What am I?
- The body requires this substance in small amounts, approximately 500 mg per day.
- The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends Americans consume no more than 1,500 mg of this substance per day.
- Nine out of ten Americans consume at least 1.5 teaspoons of it per day, which is more than our bodies need.
- This substance helps send nerve impulses, helps with muscle movement, and helps to maintains proper balance of water and minerals in your body.
- If you have too much in your diet, this can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, and kidney damage.
So, what am I?
- The answer is sodium chloride, more commonly known as
Sodium is an essential nutrient for our bodies but consuming too much salt can have serious consequences. Increased sodium levels may cause you to retain water, leading to puffiness, bloating, and weight gain. Heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide, and high blood pressure is a significant risk factor for the development of heart disease. Too much salt intake places you at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. Excess levels of sodium may also put you at risk for:
- Enlarged heart muscle
- Kidney disease/stones
- Stomach cancer
Salt in Food
You may think if you aren’t adding salt to your food with a saltshaker that you are not eating too much sodium, but did you know more than 75% of sodium consumed by Americans comes from processed food? This means that if you eat processed food, most of the sodium you eat is already in the food before you season it. Extra sodium is added to extend the shelf life of processed food. Additionally, poultry, soup, cold cuts, cured meat, cheese, and bread often have excess sodium. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites 65% of our sodium comes from food bought in stores, 25% from restaurants, and 10% from our homemade meals. Be diligent about reading nutrition labels so you know how much sodium is in food.
Tips to avoid salt overload:
- Use vegetables to flavor food, avoiding sauces and condiments
- Replace cheese with vegetables and fruit
- Avoid eating processed food; eat real food
- Eat foods with potassium to counter sodium intake
- When dining out, request that no salt be added to your food
- When dining in, replace salt with spices, herbs, or vinegar
- Be mindful of salad dressing; choose the option with less sodium
- Always read nutrition labels; familiarize yourself with nutrition basics
- Serving size matters, if you double the serving size be mindful that is also doubling your sodium intake
- Track your sodium intake using the AHA sodium tracker
- Try the AHA’s 21-day challenge to your sodium intake
- Try healthier recipes
American Heart Association, “7 Salty Sodium Myths Busted Infographic.”
American Heart Association, “9 out of 10 Americans Eat Too Much Sodium Infographic.”
American Heart Association, “Effects of Excess Sodium Infographic.”
American Heart Association, “Sodium Can be Sneaky Infographic.”
Harvard School of Public Health, “The Nutrition Source: Salt and Sodium.”