KICKING OUT THE SALT
How much sodium is too much?
Low-sodium diets were once mostly considered for those with cardiovascular disease, hypertension and kidney disease. Today, lowering sodium intake is a good idea for many, regardless if you have a chronic health condition or not.
“In most cases, lowering sodium intake will lower the risk of developing hypertension, stroke, kidney disease, etc.,” Amanda Bowman, a dietician with Medical Nutrition Therapy Specialists, said.
Lowering sodium is just part of preventing chronic illnesses, Bowman said, as improving overall nutritional health is the best way to improve quality of life and reduce the risk developing chronic illness.
“The pattern of total dietary intake will make a much bigger impact than any one nutrient alone,” she said.
Though high amounts of sodium can lead to health risks, bodies need sodium. Sodium is a macromineral humans do not naturally produce; it must be consumed.
Recommendations for daily sodium consumption by age:
• 1-3 years old: 1,000 mg/day
• 4-8 years old: 1,200 mg/day
• 9-50 years old: 1,500 mg/day
• 51-70 years old: 1,300 mg/day
• 71-plus years old: 1,200 mg/day Though we need sodium, it’s easy to overindulge.
Bowman said convenience foods, such as frozen meals and fast food, are usually packed with sodium. Sodium might also be hiding in other foods you don’t realize, such as bread, condiments and supplements.
Also, low-fat or heart-healthy may not mean low-sodium. Bowman said these foods will use sodium to help fill in the gaps, so be sure to read the food label.
“If the product claims 25 to 50 percent less sodium than the original, it could still be a high-sodium food,” Bowman said. Warning words to search for when scanning ingredients are mono sodium glutamate, sodium benzoate, sodium chloride, sodium nitrate (or nitrite), sodium bisulfite and baking soda. One teaspoon of baking soda is 448 mg sodium. These ingredients usually mean the food is filled with sodium.
B o w m a n stressed the key benefit of a low-salt diet is preventing chronic illness. According to the 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines, almost 50 percent of Americans have at least one preventable chronic disease, such as diabetes, poor bone health, obesity, cardiovascular disease and hypertension, related to poor diet quality and lack of physical activity.
“Hypertension is called the silent killer because many people don’t feel any symptoms, so they do not realize there is a problem. Thus, they do not seek treatment. HTN can lead to stroke and is the second leading cause of kidney disease, even in the absence of diabetes,” she said.
Bowman said all African-Americans, people with systolic hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease and people over 51-years-old, should reduce their sodium intake to 1,500 mg daily, or less due to their greater sensitivity to increased sodium intake causing increased blood pressure and should also consult their doctor and registered dietitian for evaluation of their individual situation because further diet modifications may be necessary. Finding foods low in sodium may take some reeducation, but it is possible.
“A good general rule is: the fresher the food, the better. While fresh foods – even organic foods – are still going to have sodium in them, it is a substantial amount less than processed foods. If fresh is not an option, quick-frozen is a better option than canned in most instances. Canned foods can be rinsed to decrease the sodium in them,” Bowman said.
Though high sodium is usually the health concern most people worry about, it is possible to suffer from low sodium. High blood sugar, excessive water intake and syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormones. Sodium can also decrease through sweating vomiting and diarrhea.
In addition to excessive sodium intake from foods, high sodium can be caused by dehydration, aldosteronism, a disorder that causes increased production of the hormone that balances sodium and potassium in the blood, and diabetes insipidus, a disease affecting how the body handles fluids.
“For both, it’s best to seek medical attention to correct. To prevent, it’s very important to maintain adequate hydration, especially during e x t r e m e / p r o l o n g e d heat stress or sickness,” she said.
Though it’s a good idea to cut back on sodium in general, Bowman recommends discussing any major diet changes with a registered dietitian and a primary care physician.