Today’s complex world of medical information can be overwhelming. This fact should not keep you from obtaining the information you need to live a healthy life. “Here’s a medical question Jay Harold is often asked, ” Why is Salt (Sodium) so bad for You?”
To answer that question about salt, we need to know what salt is made of. MedlinePlus1 states that Table Salt is made up of the elements sodium, and chlorine – the technical name for salt is sodium chloride. Your body needs some sodium to work properly. It helps with the function of nerves and muscles. It also helps to keep the right balance of fluids in your body. Your kidneys control how much sodium is in your body. If you have too much, and your kidneys can’t get rid it, sodium builds up in your blood. This can lead to high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to other health problems.
Most people in the U.S. get more sodium in their diets than they need. A key to healthy eating is choosing foods low in salt and sodium. Doctors recommend you eat less than 2.4 grams per day. That equals about 1 teaspoon of table salt a day. Reading food labels can help you see how much sodium is in prepared foods.
The Food and Drug Administration2 (FDA) provides valuable information about this vital topic. The FDA protects the public health by assuring that foods (except for meat from livestock, poultry and some egg products which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture3 ) are safe, wholesome, sanitary and properly labeled; ensuring that human and veterinary drugs, and vaccines and other biological products and medical devices intended for human use are safe and effective. Table Salt is one of the products that the FDA regulates.
Why is Too Much Sodium a Serious Problem?
The words “sodium” and “salt” are often used interchangeably, but there’s a difference. The salt you sprinkle onto your meal or add while cooking is a crystal-like compound (40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride); sodium, a mineral, is one of the elements found in salt. Salt is how sodium is most often consumed: Between personal use and the salt added to processed and prepared foods, at least 95 percent of the sodium in your diet comes in the form of salt.
Sodium (which the body needs a certain amount of to function properly) occurs naturally in many foods, including celery, beets, and milk. And as a food ingredient, sodium — whether from salt or other sodium-containing ingredients — has many uses, such as thickening, enhancing flavor, and preserving foods.
The problem: too much sodium in the diet can lead to high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. Reducing sodium in foods could prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and illnesses over a decade.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention4 , the numbers paint a sobering picture about the effects of sodium on your health.
- 90 percent of American adults eat more sodium than is recommended.
- Children and adolescents are eating too much sodium too, ranging from 2,900 mg per day for kids 6 to 10 years old, to 3,700 mg for teens age 14 to 18.
- The recommended upper limits for sodium consumption for children under 14 are lower than the 2,300 mg limit recommended for older teens and adults. The recommended upper limits for children are 2,200 mg per day for ages 9 to 13; 1,900 mg for ages 4 to 8; and 1,500 mg for ages 1 to 3.
- There’s evidence that children who eat higher sodium foods carry that pattern into adulthood.
- One in three Americans has high blood pressure, and in African Americans, that number increases to almost half.
What Kinds of Food Can Be High in Sodium?
Processed or prepared foods that are high in sodium include pizza, sandwiches, deli meats, pasta dishes, snacks, salad dressings, soups, and cheese.
But don’t rely on your taste buds, alone. Foods high in sodium don’t always taste salty. While pickles quickly give themselves away, sweet-tasting cereals and pastries also have sodium. In addition, while one serving of a food, like a slice of bread, may not have a lot of sodium, if you eat it several times a day it can add up—and you may be consuming more sodium than you realize. Jay Harold has provided a list of the top 10 sources5 of sodium from the CDC.
What Steps6 can I take to lower my Salt Intake?
Here are some common sense ways to reduce your Salt intake from the CDC:
- Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Consume foods that are rich in potassium. Potassium can help blunt the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The recommended intake of potassium for adolescents and adults is 4,700 mg/day. Potassium-rich foods include leafy, green vegetables and fruits from vines.
- Flavor food with pepper and other herbs and spices instead of salt.
- Choose unsalted snacks.
- Read food labels and choose foods low in sodium.
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