Sodium and salt intake has been in the headlines a lot in recent months. Read the article below by UNL Dietetic Intern Melissa Wallinga.
We’ve all heard, “lower your sodium intake to lower your chances of getting high blood pressure” but why is this? And how do we lower sodium intake? What we don’t hear about is that sodium is actually necessary for proper body function; the key is not consuming too much sodium.
Sodium is a mineral that plays an important role in nerve impulses and muscle contraction. Sodium also plays a role in water balance around your organs. Because of this, sodium and water need to be in good balance in the body. When an excess of sodium is present, kidneys retain the sodium, and then the body retains water; this can cause swelling. So, next time you eat more high sodium food than normal, take a mental note of how your body feels; rings may feel a little tight, or your ankles may be a little swollen.
So, how does too much sodium intake lead to higher blood pressure? When the kidneys can’t remove enough sodium, it stays in the blood, which causes extra water to stay in the blood. This increases the volume of the blood, leading to the high blood pressure. This can also put strain on the kidneys when they work to remove the too much sodium. High blood pressure increases your chances of developing heart disease and stroke. To decrease your chances of developing these chronic conditions, follow these recommendations:
- For a healthy American, 2,300 milligrams or less of sodium each day.
- For some people, such as African Americans, those over 51, and those with high blood pressure, the recommendation is to consume less than 1,500 milligrams each day.
The majority of the sodium in our diets comes from adding salt (which is actually sodium chloride) during the preparation of food. Some items commonly high in sodium include:
- Cured food (ham, pickles)
- Processed foods (frozen meals, boxed foods, canned food, fast foods)
- Salty snacks (chips, crackers)
- Condiments (ketchup, mayonnaise)
- Non-fat items (to keep the flavor when fat is removed, salt is added)
- Beverages (soda, sports drinks, energy drinks).
Instead of focusing on what we should eat less of, let’s focus on what we should eat more of. Eat more fruits and vegetables; try substituting vegetables for salty snacks and fruits for desserts. Cook meals from scratch instead of using pre-packaged meals and ingredients. Use herbs and spices to flavor food instead of salt. Drink water instead of soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks.
Another strategy to reducing sodium intake is to plan meals ahead of time so you have everything ready and won’t be as tempted to choose the quick option. Before you do your grocery shopping, plan your meals for the week and make your shopping list based on those meals. When you’re at the grocery store follow these tips:
- Avoid shopping when you’re tired or hungry, you’ll be less likely to buy things not on your list
- Once your list is made, stick to it
- Buy produce in season for the best price and quality
- Choose dairy and protein foods that are lower in sodium
- Read the nutrition facts label; pay close attention to the sodium amount in each serving
- Look for foods labeled “low sodium,” “reduced sodium,” or “no salt added.”
Next week, try focusing on increasing foods low in sodium, like fruits and vegetables, and decreasing foods high in sodium, like chips and fast foods. Try increasing the amount of water you drink each day, even if it’s just by one glass at the start. Plan a few of your meals ahead of time so you can cook from scratch. These are all ways you can decrease your sodium intake and at the same time increase the quality of your diet.