Don’t Be So Salt-y, Dude

Salt Sodium

it’s a-salting. Get it?

Sodium. We have all heard about this guy. Sodium is the guy/gal that you know you shouldn’t be talking to, but you don’t know why. Sure, sodium is great in small doses, but the more and more you rely on it, the more and more it raises your blood pressure (pun intended).

Let’s lay sodium down on the comfy doctor’s couch and dive into its purpose, its meaning. Let’s find out why it makes us feel the way we do. WHY does it leave us begging for more? WHY is it so readily available all of the time. Can it PLEASE just play hard to get for a minute?

OK.

So, sodium is a mineral, not a guy/girl leading us into a disastrous relationship. But for real, how does a little mineral have such a huge impact on our health? It packs a punch, that’s for sure.

What does salt do inside our bodies?

Sodium is essential to your heart health, just like those fats we talked about. Most people have 2 kidneys (fun fact: my 3-year-old was actually born with only 1 kidney – crazy, crazy odds) and our kidneys are fabulously awesome organs. One of their super neat jobs is that they are responsible for fluid balance. Sodium plays a large role in our fluid balance (by attracting water), as well as regulates muscle function/control and some other cool stuff. Bottom line: we need sodium. But like most things on this planet – we overuse it. We go waaaay overboard and we are hurting our hearts by doing so.

So what happens when we get too much sodium in our bodies?

When this little sodium mineral is floating around in our bloodstream, it attracts water. So when it pulls more and more water into your bloodstream, it increases the amount of blood in your veins. Think: bloating. Your veins are bloated. I challenge you to find one person in this world that likes the feeling of being bloated. No one does, not even your blood vessels.

So when the volume of your veins/arteries increases…..let’s do some physics….the pressure also increases. Which then causes….drumroll, please.

High Blood Pressure.

Over time high blood pressure, or hypertension, causes your blood vessels to stretch out – or even become permanently damaged. This then causes a snowball effect that then increases the risk of plaque build up and eventually causes an increased workload on your heart.

OK. Let’s stop with the negativity. Yes, we need to know what could happen with too much sodium intake – but now let’s focus on how to fix it. Bob The Builder is sitting on my shoulder right now saying “Can we fix it?”

YES, WE CAN!

Commonly, when we think of the word sodium, we think of salt. While NaCl (table salt) has a lot to do with it, the salt shaker isn’t all to blame. Most American’s go over their salt limit by eating processed foods, packaged foods and foods from restaurants – not just from the shaker. That means that some of the foods you are buying from the grocery store already have a large amount of sodium in them….whether or not you add more salt while prepping it.

How much sodium should we be eating?

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 2,300 mg a day. The American Heart Association recommends even less if you have any cardiac issues.

First, let’s talk about good old table salt (NaCl). Per the American Heart Association, check out how much sodium we get just by something as small as 1/4 a teaspoon of table salt (which is more than a salt packet at a fast food joint)

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

OK, moving on to something more complicated, like the salt we can’t see from foods we buy elsewhere. Thankfully, the American Heart Association is on our side. They have compiled a list of the “Salty Six”. These 6 foods are major contributors to a high sodium intake:

 

Now What?

So now that you know what foods to watch out for, maybe you are asking how you can track your sodium intake? The food label. Sodium is always listed. It’s measured in milligrams (mg) and you can rest easy because they have done the hard work for you. The sodium listed on the label has every kind of sodium accounted for (sodium from salt, sodium from any other ingredient and even MSG and other food “enhancers”). Thanks! Remember that sodium content changes depending on the preparation methods. That means that the amount of sodium in a specific food can change from brand to brand.

If you are reading labels, be careful with the packaging slogans. Just because a can of soup says “No salt added” doesn’t mean it is sodium free. Remember, salt and sodium are two different things. If you are checking out the ingredients list, look for words like sodium or soda. And lastly, just because a food doesn’t taste salty, that doesn’t mean there isn’t sodium found inside. Sodium is often used as a food preservative or flavor enhancer.

So there you have it. The down low of sodium. Our hearts need a decrease in this small little mineral and if we know where it comes from and where to consume it from, we can collectively decrease our intakes. Our hearts are depending on it!

As always, I encourage questions 🙂

–Lindsey