Sodium Sense

No, you probably can't eat just one when it comes to potato chips, pretzels, popcorn, hot dogs, and pizza. Americans love their sodium-laden salty foods. Too much.

Sodium is an essential nutrient, necessary for the transmission of nerve impulses, contraction and relaxation of muscle fibers, and to maintain fluid balance. But, we don't need much. The human body considers sodium a rare commodity; it's programmed to conserve the sodium it does have. If sodium levels in the body drop, the kidneys and sweat glands increase urine and sweat production, which helps maintain sodium concentration. If sodium levels are high, the kidneys kick into gear to hold onto excess fluid by decreasing urine volume. This makes sense to those of us already aware that eating lots of salty foods tends to result in "puffiness" and water retention.

If sodium levels remain too high over time, the increased blood volume creates higher blood pressure and harder, less pliable blood vessels. This increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, and Kidney damage. Some research has also noted an increase risk of stomach cancer.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that those under 51 consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium each day (1 teaspoon.) A limit of 1500 mg for anyone 51 or older, African American, or with high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. 

The average American eats more than 3500 mg of salt each day. But, it isn't primarily from the salt shaker. Processed foods account for 75% of total sodium intake. Restaurant foods also tend to be much higher in sodium.

Reducing sodium intake can reduce risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney damage.
Decrease intake of processed foods
  1. Minimize use of salt shaker
  2. Eat more foods high in potassium such as fresh fruits and vegetables
  3. Eat a nutritious diet
  4. Minimize processed foods
  5. Eat more meals at home

Watch the labels 

  1. Sodium-free or salt-free: 5 mg or less of sodium per serving
  2. Very low sodium: 35 mg of sodium or less
  3. Low sodium: 140 mg of sodium or less
  4. Reduced or less sodium: At least 25% less sodium than regular version
  5. Light in sodium: At least 50% the regular version
  6. Unsalted or no salt added: No salt is added during processing. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking soda, baking powder, disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, sodium nitrate or nitrites, also contain sodium.

Keep in mind that foods labeled reduced, less, or light in sodium, and those unsalted or no-salt added may still be high in sodium. Beware of foods with more than 200 mg sodium per serving. 

    Now, how about an apple instead of that bag of chips for snack?