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Sodium: The Basics

by Julia McCartney on June 18, 2012

When it comes to a healthy diet, it’s important to keep sodium levels in check. Sodium is a mineral that plays a very important role in the human body. It carries or pumps fluids into cells throughout the body. Potassium, another mineral, carries away the byproducts. If you were to completely eliminate sodium from your diet, you would be in trouble. By the same token, however, excessive sodium is dangerous too. A healthy adult should consume 2,300 milligrams of sodium or less per day, which is roughly equal to about a teaspoon of salt. If sodium levels in the body become too high, or if a person has a sensitivity to salt, the risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and stroke all increase. Research also suggests that too much sodium can weaken the bones. Learn more about sodium below.

Where is Sodium Found?

In general, natural foods contain very little sodium. The majority of sodium that is consumed on a daily basis is found in processed foods. Examples include deli meats, baked goods, prepared condiments like sauces and dressings and canned goods. Fresh fruits and vegetables generally contain very little sodium. In countries where very few processed foods are consumed, rates of hypertension, stroke and cardiovascular disease are noticeably lower.

How does Sodium Interact with the Body?

As mentioned above, sodium works to carry or pump fluids into cells in the body, By doing so, it maintains the body’s balance of electrolytes. It also maintains the body’s acid-base balance. Sodium also plays an important role in the contraction of muscles, and it aids in nerve transmissions as well. Without it, your body would be unable to function properly. As with so many other things though, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. In fact, modern diets make it extremely easy for people to exceed their maximum daily allowance of sodium, which largely explains the many health crises facing people today.

How Much Sodium is Found in Common Foods?

You’re sure to be shocked when you learn how much sodium is found in everyday foods. To put it into perspective, keep in mind that you should try to consume 2,300 milligrams or less of sodium per day. A few examples include:

  • Peanut Butter – 600mg
  • Processed Cheese – 1,100mg
  • Dry Cereal – 700mg to 1,100mg
  • Milk – 50mg
  • Fresh Salmon – 65g
  • Canned Salmon – 400mg
  • Raisins – 30mg
  • Crackers – 1,100mg
  • Canned Soup – 350mg to 450mg
  • Yogurt – 50mg
  • Reading Labels to Check for Sodium

    If you’re trying to maintain a low-sodium diet, you’re going to have to learn how to read nutrition labels effectively. It’s not just listed as “sodium” in ingredients lists either. It may also be called sodium phosphate, monosodium glutamate, or MSG, sodium citrate, sodium alginate or another complex-sounding chemical name. When reading a list of ingredients on a nutrition label, keep in mind that they are listed in order from high to low. In other words, the ingredients that are the most abundant in a type of food are listed first. If you see sodium near the top of the list, you can surmise that the food has a lot of it.

    The nutrition label should also list how many milligrams are contained in a serving. Make note of what constitutes a serving size too. If you consume three to four servings, for example, you could easily exceed your daily allowance of sodium in one sitting. It may also be listed as a percentage of the daily calorie intake of a healthy adult.

    Forms of Salt

    In addition to regular table salt, salt may be sold as sea salt, rock salt, kosher salt or iodized salt, which is infused with iodine. Keep in mind that sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, is also a form of salt.

    Prescription Medications

    Another thing to be aware of is that many prescription medications contain high levels of sodium. Laxatives, antacids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are all prime examples. By law, information about sodium must be included on the label. If you take a medication that has a high level of sodium, check with your doctor to see if low-sodium alternatives are available. In many cases, they are.

    Tips for Reducing the Amount of Sodium that You Consume

    Whether you’ve been ordered to consume less sodium by your doctor or not, it’s smart to limit the amount of sodium that you consume on a daily basis. It will help to keep your blood pressure in check, and it may help if you have been experiencing bloating and water retention too. A low-sodium diet may help you feel better in general. Here are a few tips for limiting the amount of sodium that you consume:

  • Limit Salty Snacks – As delicious as potato chips and crackers may be, they are loaded with sodium. Reserve them for
    special occasions.
  • Eat Fresh Fruits, Veggies and Other Unprocessed Foods – Keep plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits in the house. Stock up on other unprocessed foods. These types of food tend to have very low amounts of sodium. When the mood to nosh on something strikes, you’ll have a low-sodium option on hand.
  • Choose the Right Dairy Products – Many dairy products are loaded with sodium. Stick with dairy products that are low in fat and sodium. It should say so right on the label.
  • Stick with Unsalted Broths – When a recipe calls for broth, buy the unsalted variety. It’s an easy way to keep sodium levels in check.
  • Use Pepper Instead – In addition to spicing up your foods without the need for sodium, black pepper contains piperene, which some researchers believe may work to block the formation of new fat. By getting into the habit of using black pepper, you can keep sodium levels low and potentially lose weight too.
  • Getting into the swing of a low-sodium diet isn’t easy at first, but you’re sure to get the hang of it in no time. The health benefits that you’ll enjoy make it well worth it.

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