Next time you pick up a can or carton of soup, talk a look at the sodium content. Most soups contain 30-40% of the recommended daily value in a single serving (and then we sit and eat multiple servings).
Same is said for dressings, sauces, broths, dips, soy sauce and those delicious frozen dinners. Even our canned beans, corn and peas are packed in salt. Look for labels that read “no salt added” or “lower sodium”.
Our meat can be injected and packaged with a sodium containing solution, so be sure to label-read on your meat, too. This can include (but again, is not limited to) chicken, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, lunch meat and ham.
What are your favorite sodium lowering diet tricks?