How Much Salt Do You Really Need?
Throughout the years, sodium has been a hot topic on the nutrition scene. The Dietary guidelines for Americans from 2010, a publication put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services once every five years, states that the general population of the United States should consume 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium, or less, each day.
That number may seem like a lot, but have you ever wondered how much sodium is in a single teaspoon of table salt? Just how much salt does it take to reach the daily recommended intake for sodium?
One teaspoon has 2,325 mg of sodium. You think, 'Okay, I’ll just lay off the salt shaker,' but it’s not that simple. Many processed and prepared foods contain a lot of sodium—much more now than ever before. But a meta-analysis, based on newer types of studies, and focusing directly on health outcomes, offers more insight into the debate over whether lowering sodium intake results in improved health outcomes.
Institute of Medicine's Findings on Sodium
The Institute of Medicine (IOM), at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reviewed recent studies published through 2012 that explored ties between salt consumption and direct health outcomes like cardiovascular disease and death. The organization describes itself as "An independent, nonprofit organization that works outside the government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public."
Studies on sodium often link high sodium consumption to high blood pressure, but there are other health risks associated with increased sodium levels.
The IOM reviewed and assessed previous study designs, methodological approaches, and conclusions linked to direct health outcomes in the general population.
However, the IOM was able to conclude that the evidence from these prior studies supported a positive relationship between higher levels of sodium intake and the risk for cardio vascular disease. While this finding may seem to indicate that lowering sodium intake has no effect on cardiovascular health, this is actually not the case. What the IOM meta-analysis concluded is that more research is needed before a definitive conclusion can be made on the matter.
With this in mind, it is important to note that it is still important to keep your sodium intake within the recommendations of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and to seek the expert advice of a registered dietitian for help on their personal sodium intake. This recommendation is backed up by our founding physician, Caroline J. Cederquist, M.D., as well as The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Why You Should Pay Attention to How Much Salt You Eat
There is a direct link between increased high blood pressure and how much salt you consume.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and other conditions. It is a condition that, when not caused by genetic factors, is almost completely avoidable. Even in cases of genetics playing a role, management of blood pressure is greatly improved while following a low-sodium diet.
Some groups of Americans should have less than the recommended 2,300 mg:
Those who are 51 and older
African Americans of any age
Those with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney diseas
Talk to your dietitian to find out how much sodium you need.
It's important to consume the right amount of sodium - and eating healthy is the way to go - but if getting to the grocery store and cooking healthy meals is hard to work into your daily schedule, bistroMD offers a fully customizable diet delivery program that makes healthy living simple and delicious, with plenty of low sodium options. Check out the Our Menu page of this website for more information. A typical day on the bistroMD program, which includes three complete meals, averages 1,500 mg of sodium.
Why Your Body Needs Sodium and What Happens if You Consume Too Much
Sodium has been made to look like the bad guy, but it actually plays an important role in our bodies. Our bodies need some sodium to function properly because it helps maintain the right balance of fluids, transmit nerve impulses and influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles.
Virtually all Americans consume more sodium than they need to. The estimated average intake of sodium for all Americans ages 2 years and older is approximately 3,400 mg per day. That’s almost 2,000 mg’s more than what half of the population should consume.
If you consume too much sodium, it will start to build up in your blood and your blood volume will increase, which will make your heart work harder and increase the pressure in your arteries—all very bad things.
How You Can Decrease How Much Salt You’re Putting into Your Body
- Read the nutritional facts label for information on the sodium content of foods and make an effort to purchase more foods that are low in sodium.
- Consume more fresh foods and fewer processed foods that are high in sodium.
- Cook at home so you have more control over what’s going into your food. Use little-to-no salt when cooking and eating home-cooked meals.
- When out grabbing a bite to eat, ask that salt not be added to your food or order low sodium options, if available.
Try these alternatives
- Instead of using salt to flavor your vegetables, try olive oil or balsamic vinaigrette to pump up the flavor.
- On potatoes or pasta, use roasted garlic to add a bit of tanginess and livelihood.
- Instead of salting your eggs, use a low sodium salsa to give them an extra kick.
- For fish and seafood, natural herbs like dill and bay leaves can add some nice flavor.
Sodium in the Food Industry
Over a 6-year period, sodium content in processed foods declined, while sodium content in fast foods increased. Between 2005-2011, the sodium content of processed foods declined, on average, by 3.5 percent and the sodium content of fast foods actually increased by 2.6%. That’s just not enough to tip the scale.
Watch these Foods if You Want to Watch Your Sodium Intake:
- Baked goods (including breads and buns)
- Lunch meats, bacon and sausage
- Pasta meals like mac n’ cheese or spaghetti in a can
- Frozen Pizzas and pre-packaged meals, Snack Foods and Dinners
- Most canned soup
- Ready-to-eat cereals
- Vegetable juices
- Canned vegetables
- Spices, marinades, flavorings and spaghetti sauce
- Nuts and pretzels
It’s also a good idea to stick with the reduced or less sodium food labels. These products contain 25% less sodium than the regular version.
Do this when out to eat:
- Ask how the food is prepared.
- Choose a restaurant where food is made to order and keep your order simple.
- Ask that your meal be prepared without any forms of sodium.
Supermarkets and restaurants may make it challenging to cut back on salt, but there are other proven ways to reduce how much salt you feed your body. Use the easy tips from this article and the list of foods to avoid while you’re at the grocery store, pay attention to food labels and channel your inner Emeril so you can cook delicious, light sodium meals at home. Also keep in mind that a diet meal delivery program, like bistroMD, is a good, healthy option if you're unable to regularly cook healthy meals at home.