Should You Take Sodium with a Grain of Salt?

January 20, 2014

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Put down the salt shakerβ€”at least that’s what you’ve heard your whole life. But a low-sodium stamp isn’t necessarily a stamp of good health. There is more to the story, and it starts with taking sodium with a grain of salt.

Your Body on Sodium

Sodium is found in your body’s fluids, outside the cells, and is necessary for proper function. It regulates blood pressure and ensures your muscles and nerves are working properly. In extreme cases, when your body doesn’t get enough sodium, water enters the cells to compensate and causes swelling, which can be fatal. On the other extreme, when your body contains too much sodium it creates the opposite imbalance, making you more prone to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and even certain cancers.

Dietary Recommendations

The American Heart Association recommends individuals consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. To put that number in perspective, one teaspoon of salt has 2,325 mg of sodium, and the average American consumes 4,000 mg of sodium per day.

However, a recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine found there is little evidence following a low-sodium diet puts your heart at decreased risk. The study suggested you don’t have to consciously regulate sodium to keep your heart healthy. If you follow a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, you will naturally fall into a healthy sodium range.

Sodium and Weight Loss

Instead of focusing on what you can’t eat, focus on the foods you can eat. Low-fat cheeses, nuts, seafood, and olives are delicious and healthy foods that by the American Heart Association’s standards, push the sodium envelope. According to the American Heart Association, Americans consume 75 percent of their sodium from processed foods like canned tomato sauces, salad dressings, and canned soups. If you’re following a medical weight loss plan, you won’t be turning to processed foods for nutrients. The bottom line is your calorie consumption and body weight will give you a better idea of your health than sodium intake.

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