Food Facts: Sodium

Sodium, without a doubt, has a pretty bad reputation in the world of food. Almost never is it associated with anything positive, only negative and how we need less and less of it. Although that is true, our body still definitely needs this element in order for us to survive. Sodium has various uses in our body, ranging from:

– Controlling blood pressure and blood volume

– Helping maintain fluid balance in our bodies

– Helping transmit nerve impulses

– Influencing muscle relaxation and contraction

Obviously, as most of us know, we get most of our sodium intake from salt. Sodium also occurs naturally in a wide range of foods including all vegetables, dairy, meat, and shellfish. The majority of sodium found in food comes from packaged products like processed ham, sausages, lunch/deli meats, hot dogs, frozen dinners, cereals, cheese, breads, soups, salad dressings, sauces, and the list goes on. Fast foods are known to be very high in it as well.

Overconsumption of salt has become an increasing problem in our country, with over 75 million American adults suffering with high blood pressure. This can ultimately lead to future and more severe health problems later in life. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans limits sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day. To give you a picture of how much that is, a teaspoon of salt contains about 2,325 mg of sodium, which is a little bit more than the daily recommended intake (DRI for short). The limit is suggested to be 1,500 mg a day for adults over 51, black individuals, and people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. It’s important to remember that these limits provided are upper limits, so ultimately less is the best goal. Most of us in the United States consume about 3,400 mg a day, much more than the suggested amount.

There’s also been some speculation on sea salt being somehow a better option than table salt. As noted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the sodium content of the two is about the same, the only difference is that sea salt just has very small amounts of some minerals.

Some suggestions from the Mayo Clinic on how to effectively reduce one’s sodium intake is listed below:

  • Try and consume more fresh fruits and vegetables, which are naturally low in sodium
  • When cooking, leave out the salt in recipes (especially possible in meals such as casseroles, soups, stews, etc.)
  • Limit your use of sodium-filled condiments (such as soy sauce, dressings, dips, ketchup, mustard, relish, sauces)
  • Replace condiments instead with herbs and spices

salt

A salt substitute is another great way to decrease salt intake without compromising flavor. In the following recipe, mix all seasonings together and substitute equivalent amounts for all recipes that call for salt.

1 tsp. chili powder.

2 tsp. ground oregano

2 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. garlic powder

2 tbsp. dry mustard

6 tbsp. onion powder

3 tbsp. paprika

3 tbsp. poultry seasoning

Our taste for sodium is an acquired one, so by gradually decreasing our intake, our taste buds will adjust! My biggest piece of advice regarding salt intake would be to take the salt shakers off of your dinner tables. If you’re living in a dorm and don’t have one of those, avoid the salt shakers in dining halls or the salt packages. We actually get most of our sodium intake from table salt, so by eliminating this as an option, we are on the fast track to improving our overconsumption of sodium and paving the way to a healthier you.

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References:

Mayo Clinic

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Medline Plus

Salt Photo

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