Hope you’re doing well.
Over the next few weeks I have some really cool stuff to show you. I’m going to reveal exactly what’s so BAD about some of the baddest nutrient culprits!
It’s time to open up the curtains!
This week I’m kicking things off with sodium – the baddest of the bad (well, you be the judge).
We hear a lot of talk about sodium these days and you’re often warned to lower your sodium intake. Why is this?
What is so BAD about sodium?
After all, sodium is essential for survival. The body needs sodium to function properly. All of the sodium that we consume comes from salt, or chemically known as sodium chloride – really an essential mineral. So the question becomes not whether we need it, but how much of it do we need?
Sodium helps regulate fluids and blood pressure in your body. It helps transmit nerve impulses that allow muscles to move and contract. It also helps with digestion as it transports essential nutrients to the bloodstream. Practically every cell in your body requires a little bit of sodium to function properly. And as it is continuously excreted via sweat (and other mediums), sodium needs to be consistently replenished.
So how much sodium do we need?
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends the following sodium intake based on your age group:
|Age||Recommended Sodium Intake|
|1 to 3||1000 mg|
|4 to 8||1200 mg|
|9 to 50||1500 mg|
|51 to 70||1300 mg|
How much is this? Here’s a quick reference:
1 teaspoonful contains about 6 grams of salt
6 grams of salt contains about 2400 mg of sodium
The IOM has also set the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL), which is the highest intake level that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects, at 2,300mg of sodium per day. Adults are not recommended to exceed this.
How much do we really consume?
Recent data from a 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey found shocking results in sodium consumption. Here were the official numbers from the study:
|Age||Recommended Sodium Intake||ACTUAL Sodium Intake|
|1 to 3||1000 mg||2000 mg|
|4 to 8||1200 mg||2700 mg|
|9 to 50||1500 mg||3300 mg|
|51 to 70||1300 mg||3000 mg|
|70+||1200 mg||2500 mg|
As you can see, Canadian adults consumed an average of over 3,000 mg of sodium per day, more than double the level recommended and considerably higher than the UL.
What can excess sodium to your body?
So we know that sodium is necessary for the body to function properly. But like everything else in life, too much can cause problems.
The truth of the matter is, any excess sodium can disrupt normal functions within the body. It does so by restricting the necessary fluid transfers to various systems and organs in your body.
The main victim is also the most important – your heart. Increased levels of sodium in the body cause veins and arteries to constrict, making it difficult for the heart to efficiently pump blood through your body. This often leads to hypertension, or more commonly known as high blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the major causes of stroke, heart disease and kidney disease.
Another effect of excess sodium in your system is weight gain. Here’s the problem. Your body processes only as much sodium as it needs. Any excess sodium is stored in your fat cells and other organs for later use. But since sodium is a highly soluble substance in nature, it forces your body to retain additional fluids as it tries to dissolve and process the sodium. Queue in the weight gain.
Who is at fault?
Recent studies done by Statistic’s Canada revealed the following as the biggest suspects:
- Processed foods are responsible for 77% of total sodium intake
- Pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs are responsible for 19.1% of total sodium intake
- Other sources responsible for high intake of sodium: soups, pasta, dairy products
As the general population settles for pre-packaged, ready-to-eat foods, the level of sodium consumption continues to grow. Foods at restaurants, especially at fast food places, typically contain extremely high levels of sodium.
Here’s the kicker.
According to a study reported in Medical Hypothesis, high-sodium foods may stimulate your brain’s pleasure center, leading to an addiction to salty snacks. Salty foods apparently activate the release of opioids linked with reward. So your brain needs more and more sodium to produce the same pleasure, thus increasing your craving.
The food industry uses this to their advantage. They load foods with sodium to enhance the flavor, get you addicted and keep you coming back.
What can you do to limit your intake?
Lowering your sodium intake takes some work. At first, your food won’t taste the same. You’ll find it less flavorful. That’s ok. Stick with it for a few weeks. Your taste buds will adjust and you’ll begin to see that food has natural flavors of its own. Think of it as a cleansing process.
Here are three simple tips to help you limit your sodium intake:
1) Learn to read food labels
Now that you understand how much sodium you should be consuming daily, you need to learn to gauge how much sodium there is in certain foods. I’m not saying you have to memorize how many milligrams of sodium there is in everything you eat, but it’s important to have a general understanding of how much sodium is in the foods you are eating.
Majority of food products are required to have a Nutrition Facts Label. Sodium content per serving is on there. When purchasing pre-prepared foods from the freezer section or canned goods aisle, take note of the sodium content. When you do this you’ll quickly realize how loaded certain foods are with sodium.
Here are some other sodium-related terms typically used on food packaging:
Sodium-free means less than 5mg/serving
Very low sodium means 35mg or less/serving
Low sodium means 145mg or less/serving
Reduced sodium means 75% reduction in sodium content from original
Unsalted, no salt added, or without salt means the food was processed without salt when salt would normally be used in processing.
Keep track of labels. They’ll help you eliminate foods with high sodium content and discover low-sodium alternatives.
2) Make healthy food choices.
Remember that the food industry thrives on your cravings and addictions.
Escape the system.
Processed foods – basically anything in a box or a bag – are loaded with sodium because not only does it make the food taste better, but it helps preserve foods longer.
Stay away from these. Frozen dinners, pre-packaged meals, and bagged snacks have enough sodium to suffice a small village.
Be smart about the foods you’re putting into your body.
And remember that just because something says “low calorie” or “low fat” doesn’t necessarily make it a healthy choice. Manufacturers use sodium to replace the loss of flavor that is caused by the removal of fat. Be aware of these terms. If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.
Stick with “fresh”. If you stay in the fresh produce section, you won’t have to do any label reading at all. Maximize your time here and minimize your time in the processed-foods section.
3) Limit going out to eat
Restaurants only stay in business if they can have their customers coming back. What better way to retain customers than to make their foods super tasty (and addictive).
Sodium content in restaurant foods is typically high. Check out the 30 saltiest foods in America
If you can, limit eating out. Opt for home cooked meals. This is the best way to control what you’re putting inside your body.
If eating out is your thing, then my advice is to check out the restaurants nutrition information (most restaurants have it online) before visiting the place. Look at the sodium content of your favorite foods. Pretty excessive I bet.
Choose the foods with lower sodium content. If there’s no low-sodium options (that’s not a good sign), then ask the server to minimize the salt content in your food.
Fast foods should be completely avoided. These foods are high in more than just fat. The majority of fast foods contain more than your daily recommended intake of sodium in a SINGLE serving.
Minimize eating out. Save your money and save your health.
What are your thoughts on sodium? Do you have any simple tips for limiting your sodium consumption? Share in the comments below.