When we hear the word sodium, we instantly think that it is harmful to our health. If that’s indeed the case, does that mean we have to cut down a lot of foods in our diet? Lots of foods that are processed or natural and organic contain sodium, also known as salt.
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Though lots of foods are natural sources of sodium, 75% of the average person’s sodium intake comes from processed foods. Too much sodium foods are the main reasons why most people will have a spike in their intake.
Although sodium is often seen as a bad thing and can be bad for our health, it is important for the human body as it is one of our most essential electrolytes. Understanding how much we can take is the main priority
The following foods are considered to have a high sodium content:
- Smoked, salted or processed meats
- Canned meats such as corn beef
- Salted nuts
- Canned and processed beans
- Cream cheese
- Salted biscuits
- Dried fruits
- Pre-packaged vegetables or fruits
What Sodium Does For Your Health
Yes, sodium is not good for multiple reasons; however, it is still an essential nutrient for the everyday functioning of our body. Sodium works in our blood vessels as well as the cells around them to maintain fluid balance.
This regulates blood flow, gives us energy, as well as assisting brain and muscle functioning. However, when we have too much sodium, all of these aspects of our health can be negatively affected.
Having excess amounts of salt in your diet can harm your health in multiple ways. Not only can it cause short term symptoms that can affect your quality of life, but sodium can also cause long term health complications and even illness and diseases.
One of the most negative effects of sodium in the body is heart health. Increased fluids around cells and blood in the bloodstream will create more work and pressure for the heart. Over time, this will develop into high blood pressure, a stroke or heart failure.
Excess sodium in the diet can also cause:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Heart-related complications
- Stomach cancer
- Kidney stones/Kidney Failure
- Diabetes (although more research is required to conclude this point)
What is The Recommended Intake?
The recommended intake will vary depending on where you check your sources. The World Health Organisation recommends consuming a maximum amount of 2,000 mg of sodium in a day for adults.
The American Heart Association, however, believes cutting that number down to 1,500 mg per day is recommended for adults. The amount of sodium you take will undoubtedly be determined by your body weight, lifestyle as well as weather. As sodium, is an electrolyte that is lost in sweat, those who sweat more due to the weather or physical activity can consume more than those who do not.
However, if you have certain health conditions such as high blood pressure, or diabetes, this can also affect the amount of sodium, you’ll be able to consume. You will need to speak with your medical practitioner or dietician on what amount of sodium works best for you.
How to Manage Sodium Intake For Better Health
- Limit Processed Foods. Most sodium comes from processed foods. This includes canned foods, pre-marinated meats, artificial flavours, added hormones, and fillers. Not only are processed foods high in sodium, but they may also contain other harmful additives that can harm your health.
- Do Not Add Extra Salt. It’s ok to add salt to food for extra flavour. However, you need to be calculating how much you can have before it’s considered too much. Smoked, marinated and processed meats will often time already be high in sodium, so you don’t need the added salt. Same goes for canned foods. If you know that your daily sodium intake has already reached its limits, it’s best to lay off the salt.
- Eat Fresh Foods Such as Fruits And Vegetables. It is important to balance your diet with plenty of fresh foods. Vegetables and fruits are essential in this. They contain lots of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and fibre, that are all important for the body’s fluid balance, digestion and immune system. This is also important for your heart health. Not enough fresh foods and too much sodium can cause heart-related problems such as a stroke or heart failure.
- Take Vitamin Supplements. Cutting down your sodium intake and getting it balanced does not mean your health will instantly improve. You still need to supplement it with a good diet. And reaching your daily recommended intake for certain nutrients is crucial. If you have a deficiency or a health complication, try taking a supplement. Vitamin, fibre and electrolyte supplements can always help. You need to speak with your dietician or medical practitioner on what is most suitable for you.
- Exercise More. Exercise is important, no matter what diet you’re taking. Physical activity requires sodium as it keeps your muscles strong, and your fluids balanced, keeping you cool and hydrated. High-intensity workouts can counter the negative effects of too much sodium for your heart. Your body will lose sodium through sweat, and electrolytes can be replenished with water instead. Exercise is one of the best ways to drop your sodium levels.
Keep In Mind
No matter what diet plan you’re on or what you’re trying to achieve with your health, sodium intake is only one component and is not the answer to all your health problems. A healthy diet is a combination of what you eat, how often you exercise as well as living a healthy lifestyle.
If you are unsure how to incorporate or manage sodium intake in your diet, speak with a professional dietician or your medical practitioner. If you have a certain health condition, it is best to consult with an expert first before trying any new diets or changing your sodium intake levels.
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