Sodium is a hot topic in nutrition these days. Most of us know that this little mineral is a huge part of the American diet in the form of salt and that it’s found in excess in many foods. Some of us may even be dealing with the side effects of too much sodium and may be confused about how to reduce the amount of it that we eat.
On one hand, humans need sodium to survive. Our nerves and muscles use it to transmit signals, and it helps our bodies to maintain a fluid balance so that we do not get over or under hydrated. Sodium is used in many important functions in the body, and without it, we would die.
On the other hand, consuming too much sodium can have serious effects on health. We’ve heard the statistics about hypertension, i.e. high blood pressure, which occurs when the force of blood going through blood vessels is too high. Hypertension is commonly contributed to by excess sodium consumption and can lead to even larger health issues, including stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, vision loss, and sexual dysfunction.
So, how much sodium should we be eating every day? The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people eat no more than 2,300 milligrams—or one teaspoon—of sodium per day. As you might imagine, most people eat much more than this. Salt tastes good. It adds flavor to foods, and it’s used in a lot of packaged and canned foods as a preservative. Additionally, most restaurant menus include high-sodium options.
Reducing the amount of salt eaten can seem difficult at first, but with a few small and easy changes, you can reduce your risk of health complications related to excess sodium intake. For some handy tips on how to manage or reduce your sodium intake while on the road, read below.
- Put down the saltshaker when eating at restaurants. Most restaurant items already contain excessive amounts of sodium, and adding more isn’t doing your health any favors. If you’re concerned about the loss of flavor, you can bring your own sodium-free seasonings to restaurants. Products like Mrs. Dash are widely available at grocery stores nationwide. You can also get in the habit of using the saltshaker less and less, so as to wean yourself off of such salty flavor. For example, if you’re used to three shakes of salt your green beans, start trying only two shakes.
- Ask for sauce on the side. A lot of sauces, dressings, and condiments are high in sodium. When eating out, ask to receive sauces and dressings on the side. This way, you can control how much you’re using, and it’s easier to monitor your intake.
- Watch out for nuts. Nuts are a delicious, healthy, and easily accessible snack option. When choosing nuts, unsalted or lightly salted varieties are advised. Salted, dry roasted, or flavored nuts often contain high amounts of sodium. The same goes for sunflower seeds.
- Choose fruits, vegetables, salads, or plain baked potatoes as side items. In addition to having much less sodium than fried items or those that come with a sauce, fruits and vegetables provide additional nutrients which may help offset the effects of excess sodium intake.
- Choose low or reduced sodium varieties of canned and packaged foods. There are low sodium versions of most things these days, you just have to do a little label reading.
Sodium can be a confusing topic, and it’s lurking around in many foods, often in extra high amounts. The good news is that with a little knowledge and effort, sodium intake can be managed, which may have an immensely positive impact on long-term health.
This post was written in large part by Taylor Beard, dietetic intern at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. Taylor will be eligible to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in May of 2018.