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The Truth About Dietary Sodium

Updated on April 5, 2011
Smoked Hawaiian Sea Salt
Smoked Hawaiian Sea Salt | Source

Sodium, better known to us as salt, has been a favorite food addition and preservative since ancient times. We love salt because it enhances flavors, preserves meats and vegetables, and helps our bodies stay hydrated on hot humid days; yet it can contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure. Good nutrition and healthy eating is an important part of our lives, and despite what some people think, it is possible to enjoy these with salt in moderation.

How Much Sodium is Bad?

Moderation is important in many areas of our lives, and our consumption of salt is no different. You have probably heard, over and over, that salt is bad for you. To be more accurate it is really too much salt, or sodium, that is bad for you.

Using salt may not seem like a big deal; what are a few shakes of salt on your nightly meal? But salt is added to just about everything. In fact, a teaspoon of salt has 2,325 milligrams of sodium in it. This doesn’t mean much, until you consider the daily recommended allowance for adults is 2,300 milligrams, as put forth in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. So you may want to think twice before you polish off a whole bag of chips, and make a plan instead for more healthy eating.

So, Avoid All Sodium?

Salt is not completely our enemy, though. Sodium works in our bodies, in fact is critically necessary, to get nerve impulses to travel through our bodies and balance the fluids in our cells. It does this by working in concert with potassium and other electrolytes, but when sodium gets out of balance problems start to crop up. High sodium diets will cause our bodies to retain an excess of water, which puts stress on the heart and increases blood pressure, setting us up for heart disease down the road. The flip side is that there is not enough sodium in the body to retain enough water, which happens in hot, humid climates. It also happens to people who sweat a lot while exercising. In the hot afghan deserts, military fighters carry salt tablets with them to help offset the loss of excess sodium through sweat, and the fatigue that comes with it.

Sodium is useful in other ways, such as treatment for adrenal fatigue/insufficiency or Addison’s disease patients. Individuals with these afflictions have a shortage of hormones that regulate sodium, causing low blood pressure and other issues. Increased salt intake is a key part of treatment for these disorders.

Fake out Your Tastebuds

For those who want or need to remove sodium from their diet, the good news is that there are many other great alternatives available. Take sea salt, for starters. Not all sea salt is equal, but for some of the better brands, the sodium content is actually quite low because the salt contains other mineral elements. Check the label – it might reveal a surprisingly low amount of sodium per serving for sea salt. Additionally, try eating fresh vegetables and fruits; in other words, avoid processed foods that have been packaged with added sodium. For even more heart disease prevention, choose delicious substitutes to enhance food flavors such as lemon juice, low sodium soy sauce, lemon salt, or vinegar. Another alternative is dulse powder, which is a type of ground seaweed that tastes salty, has other health benefits, and is low in sodium.

And who knows – trying some of these alternatives, while increasing your good health and nutrition, may inspire your cooking genius to create some fabulous new recipes as well.


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