As Americans, we sure do love our salt. From processed foods like potato chips and pretzels to salad dressings and pastas, adults take in an average of 3,400 milligrams (mg) per day—well above the recommended guidelines of 2,300 mg or less.
It’s important to remember that sodium plays a crucial behind-the-scenes role in helping our bodies function appropriately. But too much of anything isn’t good—even if it’s salt.
That’s because “consuming excess sodium can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney dysfunction and stroke,” said registered dietician, Ashley Amaral, from Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. “Research suggests that it may also increase the risk for stomach cancer.”
Because excessive salt consumption can have negative effects, how do you know if you are getting enough or too much?
Goldilocks Dilemma: Too much or too little – how do you find the sweet spot?
Before making any big changes to your diet, it’s always helpful to speak with your doctor first to get their professional opinion on whether or not you should reduce your sodium intake.
When you need to add more sodium
As mentioned before, sodium is an essential mineral of life. Although it is very difficult to achieve intakes below this level because most whole foods contain some sodium, if you are getting below the minimum amount of sodium, it can cause physical problems.
“Intakes below 500 mg can cause disturbances in muscle contractions, such as muscle cramping, nerve impulses and imbalances in water and minerals,” Amaral said.
When you need to cut back on sodium
Eating out can be a time saver, but it can wreak havoc on your diet and keeping your sodium intake in check. Restaurants and commercially prepared foods make up about 75% of the average American’s daily sodium intake. Yikes!
If you’re experiencing bloating, fatigue, weight gain or have high blood pressure and are consuming more than 2,300 mg a day, talk to your doctor about how you can cut back the sodium in your diet.
When a little dab will do you some good
While a healthy individual should stick to the 2,300 mg of sodium a day, there are a few who have higher salt requirements. Athletes and individuals with medical conditions such as cystic fibrosis typically need more salt than the average person.
“In general, athletes require an excess of about 4,000 to 6,000 mg of sodium per day,” Amaral said. “The recommendation is to replace 500 mg of sodium per hour of exercise (about ¼ teaspoon of salt).”
Are sea salts and Himalayan salts any better for you than table salt?
Although they may look, feel and taste slightly different, they all have relatively the same amount of sodium.
“In theory all salts are created equal in the sense that they all contain sodium and chloride and small amounts of minerals, but there’s not enough to make them substantially different,” Amaral said. “Table salt is heavily processed and stripped of most of the minerals but fortified with iodine. Himalayan salt gets its pink hue from iron oxide, but both Himalayan and sea salt undergo minimal processing and contain small amounts of iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.”
7 Tips to Reduce Salt in Your Diet
If you have a hankering for salt but have a hard time keeping it in check, Amaral shared these helpful tips* to keep you in that sweet spot of sodium intake.
- Put away the salt shaker. It’s time to divorce the salt and pepper. Leave the salt shaker in your cabinet and pantry, so you are less likely to reach for it at mealtime.
- Buy fresh. Processed foods can be loaded with sodium. Opt for fresh meats, fruits, vegetables and frozen foods (those without sauce or seasonings).
- Create your own sauces, marinades and dressings. Sodium in condiments can add up, so choose light or reduced sodium condiments or make your own. You can use things like lemon juice and orange juice to add some zing! “Citrus is a great substitute as it activates the same taste sensors as sodium, but they have less sodium,” Amaral said.
- Spice up your life with herbal seasonings. Instead of pouring on the salt, make your own or purchase sodium-free seasonings from the store.
- Be a smart shopper. Look for products that say salt-free or sodium free as these usually contain less than 5 mg per serving.
- Study the menu when eating out. Most restaurants include nutritional content on their menus or via their restaurant apps. If the meal is greater than 300 mg it should be considered high sodium. However, if your overall intake for the day was low to moderate than this may fit within your recommended daily intake.
- Hold the sauce and dressing. If dining out or taking out, ask the server to hold sauces and dressings or have them put it on the side.
Are you rethinking your salt intake but still need a little extra help? Speak with your doctor or schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian who can work with you and your dietary needs. To find a specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.
*These helpful tips are intended for those on a general diet and not those on a sodium restricted diet. Speak to your doctor or dietitian if you are on a special diet.