Sodium plays an important role in essentially every basic bodily function. It’s necessary for maintaining your blood pressure, aiding in digestion, and accommodating the electrical currents that control muscle and nerve function. It’s one of many essential electrolytes that promote hydration. Sodium is present in just about every part of your body, including your muscles, sweat, and urine. In fact, your body contains about 40 teaspoons of sodium in the form of sodium chloride, which you know better as regular table salt.
You absolutely need sodium in your diet, but the problems come when you get too much of it. The main dietary source of sodium is table salt, and the average American consumes at least five teaspoons of salt every day. That’s about 20 times more than the amount of sodium that you actually need, and it’s not entirely your fault either. Sodium naturally exists in certain foods, but many foods contain added sodium after processing, preparation, and preservation, particularly canned and packaged foods.
Many athletes, bodybuilders, and active individuals consider cutting their sodium intake. Here’s a quick guide to low sodium diets.
Why Go Low Sodium?
Too much of anything isn’t good for your health. Too much sodium in your diet causes you to retain water, which inevitably leads to bloating and weight gain. Excess sodium can cause up to 3 pounds of increased body weight within a couple days of consumption. This can also lead to swelling in your hands and face and pain in the joints.
The more serious problem stemming from excess sodium is high blood pressure. The excess fluid retained from sodium puts extra burden on your heart, causing increased blood pressure (medically known as hypertension). Upwards of 70 million people in the United States have hypertension. That increased blood pressure can lead to damage to your arteries and puts you at a greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
The fluid retention also puts extra physical stress on blood vessels around the kidneys, forcing them to work even harder. Your kidneys rely on a careful balance of potassium and sodium to regulate the process of removing water from your bloodstream. Too much sodium can potentially lead to kidney disease.
Daily Recommended Intake of Sodium
Your body only needs about a quarter of a teaspoon of salt every day, but getting that small of an amount can be difficult in the modern world of processed foods. The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium every day. According to the American Heart Association, the daily recommended amount is about 2,300 milligrams per day, which is about one teaspoon of salt per day. Many experts recommend consuming less than 2,000 milligrams. Those who are older than 50 years old or have hypertension or diabetes should only have about 1,500 milligrams of sodium.
How to Maintain a Low Sodium Diet
Maintaining a low sodium diet can be extremely difficult considering just how often salt is added to essentially every packaged and processed food you find. A slice of bread alone can have up to 250 milligrams of sodium, so how can you cut your sodium intake?
- Shop for fresh, whole, and natural foods. These foods that have not been packaged or processed generally do not have any added sodium.
- Shop for low sodium. Granted, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get rid of all packaged or canned goods. Just make sure you read the label and only purchase foods that specifically state that they are “low sodium” or otherwise contain less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving. Avoid canned foods that are seasoned or have any added sugars.
- Focus on fruits and vegetables. Whole and frozen fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium and have the added benefit of being packed with a huge range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can contribute to better overall health and physical performance. If you do buy canned vegetables, make sure you rinse them in water before eating to remove any salty residue.
- Limit processed meats. This includes deli meats, bacon, and hot dogs. Opt instead for whole meats that allow you to control the amount of sodium you add.
- Reconsider spices and seasoning. Mammals naturally seek foods that are sugary, salty, and fatty. While you can still add a pinch of salt to your foods, remember that you can get plenty of flavors from other herbs, spices, and seasonings. Add garlic, lemon, fresh basil, or ground pepper in place of salt to make your food healthier and more flavorful.
- Prepare your own meals. It’s often much easier to control the amount of salt, sodium, and calories in your food when you cook for yourself. However, if you do go out to eat, try to ask for low sodium options or that salt not be added at all. Dishes that are steamed, broiled, or grilled also tend to contain less sodium than those that have been fried or baked.
- Consider using hard water. Many homeowners soften their water using salt. While it’s not at an amount that you can necessarily taste, soft water can still potentially contribute to your overall sodium intake.
Counteracting Excess Sodium
You can potentially counteract sodium through certain modifications to your diet.
- Potassium – Potassium is the counter to sodium. Eating more potassium can help to balance your system and help to lower your blood pressure. Potassium-rich foods include bananas, potatoes, cantaloupe, and beans. However, this is only if you have taken in excess sodium. If you’re already on a low sodium diet, consuming more potassium may unbalance your system in the other direction.
- Water – The fluid retention that comes with excess sodium intake is your body’s way of diluting that sodium by holding on to as much water as it can. While it may seem counterintuitive, drinking water can help your body dilute the sodium, reducing the bloating sensation and helping your body get rid of the excess salt through your urine.
- Exercise – Exercise helps your body eliminate more sodium through your sweat. On average, you lose about half a teaspoon of salt through your sweat for every hour of moderate exercise.
Along with your low sodium diet, you may find it helpful to incorporate dietary supplements, like mTOR Pro™ from MYOKEM™. mTOR Pro™ offers 10.5 grams of essential amino acids in each serving through a unique formula that can improve your amino acid absorption and post-workout recovery while increasing your hydration and physical performance.