Do You Eat Too Much Sodium?
Sodium is important for our daily survival. It helps to transport vital nutrients around the body, send nerve messages, and contract muscles. The problem is that most of us eat far more sodium than we really need to, and this can cause us to develop certain health problems. Experts have suggested that we only need to eat around 500 mg of sodium per day, but due to the vast amounts of sodium that are added to our food, it is fair to say that the vast majority of us end up eating much more than that on a daily basis. Research has suggested that some of us can actually eat as much as ten times that amount per day! As a nation, we are eating far more sodium than we need to, and this is having a negative effect on our health.
How much sodium should I eat?
The recommended amount of sodium is anything between 1500 mg and 2300 mg per day. Sticking to this can be far more difficult than it seems, as most of our food has already had salt added to it. If you eat too much sodium, your health is going to suffer as a consequence. These range from the fairly minor problems, such as water retention (bloating), to some far more serious health problems. Here are just some of the health problems that might happen if you continue to eat too much sodium.
High blood pressure: If you eat too much sodium, you are likely to suffer from high blood pressure, especially in later life. As your kidneys start to release increased amounts of water, the volume of blood that is being pumped around your body also increases. This is why eating too much sodium contributes to high blood pressure. High blood pressure means that your heart has to work twice as hard to move the blood around your body. High blood pressure can also eventually lead to other heart problems, such as heart disease.
There has been lots of research that has connected a diet that is rich in sodium to high blood pressure. High blood pressure is an increasingly common health problem across the United States. If you have the condition, it is important to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet. Ideally, you should eat far less than the recommended 2300 mg of sodium per day, as this is towards the very high end of the recommended limit. The less sodium you can eat, the better it will be for your health in the long-term.
Nerve problems: Sodium can have a prominent role in sending nerve impulses around your body, which affect how your nerves operate. If you eat too much sodium, it can affect the flow of electrolytes throughout your body. There are further problems if too much sodium is able to get into the nerve. The sodium can then become stuck within the nerve, as there is usually insufficient time for the nerve to become empty before more sodium is able to get into the nerve. When this happens, there is even more sodium being trapped in the nerve, which obviously causes further problems, so it is a very vicious circle. Usually, the trapped sodium means that the nerve is not open enough for the signal to pass through, which can be what causes nerve problems in a lot of cases.
Osteoporosis: Weak and brittle bones are another sign that you might eat too much sodium. Eating too much sodium can decrease the density of your bones, which is what makes them fragile. This is becoming increasingly common in young women. Today's fast-paced world means that more of us are opting for convenience foods, which are often laden with sodium. Weak bones can result in the development of osteoporosis at a later date. We need calcium to build strong bones, but if you eat too much salt, a lot of your calcium intake is directed straight out of your body via urination. Given the need for calcium, it is a particularly good idea for women to eat as little sodium as possible so that the calcium that you eat can really do its job.
How can I tell how much sodium is in the food that I eat?
The easiest way to keep an eye on the sodium content of your food is to check the packaging. This can be a big clue as to how much sodium the food might contain. Throughout the United States, food packaging is required by law to advise the consumer as to how much sodium they will be eating if they buy the product. This is usually done via labels such as low-sodium, sodium-free, or reduced-sodium. In addition, if the label states that the product is low in fat, it must also state whether it contains 480 mg of sodium.
How can I cut down on the sodium that I eat?
It can be frightening to think of just how much sodium our food contains. However, things were not always like this. In the past, we did not eat anything like as much sodium as we do now. In fact, our descendents rarely ate more salt than was needed for their survival. This is actually very good news for us. If you want to cut down on the amount of sodium that you eat, it is not as difficult as you might think to cut it out. We can easily get used to not tasting salt in our food, as it is very much an acquired taste!
There are plenty of ways to cut down on the amount of sodium that you eat. The most obvious one is to stop adding sodium to your food to give it flavor. Herbs and spices will add a touch of exotic flavor, and they contain no sodium. As a general rule, the more natural your food is, the less sodium it is likely to contain, so including lots of fruit and vegetables in your diet will go a long way to make sure that you do not eat too much sodium. Most of us like to eat snacks in between meals, but we tend to go for snacks that are full of sodium. If you feel the need to eat snacks, opt for low-sodium snacks such as dried fruit. You should also cut down on the amount of processed food that you eat, as this is a major contributor to how much sodium you eat.
As well as cutting down on the amount of sodium that you eat, you should also stock up on foods that are rich in potassium, as this will help to cancel out the effects of eating too much sodium. This does not give you a green light to eat as much sodium as you want though! You still need to reduce how much sodium you eat, as eating potassium does not completely cancel out the harmful effects of too much sodium. Potassium can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as in peanut butter, tea, coffee and cocoa.