Sodium: To Salt or Not to Salt?

First, let’s start with what is sodium? Sodium is a mineral that helps the body to function properly. It helps regulate water in the body and keep fluids balanced. Sodium also helps your muscles and brain to work by aiding in nerve transmission and muscle contraction.

 Although this is an important mineral to have, you can also get too much of it. Usually your kidneys regulate the sodium amount in your body. If you don’t have enough, they retain it, and if you have too much, your kidneys excrete it. Sometimes people get entirely too much sodium, and their kidneys can’t keep up. This causes sodium to accumulate in your blood, which also attracts more fluid in the blood. If your blood volume gets too high, your heart has to work a lot harder to pump your blood. This increases pressure in your arteries (high blood pressure). We all know that we don’t want high blood pressure. So how much sodium should we consume to stay healthy? The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day – or 1,500 mg if you’re age 51 or older, or if you are African American, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

 Americans as a whole consume way too much sodium. On average, we get about 3,400 mg per day. For some people, this is double what they should be getting. Where does all this sodium come from? One of the most common sources is processed and prepared food. These foods are typically high in salt, which is a combination of sodium and chloride, and also high in additives that contain sodium. Some foods naturally contain sodium and a lot of people are unaware of them. A lot of recipes call for salt and a lot of people add salt at the dinner table as well.

 Some people tend to think that salt is the best way to add flavor to food, but there are many different things you can add instead. There are also ways to avoid sodium. Here are some tips to help control sodium intake: 

  • Use fresh ingredients with no salt added.
  • For recipes, use other ingredients so you can decrease or eliminate salt.
  • Use orange juice or pineapple juice for meat marinades. (Instead of soy sauce or other sauce with high sodium)
  • Avoid convenience foods such as canned foods, pasta and rice mixes, frozen dinners, instant cereal and puddings, and gravy sauce mixes.
  • Check Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods for sodium content.
  • Avoid seasonings that include salt.
  • Use herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, fennel, dill, bay leaves, cilantro, coriander, or cloves for flavor in recipes.
  • Use spices like white or black pepper, cumin, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder, curry, ground mustard powder, powdered lemon rind, or paprika to add flavor to food.

 Hopefully these are helpful tips that help you cut down on unnecessary sodium!

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