Most people know that too much sodium is a bad thing, but the body needs a certain level to maintain proper function. So before you lock away your salt shaker, take a look at some of the basics about sodium and health and read Part II to learn whether the 2013 study on health problems caused by low sodium affects you.
Sodium & the Body
Although the exact number isn’t known, some level of sodium is needed for crucial bodily functions including transmitting nerve impulses, supporting neurological function, maintaining blood pressure, assisting metabolism and digestion, transporting nutrients and helping the heart to contract.
Health professionals agree that a high sodium diet (consisting of highly processed foods) isn’t good for people with high blood pressure. When the body’s sodium levels are high, more water is released from the kidneys, which increases blood flow and in turn raises blood pressure. This increased blood pressure works the heart harder, which augments the risk for unstable blood vessels, heart disease and stroke.
Salt vs. Sodium
So an over-abundance of sodium isn’t good, but it’s important to remember salt and sodium aren’t the same. Salt is actually a combination of two properties—sodium and chloride. There are three different options of salt for consumption: unrefined, refined and iodized. Due to added chemicals, iodine and an excessive heating process in refined and iodized salt, it’s best to use natural, unrefined salt such as Himalayan sea salt.
To determine your daily sodium intake, don’t just count salt milligrams. A half teaspoon of salt is equal to 1,200 milligrams of sodium and a heaping teaspoon is equal to 4,000 milligrams (mg) of sodium. To put this in perspective, a typical cup of soup and turkey sandwich at lunch is equal to 2,200 mg of sodium. A McDonald’s Egg McMuffin contains 780 milligrams and many popular breakfast cereals include 150 – 300 grams of sodium before adding milk. (More reasons to avoid processed and fast foods!)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, younger adults should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day and people over the age of 51, African-Americans and anyone with high blood pressure should aim for no more than 1,500 mg per day.
In The Shake Out on Sodium, Part II, we look at a 2013 report released by the Institute of Medicine that has people confused about safe sodium levels. Remember, you can subscribe to get the Be Well blog in your inbox by entering your name and email on the right-hand side of this post.