The other morning, I was at the gym, and I noticed a news headline indicating that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently changed their guidelines on sodium intake. This piqued my curiosity to understand the new guidelines. I also started thinking about my own personal sodium consumption and what I could do to decrease it.
The first thing I learned when I dove into this topic is that sodium and salt are not the same thing. What? I’ve used these terms interchangeably my whole life! According to the FDA, Sodium is a mineral and its commonly found in table salt. Table salt is sodium chloride, a chemical compound found in nature. When we look at nutrition labels to review the sodium content of a product, other compounds such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking soda (also called sodium bicarbonate), baking powder, disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, sodium citrate and sodium nitrite can be included in the milligram counts. This is also why a food may be high in sodium and not taste salty.
The FDA recommends that adults consume less than 2300mg of sodium per day. However, in America, most adults are consuming closer to 3400mg per day. Yikes! Most of this sodium intake comes from processed, packaged and prepared foods; prompting the FDA to pass new guidelines to reduce the amount of sodium used in these types of foods. Sodium is added to these foods to prevent them from spoiling, to cure meats, as a thickening agent and to improve taste.
Sodium is essential to our body as it regulates functions such as balancing the fluids in our bodies, and it helps our nerves and muscles work properly. Our kidneys naturally regulate the amount of sodium in our systems. When we have too little, the kidneys will hold on to it. When we have too much, it is released into the urine. The challenge becomes when our bodies can’t rid itself of the extra sodium and it builds up in the blood. Sodium attracts water increasing our blood volume which causes our heart to work harder. Therefore, when we consume too much sodium, we increase our risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Each of us is different and some of us are more sensitive to sodium than others. The best advice is to speak with your doctor to understand your own situation.
I was under the impression that my sodium intake was low because I didn’t add a lot of additional salt to my foods, and I didn’t think I consumed a lot of packaged or processed foods. Wow – was I mistaken! When I started looking at nutrition labels, just about everything has sodium in it. It’s really no wonder that Americans consume such high quantities of sodium. In today’s busy world, it’s hard to cook and eat freshly prepared meals all the time. But it may be worth spending some extra time to incorporate these ideas to cut back on the sodium and improve our health.
- Eat fresh fruits, vegetables and meats
- Prepare home cooked meals
- Choose low-sodium products or use plain products and add your own seasoning
- Use herbs and salt-free seasonings to enhance flavors
- Reduce or remove salt from recipes when possible
- Use condiments sparingly
- Avoid eating fast food or going to restaurants frequently
Check back on Wednesday for my Wellness Wednesday post that will describe some of the different types of popular salts.