Is a Low Sodium Diet Right For You?

A pinch of salt closer to tastiness. But just how much salt is enough? The recommended sodium intake per day is between 1500mg and 2300mg depending on your health status. People with conditions such as diabetes should limit their sodium intake to 1500mg a day or three-quarters of a teaspoon. 

Why it is essential to regulate sodium intake

Surprisingly, most people consume more than the recommended level of sodium per day. Sodium is a necessary component of a diet, but consumption should be in moderation. I sometimes have bags of chips and pizza on the same night. As a result, my body craves for more water than usual. Typically, I take about 6 liters of water spread out throughout the day. On nights like this, I take close to 3 liters within the same hour. A high sodium diet messes with the fluid balance of the body. Raging thirst is the body’s way of responding to the high level of sodium and restoring salt balance.

Another consequence of high sodium diets is waking up with bloated stomachs or swelling. Edema or swelling due to extra fluid in the body is an indication that the sodium intake is more than required. 

The two main components of salt are sodium and chloride often referred to as electrolytes. Taking in large quantities of sodium leads to electrolyte imbalance and hence salt retention in the body. Excess fluids then accumulate in the spaces within the tissues under the skin. Swelling is common in the hands, legs, and ankles.

The body gets rid of unwanted fluids through the kidneys. For kidneys to perform this function, there should be a balance of potassium and sodium to enable the flow of water across the body. When I consume excess sodium, I tamper with the balance in the body inhibiting the kidneys’ ability to remove toxic wastes and excess water. In the long run, I am more exposed to kidney stones and kidney damage.

I also risk high blood pressure as the blood vessels connected to the kidneys become burdened by the extra fluid and strain. The arteries also become strained disrupting the flow of blood to the brain and functioning of the heart. Also, excess sodium can increase the possibilities of cognitive disorder.

A study published in the 2006 Journal of American College of Nutrition, June issue, shows a link between sodium consumption and osteoporosis. The research primarily focuses on salt consumption, linking it to the excretion of calcium, an element that is important to the growth and development of bones. Some studies also suggest that high sodium intake could lead to stomach and gastric ulcers. However, there is no conclusive evidence to link the two as research is still ongoing.

The consequences stated above are enough reason to opt for low sodium diets. Doctors often recommend low sodium diets for high blood pressure patients. I made some small adjustments to my lifestyle and the foods I take. Here are some of the low sodium diet guidelines I follow.

Avoid Processed and Fast Foods

While I enjoy the convenience of fast and processed foods, I am aware of the adverse health effects. The extra sodium, or as others would call it, the additional cost of fast food, is harmful to the body. Other than the sodium portion, these foods are high in calories and have low nutritional values. Processed foods high in sodium include cold cuts, baked goods, gravies, meats, pizza, soups, processed cheese, and sauces. Unfortunately, these are all my favorites.

Since it acts as a food preservative, sodium may be present in foods that are not as salty. Sodium controls water activity of foods preventing the growth of bacteria or chemical reactions. Salt also kills bacteria by drawing out water from them. As a flavor enhancer, sodium is an ingredient in some snacks including crisps, chips, and popcorns. Sodium also masks the metallic tastes of some of the products. Again, these are my favorites. Except the metal ones.

Check for sodium content when shopping

When shopping I check the nutrition labels on packaged foods and prepared ones as often the sodium I consume is hidden in them. I use the percent daily value indicated on the label as a tool to find out the sodium content per serving. 5% daily value or less per serving is low while 20% daily value or more is high. I also pay attention to serving sizes to ensure the amount I consume meets the daily percentage value I desire.

Avoid dining Out

If I prepare foods on my own, I can keep tabs of my daily sodium intake. Unfortunately, I’m too much of a slacker to do this, so I either go out or order in. Even in these instances, I try to inquire about the nutritional values in the food. Well, I read the info on the websites. Some restaurants allow customers to choose the amount of salt used in cooking, but I feel that’s really going overboard. Maybe it’s just me, but if you’re really trying to control your sodium intake, make your own damn food.

Choose fresh and whole foods

Most processed foods have a high sodium content; therefore, I try to consume whole foods such as corn on the cob and fresh fruits as much as possible. OK, now my mom is satisfied, let me say that was a complete lie. I love processed foods. Fresh and whole foods would enable me to prepare low sodium dishes such as skinless chicken and help me track my sodium intake, but that’s not a thing I do. I’m just being honest here. 

Avoid salt at the table

At the dinner table, try to keep away the salt shaker or any other seasonings that have high sodium content like ketchup, mustard, or soy sauce. Instead, I use black pepper to spice up my food while at the table. It’s actually a fantastic flavor, and has many health benefits, none of which I can remember.

Use alternative seasoning

I use different natural flavorings, herbs, and spices such as rosemary, salsa, chutney, vinegar, onions, garlic, and lemon juice to season foods. Such seasonings help make food tasty even without salt and therefore enable me to avoid using salt to season food. Alternative seasonings go a long way in reducing salt intake.

Advantages of low sodium diets

Low sodium intake has a lot of proven health benefits. Low sodium diets are essential for the health of the heart, the kidney, and the whole-body system. Reducing sodium intake helps lower blood pressure. High sodium intake is the primary cause of hypertension which is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease. 

A low sodium diet, therefore, lowers the risk of heart diseases. Low sodium diets also help reduce the risk of swelling of externalities such as the legs. Excess sodium causes retention of fluids as the body tries to maintain a consistent water to sodium ratio; a low sodium diet is therefore essential in reducing water weight. Most low sodium diets necessitate whole foods which contain a wide range of nutrients. Whole foods benefit the overall health and help maintain a healthy body weight.

Disadvantages of low sodium diets

Low sodium diets lead to insufficient sodium intake which could have serious health repercussions. Sodium is vital to the survival of humans because of the role sodium chloride plays in keeping the brain functioning, the nerves system, regulation of blood pressure, and muscle strength. Since the human body cannot produce sodium, hence its obtained through food only.

Salt is also essential for hydration and is vital for the fortification of other minerals such as iodine. A low sodium diet with a sodium content of below 3000 mg per day is harmful considering the various benefits of sodium. Low sodium intake can cause dehydration and possible insulin resistance leading to higher blood sugar levels. Low sodium diets also increase the risk of death from heart failure and raise the risk of hyponatremia, low blood levels of sodium.

Sodium is an essential mineral, however, too little or too much may affect the body. Foods rich in potassium are beneficial for people on a low sodium diet for high blood pressure or any other condition. Always remember to take enough water.