By Brett Hanna
We all need salt (aka sodium or sodium chloride) in our diets. Salt allows the body to conduct electrical signals in the gastrointestinal tract, the heart and the nervous system. It also helps the body maintain blood pressure and keeps cells healthy. Salt is also pervasive in our foods. It is used for taste, of course, but also for texture and as a preservative. But since too much dietary salt is generally considered bad for you, there are dietary guidelines for consumption. For most people, it is recommended that sodium intake be limited to less than 2,300 mg per day. For those 51 and older, and those with kidney disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, it is recommended that sodium intake be limited to less than 1,500 mg per day. Tracking consumption is relatively easy, one simply needs to check food labels for per-serving sodium content.
While consuming dietary salt is necessary for certain bodily systems and functions, consuming too much clearly is bad for you. Average consumption of 2.3 grams of sodium or more can result in high blood pressure. High blood pressure can cause kidney disease, dementia, coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure and atrial fibrillation. High levels of sodium consumption can also cause obesity, inflammation and autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, dehydration, bloating and water retention, and stomach cancer.
Given the risks associated with high sodium consumption, it certainly makes sense to lower consumption to the recommended levels or below. The Mayo Clinic has outlined several strategies for doing this:
- The first is to learn how to read nutritional labels so you know what you are consuming:·Sodium free or salt free means less that 5 mg per serving.
- Very low sodium means less than 35 mg per serving.
- Low sodium means less than 140 mg per serving.
- Reduced or less sodium means at least 25 percent less per serving than the regular version of the same thing.
- Lite or light sodium means at least 50 percent less per serving than the regular version of the same thing.
- Unsalted or no salt added means that no salt was added as the food was processed, but that does not mean that the food in question does not contain natural sodium—check for that.
- Choose “low” sodium products.
- Eat more fresh foods, meaning foods that don’t have sodium used as a preservative.»Remove salt from recipes and don’t put salt on the table when eating.
- Minimize the use of condiments such as ketchup, mustard, relish, sauces/dips, salad dressing and soy sauce, because they are often sodium rich.»Replace salt with herbs and other spices to improve taste. Do not substitute sea salt because it contains as much sodium as table salt.
- Pay attention to your bread consumption. Bread often contains high levels of sodium, and this can be true of whole or multi grain breads. Check the labels.
The takeaway is that it is not that difficult to reduce sodium consumption, but the benefits in doing so are significant.