There’s really no getting around it. We love salt. From potato chips and French fries to salted caramels, salt makes everything better. But it’s a pretty widespread belief: while salt may make your food taste better, too much salt is certainly not good for your health. But what’s the deal with salt anyway and is the salt shaker really to blame? It’s time to do a bit more digging. Read below to find out the daily recommended sodium level, how sodium affects the body, and effective ways you can reduce sodium intake.
Salt vs. Sodium
First, it’s worth clarifying the blame directed toward salt is really due to it’s sodium content, so if you’re tracking your salt intake, instead you really should be tracking your sodium intake. Salt and sodium are often used interchangeably but they’re really not the same thing. In fact, table salt is made up of around 40 percent sodium and around 60 percent chloride. So then sodium, a mineral, is in salt, but salt and sodium are not the same thing. Sodium also naturally occurs in some other foods as well, for example: celery, beets, milk and baking soda (though it’s nothing to worry about since it’s such a small amount). It’s also worth noting that certain types of salt, for instance, sea salt or Himalayan pink salt have slightly less sodium than table salt and often contain more minerals as well which is why they’ve become so popular.
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How Much Sodium Should I Have Daily?
The FDA has determined that sodium intake should be around 1,500 milligrams, or 0.75 teaspoons/3.75 grams of sodium per day, and not more than 2,300 milligrams, or 1 teaspoon/6 grams of sodium per day. Most Americans however are consuming around 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day.
How Does Sodium Affect the Body?
Surprisingly and something you may not be aware of is that sodium is actually critical to your health and getting too little of it can cause problems just like getting too much of it. If you’ve ever had a drop of sweat that trickles its way into your mouth during a workout, you may have noticed that it tastes salty. This is actually due to the fact that sodium is one of the body’s electrolytes and plays a key role in muscle and nerve function. Some studies have even found that too little sodium has been linked to an increase in LDL, an increased risk of death in Type II diabetes patients, insulin resistance and hyponatremia. However, on the flip side, too much sodium is believed to increase blood pressure, a common risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Too much sodium can also lead to bloating and water retention in many individuals.
Essentially, there’s risks on both sides and it’s best to stick somewhere in the middle, however, in our world today, there are very few of us who are getting too little sodium. Bottom line, many of us consume more sodium than is needed and there is a correlation between high sodium consumption and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke so it’s a good thing to keep in check.
If you’re getting more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, it may be time to reduce your sodium intake. Pay attention to the main sources of sodium in your diet and ways to reduce your sodium content, like our suggestions below.
How To Reduce Sodium Intake
Most people think that in order to reduce your sodium intake (notice I didn’t say salt intake), you should stop salting your food at the dinner table with the salt shaker. And while, this is of course an option, the salt shaker usually isn’t the problem. Did you read that? The salt shaker is not the problem!
According to the American Heart Association, “more than 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes from processed, prepackaged, and restaurant foods.” So, if you’re solution to removing excess salt from your diet is to remove the salt shaker from the table, that may not be where most of your sodium intake is coming from. The best strategy you can use to reduce your sodium intake is to eat less packaged foods, which is really beneficial for your health in general.
Here are a few ways to reduce sodium intake both at the grocery store and at home:
- Reach For Low-Sodium Condiments
Condiments are notorious for being sodium bombs. Things like soy sauce, ketchup and other condiments are major sources of sodium, but luckily there are often low-sodium versions and frankly, there’s no reason NOT to get the low-sodium varieties. Just be mindful to still check the label and go easy on how much you put on your food.
- Trade In Your Packaged Snacks
As mentioned, packaged foods are typically the culprit when it comes to getting too much sodium in our diet. Instead, why not try making some snacks at home? You can easily make a batch of homemade trail mix, whip up a batch of kale chips and pack little baggies of carrots and celery. Making your own snacks will be so much healthier and lower your sodium intake tremendously!
- Go Heavy on The Herbs & Spices
Again, usually the salt shaker isn’t to blame when you’re cooking at home, but if you’re looking for healthy ways to flavor your food, without adding a bunch of salt, you can’t go wrong with herbs and spices. Herbs and spices are one of the easiest ways to pack more flavor, plus there’s guaranteed to be a herb or spice that goes well with any dish you’re creating. Fresh herbs especially can elevate a dish tremendously, no need for all that salt!
Download your guide to the best herbs and spices to pair with common foods!
- Pay Extra Attention to Canned/Frozen Foods
Other culprits in the grocery store are canned and frozen foods. Since salt can act as a preservative, lots of frozen meals and canned items are loaded with it. Always be mindful to check the labels and choose items that are low in sodium or better yet, leave it out entirely!
- Be In Control
One of the best ways to lower your sodium intake is to just pay attention. Read the labels of things you’re choosing to buy and find ways where you get to be in control of the salt content. For instance, always choose unsalted butter. When you’re cooking at home, you can add the salt yourself and you don’t need to worry about how much was added before you ever got your hands on it.
Reducing your sodium intake is easier than you think and can vastly improve your health. Start paying attention to your grocery store labels (for all sorts of reasons!), eat real food reducing your consumption of processed and packaged foods and you’ll be sure to have your sodium levels in check in no time.