Table salt is one of the most common minerals in the foods we eat, and some salt is essential for digestion and balancing fluids in your cells. But medical professionals and researchers have understood for a long time that too much salt in your diet can cause serious health complications. The American Heart Association recommends that an ideal limit of sodium is no more than 1,500 milligrams per day. So, here’s an overview of the risks of too much dietary sodium and how you can limit the amount you consume on a daily basis.
Salt and Bodily Water Content
The amount of sodium in your body affects how much water it retains. If your sodium intake is higher than it should be, the kidneys may not release enough water into the urine to balance out excess sodium. The body retains more water when it has too much sodium, which often leads to swelling throughout the body.
Another connection between salt and water in the body relates to dehydration. It is more likely for you to become dehydrated if your salt intake is high. Extra sodium you consume through food needs more water for balance, but it often pulls water from within the body’s cells if you’re not drinking enough water. Symptoms of this condition include stomach cramps, extreme thirst, and vomiting.
Salt and Blood Pressure
Probably the most well-known and common concern about dietary sodium is high blood pressure. Sodium can impact your blood pressure because extra sodium raises blood volume as the kidneys excrete less water to dilute it. Over time, a high sodium intake can cause chronically high blood pressure, as well as damage to the blood vessel walls.
How to Reduce Dietary Sodium While Shopping
But despite all of these well-established health risks, most Americans still consume more than the recommended daily amount of sodium. Fortunately, there are many easy lifestyle changes that you can make to decrease the amount of salt in the meals you eat.
Prepackaged foods, such as meats, typically contain much more sodium than fresh foods. Choose fresh meats, vegetables, and fruits instead of frozen or canned varieties as much as possible. When shopping for frozen and canned vegetables, look for packages that say “no salt added.”
Overall, it’s important to read labels on the back of packaged foods to compare the sodium content between similar products. Once you start looking closer at these labels, you might be surprised to learn that some foods that don’t taste salty actually have a high sodium content. Cottage cheese is a good example of this.
Reducing Sodium While Cooking and Dining
While cooking, try experimenting with herbs and spices other than salt to season your favorite foods. However, some mixed seasonings and spices contain sodium, so keep an eye out for that. Many dressings and sauces contain high amounts of sodium, especially creamy ranch and sesame varieties. As an alternative, try drizzling a little extra virgin olive oil or squeezing the juice of a lemon on your salads and vegetables instead. Reduced sodium versions of condiments, like ketchup and mustard, should be chosen when available as well.
When you dine out at restaurants, ask the server about low sodium options on the menu and also ask for your food to be prepared without extra salt. And finally, break the bad habit of adding salt to your meal before even tasting it. Chances are that it already has enough salt or could be given a healthier flavor boost with a dash of pepper or a squeeze of lemon instead.