Oh salt, the one thing a large majority of people all around the world can’t live without. Think about the last time you were at a restaurant and there was not a salt shaker on the table. You most likely can’t remember the last time this was the case.
Well, that salt shaker isn’t the only contributor to your sodium levels. In fact sodium appears in all sorts of sauces, on pretty much everything you eat when eating out, and even naturally in some foods. The top sources of sodium in your every day diet are most likely cold cut deli meats, pizza (sorry folks), breads, and poultry.
Actually, approximately 75% of your sodium intake doesn’t come from the salt added to your food. Sodium is added into almost all packaged, processed, and restaurant foods. So with sodium being found almost everywhere in your diet, how are we supposed to avoid over consuming? What are the real effects of high sodium intake on your body?
These are questions I have pondered for a long time, and now I finally have done enough research to offer you a comprehensive enough answer.
How Does High Sodium Intake Affect Your Body?
High Blood Pressure:
When you consume large amounts of sodium, your body begins to retain water to dilute the concentration of sodium in your blood. I have mentioned this before when I talked about sweating for weight loss and even mentioned sodium intake when I discussed The Paleo Diet. When your body starts to retain water the amount of blood in your bloodstream begins to increase. This causes your heart to work harder to move excess blood through your body.
This eventually contributes to a high blood pressure. This can be extremely dangerous over long periods of time and can eventually lead to heart attacks or stroke.
If you have high blood pressure already, cutting out sodium should be a no brainer. Even though sodium mostly affects those who are over 50, you can still develop issues directly relating to sodium at an early age. Not to mention the fact that if you over consume sodium for years and years of your life you may end up being one of those statistics over 50.
I am extra careful with my kidneys these days after I almost caused my kidneys to fail through over consumption of protein shakes, alcohol, and combined them with working out extremely hard. I wrote about that one here if you are interested.
Kidneys filter your blood and generally remove excess fluid from your blood (like excess water). If your overconsumption of sodium leads to retaining high levels of water your kidneys must work harder to remove this excess fluid. If you already have some underlying disease such as diabetes, you may be conscious of your blood sugar levels but overlooking your sodium intake and the effects that it is having on your kidneys.
Long term strain on your kidneys doesn’t only lead to kidney disease specifically, but it can damage the blood vessels leading to them as well. If left untreated, the kidney disease you may have developed can ultimately lead to total kidney failure.
While these are the two main concerns of consuming too much sodium… it’s important that we note there are other issues as well. There are various studies alluding to the fact that in addition to heart attack, stroke, damage to blood vessels or your aorta, consuming excess sodium can be harmful to your bones as well.
So with high blood pressure being one of the leading causes of death in China, and an increasing cause of death in the United States, it’s important to understand just how we can help our bodies keep those sodium levels in balance.
How Do We Avoid Excess Sodium?
Now that we know the top sources of sodium in our diet (breads, pizza, deli meats, soups, sandwiches, dairy, and poultry) we can talk about ways to successfully reduce the amounts of each of these we ingest.
I have always been an advocate of avoiding processed foods. There is a reason I eat mostly all natural, whole foods, and that reason keeps perpetuating itself the more and more I research and write articles.
Processed, packaged, or pre-prepared foods are without a doubt the most detrimental to a properly regulated sodium level. These foods are usually your canned foods, vacuum sealed, or cardboard boxed and frozen foods.
Next time you wander through these isles and think you are going to have a healthy sandwich with some delicious, thinly sliced turkey breast, flip the package over and examine how much sodium is present. You’d be shocked to see some of the daily recommended percentages on these packages. I would suggest foregoing the processed deli meats, and instead cook your own chicken breast (free-range, grass fed, no antibiotics), slice it up nice and thin, and throw that on your sandwich instead.
In addition, eating canned vegetables or beans vs. cooking your own can make a huge difference. When you buy natural, non-processed green beans, asparagus, spinach, etc… you will be able to drastically reduce your sodium intake. It may be easy to snag a can off the shelf, throw it in the microwave and continue on your merry way. However, this may be the primary source of sodium in your diet.
You can also reduce sodium intake by using less salt. The general habit of most is to salt almost everything you cook or eat. However, there are many natural herbs and spices that contribute to flavor much better than pure salt.
I personally am a huge fan of basil, oregano, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, and countless others. Investing in a cilantro plant is also an awesome way to make sure you have a fresh herb that tastes great in or on almost everything.
You may be shocked to hear that there is a large amount of sodium in bread and other products mainly due to the amount of baking soda used in these items. Not to mention all the flour and dairy products used. If you really want to cut out sodium, start eating less of those cheeseburgers (sorry, I know they are delicious) and cut out pizza Fridays.
Lastly, try and be conscious of what you are eating when at a restaurant. I understand eating out is usually time for a cheat meal or for you to splurge a bit… But restaurants often times can provide some pretty healthy options as well. Try to not douse your meal in hot sauce, steak sauce, or barbecue sauce and maybe try to order some fresh steamed vegetables in place of those cheesy mashed potatoes. You’d be surprised at what cutting out dairy can do for your overall health anyway.
This may seem like a lot to do at once, and it’s totally fine if a huge diet change doesn’t come overnight. I simply am here to offer some suggestions on how to maintain a healthy balance of sodium in your diet. Hopefully I’ve offered you some solutions here, or at least helped you realize the harmful effects sodium can have on your body.
If you have any personal techniques to reduce your sodium intake, or at least be conscious of it, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about your experiences and how you manage to stick to a healthy diet!