A little salt goes a long way, and it's essential! Not just to that steak, but it's an essential mineral.
Warning: Hopefully you won't be salty with me after I expose some of the salt bombs out there that could be derailing your diet and bloating your belly!
In all seriousness, consuming too much salt on a daily basis can leave you with some serious health risks long term, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
That's why we've created the complete guide to a low salt diet - to help you navigate low sodium options and the foods so high in sodium you'll want to avoid!
Sodium is a mineral commonly found in salt that is added to food to enhance its flavor. Wait, what? Yes, I was today-years-old when I found out salt and sodium are not necessarily the same thing. There are many other ways to have sodium in your foods without any salt being added.
When you're reading a food label, it is often listed as "sodium" or "salt" but they are different and can sneak into your foods without you noticing, so let's dig in further.
Many people use the terms "salt" and "sodium" interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.
Salt is a compound made up of two elements: sodium and chloride.
When you see a food label that lists "sodium" content, it is referring to the amount of sodium in the product, not the amount of salt.
Sodium can come from salt, certainly. But that's not the whole story.
So we've established that sodium can be present in foods, but it can also be added to packaged goods. 70% of the sodium Americans take in is not from the table salt shaker, but rather from packaged goods, processed meats, and the actual manufacturing processes of foods. Salt is sneaky.
The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults aim for a sodium intake of no more than 2,300 mg per day and their guidance is to stick to 1,500 mg daily.
Unfortunately, many people consume much more than this, with some estimates suggesting that the average American consumes around 2,300 to 3,400 mg of sodium per day.
To put 2,300 mg in perspective, that's literally a teaspoon of salt.
Too much salt can be bad news for your blood pressure. Your body reacts by holding onto extra water to help balance out the sodium levels in your blood. Over time, this extra water in your system can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can put you at risk for all sorts of health issues.
Without getting too technical here, the impacts of a high salt diet go beyond just having high blood pressure; the damage stacks up and the risks do, too.
Essentially, too much sodium causes the walls of your blood vessels to become thicker and rigid. This leaves your arteries more prone to blockage and you more prone to having heart disease or potentially a stroke.
Excessive salt consumption can also increase your risk of kidney disease as well. Your kidneys are responsible for filtering excess sodium from your blood and removing it from your body.
When you consume too much sodium or salt, your kidneys have to work over-time to remove it, and this eventually leads to kidney damage.
Another potential effect of a high salt diet is an increased risk of osteoporosis. Salt can cause your body to lose calcium, which is an essential nutrient for maintaining strong bones. Over time, this can lead to bone loss and an increased risk of fractures.
My general rule of thumb when estimating how much sodium is included: The longer the expiration date, the more sodium is likely included.
These foods are often loaded with sodium as a preservative, so it's a good idea to check the nutrition label before purchasing. Examples of prepared foods include: canned foods, soups, chips, and deli meats.
If you are looking to avoid sodium, you should avoid fast food. Many fast food and other restaurant meals contain ridiculous amounts of sodium.
If you find yourself there and have no other option, look for a nutritional facts panel or ask the restaurant for additional nutrition information.
These guys last forever (see below), so you can be sure they are super high in sodium. Condiments like soy sauce, ketchup, and BBQ sauce. Look for low-salt options or use these items in moderation. A single serving of the to-go ketchup packets almost has 100 mg of sodium.
Frozen meals are another sneaky culprit in the "sodium bomb" category. It's always the easy options with super long expirations, right!?
A slice of frozen pizza contains 765 mg of sodium.
Some bread and baked goods can be high in sodium, especially if they are made with processed ingredients. Maybe it's time to try making home-made bread!
So earlier we established that Americans consume a lot of sodium. In order to avoid the long term effects of too much sodium in your diet, use 1,500 mg as your daily goal.
More than just a number that scientists guide you to follow, my advice, guy to guy: do the research, equip yourself with the education, then make the daily choices to opt for the healthier low sodium options. You're here, that's the first step! Let's tackle the choices you can make going forward to make you a bit less salty.
Image Courtesy of FDA.gov
Having less mg of sodium can help protect your health and lower your risk of the health problems associated with a high-salt diet. As we discussed above, just because you're not reaching for the the salt shaker doesn't meaning you are avoiding sodium the food may be prepared with. But we've got you covered, here are some tips for reducing your salt intake:
When shopping for food, read the labels to check the sodium content. There should always be lower sodium alternatives at the grocery store, give them a shot.
Cooking at home allows you to control the amount of salt in your food. Ideally, you are skipping a few layers in the food chain, and this gives you control!
Experiment with herbs and spices to add flavor to your meals without relying on salt.
Processed foods like canned soups, sauces, and snack foods, are likely high in sodium.
Fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are naturally low in sodium. Make these foods a staple of your diet to help lower your salt intake.
So is the juice worth the squeeze? Yes! Taking in less sodium can have compounding beneficial effects, by reducing how much sodium you take in and making smarter food choices, you can protect your health and lower your risk of numerous conditions. Some of the benefits include:
Lowering your sodium intake can help with weight loss as it reduces water retention and makes you feel fuller for longer. Not to mention you'll feel leaner when you're not bloated!
Reduced sodium consumption can lower blood pressure in people with pre-existing high blood pressure or sensitivities to salt.
High sodium intake is linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Consuming less sodium can help reduce this risk.
Limiting sodium intake can help reduce fluid retention, which is a common problem for people with heart or kidney diseases.
Speaking of kidney function, high sodium intake can cause damage to your kidneys. Lowering your daily sodium intake can help improve kidney function.
High sodium intake is linked to an increased risk of stroke.
High salt intake is associated with an increased risk of stomach cancer.
A reduced sodium diet can help reduce inflammation in the body, which is linked to many chronic diseases.
Too much sodium daily can eventually cause bone loss.
Less sodium and table salt can help you develop healthy eating habits and lead to a healthier you!
I've said it before and I'll say it again, life is about balance. But if you can reduce your sodium by 1/3 by just switching to low sodium options, like in the sandwich reference, why wouldn't you?
And if you want an afternoon snack that will fill you up, and actually burn fat while suppressing your hunger...this is my go-to lean protein shake. Plus it's super low on sodium (58 mg), and packs 18g of protein in only 100 calories.
The older I get the less inclined I am to lean into what's trending on the internet. But needless to say, there may be an opportunity cost to not embracing the future, or even remaining on the sidelines so long that you have to catch up.
The mission of The Driven is to help equip you with the tools to live smarter, better lives. Today, I want to challenge you to lean into learning the basics of artificial intelligence-powered chatbots, specifically, Chat GPT. Launched in November of 2022, Chat GPT was the leader of AI chatbot tools and is truly a groundbreaking tool that is changing the way we communicate and create.
Comments will be approved before showing up.