How to Keep Your Sodium Intake in Check

Are you getting way more sodium than you think?

By: Rebecca Jacobs

We all know that excessive amounts of sugar is bad for us. Unfortunately, sugar isn’t the only bad guy we need to look out for in our food. We’re talking all about the dangers of too much sodium and how to keep your levels in check. 

And, before you totally freak out wondering how the heck you’re going to avoid the sodium that’s literally found everywhere, know that we get it. It’s practically impossible to completely avoid sodium in your diet— and your body still needs some to function properly, so you wouldn’t want to even if you could. However, consuming it in excess can be harmful to your health in a variety of ways, and you may be getting more in your diet than you might think. 

Read on to learn just how sodium affects your body and the foods you should limit to keep your sodium levels from going overboard.

Sodium vs. Salt

One important fact to get clear on—while “sodium” and “salt” are often used interchangeably, they aren’t actually the same thing. Sodium is a mineral, and it is one of the chemical elements that’s found in salt (also known as “sodium chloride”). So while sodium is a part of salt, it actually makes up just about 40% of salt (while chloride makes up the other 60%).

Sodium in Food

Sodium can be found in just about anything you eat or drink, even if just a small amount. It is naturally occurring in many foods, but it also can be added to foods to enhance flavor. It’s often why a bag of potato chips is so delicious, or your favorite restaurant has figured out how to make the perfectly savory chicken noodle soup—the truth is that in the kitchen or at the manufacturing plant, they are likely adding a hefty dose of salt. 

But why is this bad? Read on as we’re breaking down why too much is not a good thing and some of the dangers of too much sodium you need to know about. 

The Dangers of Too Much Sodium

Excessive amounts of sodium in your daily diet can lead to a host of negative effects. Here are four reasons why we want to keep our sodium levels in check. 

#1 Too Much Salt May Raise blood pressure

One of the dangers of too much sodium has to do with blood pressure. Sodium has long been linked to higher blood pressure. Studies continue to show that reducing sodium intake can lower blood pressure—particularly when it comes to people who have elevated levels.

#2 May increase risk of stomach cancer

A large review found that participants who consumed more salt in their diet had a 68% higher risk of stomach cancer than those with less salt-heavy diet.

#3 Too much sodium may cause bloating

Sodium can cause you to retain extra water, which in turn, can lead to bloating. While not a serious health issue, it can be uncomfortable and frustrating to deal with.

#4 Makes you crave sugar

You may have noticed that after finishing a salty snack, you immediately crave something sweet. Unfortunately for those of us who are trying to eat clean, this can throw a wrench in our diet.

Why You Still Need Some Sodium

While there are quite a few dangers of too much sodium, your body actually still needs a small amount of sodium to function properly. Sodium helps the body with muscle contraction, fluid balance, and nervous system function.

The takeaway here is that it’s important to remember that your body does need a small amount of sodium, but it’s also highly unlikely that you should be worrying about not getting enough sodium. Dietary sodium deficiencies are incredibly rare in otherwise healthy individuals.

For healthy adults, the American Heart Association recommends staying under 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day but encourages aiming towards no more than 1,500 milligrams per day. You do lose sodium through sweat, so these guidelines may differ for those who regularly sweat a lot (like competitive athletes or people exposed to heat for long periods of time).

Common High Sodium Foods to Look Out For

There are a lot of high sodium foods out there, but these are some of the most common you should be on the lookout for:

●      Meats (particularly smoked, cured, salted, and canned)

●      Packaged snacks (like chips and salted pretzels)

●      Cheese (regular and processed, spreads and sauces)

●      Pizza

●      Yeast bread

●      Soups (particularly canned, ramen cups, and restaurant prepared, though you can find low-sodium options)

●      Olives, pickles

●      Pasta sauces

●      Soy sauce, seasoning salts, and marinades

Keep in mind that recipes will vary, and some foods in the same category may have a higher sodium content, while others may be lower. Look into the foods you eat on a regular basis and look up their sodium content. 

Be sure to read your food nutrition labels, and try to avoid processed foods in general—It’s estimated that over 75% of daily sodium intake comes from processed foods. More convenient foods like canned soups or frozen dinners can also contain high levels of sodium, so be sure to read labels and eliminate or reduce where needed.

Keep an Eye on Sodium for Optimal Health

There are plenty of dangers of too much sodium, and many reasons to make sure we are watching out for how much we are really including in our diet. If you want to stay in optimal shape, limit any high sodium foods that are causing you to quickly rack up your sodium levels. 

By focusing on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean protein, and plant-based protein, you can create a sodium-conscious diet. Of course, if you have a medical condition, dietary needs, or any confusion about the right amount of sodium for you, check with your doc first.