salt and sodium

Understanding the Risks of Salt and Sodium

Do you know how much salt you consume? Although sodium is essential for body functions, there is still a lot of misinformation about it. Another problem is that several foods found in grocery shops – mainly processed foods, junk food and ready to eat meals – contain a lot of salt, so you need to be aware of what you eat.

In today’s article, you will understand the function of sodium, the recommended amounts, the risks of excessive consumption, and 4 tips for reducing your salt intake.

Read more articles on Health below:

What is Sodium?

Sodium chloride is another name given to salt – made up of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Although sodium is mostly used to flavour food, it is also used as a food preservative – which is why you should pay close attention to what you usually eat.

When present in large amounts, salt is responsible for preventing bacteria from developing and, because of that, many processed foods have excessive added sodium.

Why Do We Need Sodium?

Although many people demonize salt, the truth is that we need small amounts to perform vital functions. Sodium is responsible for contracting and relaxing muscle fibres, maintaining fluid balance in the body, and transmitting nerve impulses.

When we don’t consume enough salt, the human body retains water and store sodium as a defence mechanism. On the other hand, when we ingest it excessively, the blood volume increases, overloading the heart and blood vessels. That’s why consuming excessive salt, in the long run, is highly harmful to human health.

Recommended Amounts for Sodium

According to the American Heart Association, the recommended intake of ideal heart health is 1500 milligrams per day, while the Dietary Guideline for Americans recommends a maximum intake of 2300 mg daily.

On the other hand, a single teaspoon of salt (6g) contains approximately 2300 milligrams of sodium. Also, most of the foods you buy have added salt, so it’s extremely easy to lose track of the amounts of sodium you consume.

According to the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration), Americans eat on average about 3400 mg of sodium per day, so you must work to reduce your salt intake.

Why is Too Much Salt Bad for You?

Eating too much salt is bad for your health because it affects your blood pressure. In this sense, the effect can be more severe in people who suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart problems.

Remember that blood pressure can also increase as we age, so it’s essential to understand how much salt you’ve been consuming. It is also important to mention that uncontrolled hypertension can increase the risk of kidney disease, stroke, heart attacks or heart failure.

What Foods Are High in Sodium?

Keep in mind that many foods we eat contain high doses of sodium, even though they are not necessarily salty – such as bread, cereal and pastry. Here are some of the foods that can contain large amounts of salt:

  • Canned foods such as beans, meats and others;
  • Frozen food in general;
  • Processed foods;
  • Bread, rolls and sandwiches;
  • Cold cuts, smoked and cured meats like ham, bacon, and others;
  • Savory snacks;
  • Junk food, like burgers and pizzas;
  • Salty and spicy sauces in general;

Ps: I preferred to mention food categories rather than specific foods because it is more informative. Understanding that certain types of food tend to have more salt addition makes it easier to control consumption – even if you don’t check the nutritional value table of each food you consume.

Tips for Reducing your Salt Intake

As you can see, most foods that contain excess sodium have been altered in some way during their preparation. So here are some tips that can help you reduce your salt intake:

1. Eat More Fresh Food

Typically, fresh foods have less salt than processed foods. Try to eat more fruits and vegetables and, if you can, avoid frequently consuming canned, frozen, smoked and other foods.

2. Always Check Food Labels

This is a habit that will have a significant impact on your long-term health, so you should develop it as soon as possible. Not just because of the salt, but because processed foods can also contain sugar, harmful fats and other unhealthy components.

Usually, the same food is produced by several different companies, and you will find alarming differences in the nutritional value of each one. The truth is that, concerning human health, some foods should be banned – or regulated – due to their destructive potential in the medium and long term.

3. Use More Herbs and Spices

We often use salt to flavour food, and replacing it with herbs and spices really works! There are several seasonings you can try, and most of them are entirely affordable. Be careful with salty sauces such as soy sauce, spicy sauce and others.

4. Take the Salt Shaker Off the Table

As mentioned earlier, a single teaspoon of salt can contain more than the recommended daily intake. In this sense, I managed to reduce salt consumption by simply taking the salt shaker off the table. Don’t forget to pay attention to the amount of salt you use when cooking!

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