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Is Sodium Good for You? Here’s What You Need to Know

Hi, my name is Sally, and I’m a dietitian who loves salt. I lick it from my fingers when eating popcorn, generously sprinkle it on roasted vegetables, and wouldn’t dream of buying unsalted pretzels or low-sodium soup. Even though my blood pressure has always been low, I still feel a little guilty. After all, if I want to lessen my chance of heart disease and stroke, I should all shun salt, right?

Actually, no. When it comes to sodium, not everyone agrees that the best strategy is to go low. In fact, going too low may be downright unhealthy, new research says. And active women may need even more salt than those who are sedentary. To cut through the confusion, we consulted the top experts and analyzed all the latest studies. Keep on reading to find out everything you need to know about the white stuff and answer once and for all: Is sodium good for you? (And what’s the deal with MSG?)

Salt: The Super Mineral

Although sodium often gets lumped into the category of nutritional no-no’s, your body needs it. This mineral, which helps your system send messages to and from the brain and keep your heartbeat steady, is mega-important for active women. In fact, it’s a veritable workout secret weapon, no less crucial than your sports bra. It can often help prevent the kind of muscle cramping that cuts exercise sessions short and ruins races. It also helps your body hold on to water, so you stay better hydrated, says Nancy Clark, R.D., the author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. Clark recalls one of her clients, a marathon runner who exercised in the heat and complained of being tired all the time. Turns out, she was severely restricting her salt intake. “She didn’t use salt in cooking or at the table and chose salt-free pretzels, crackers, and nuts. She ate primarily unprocessed ‘all-natural’ foods that are low in sodium,” says Clark. When she added a bit of sodium to her diet—sprinkling some salt on her baked potato and into the boiling water before adding pasta, she reported feeling a lot better.

Certain fit women need a lot of salt, says Amy Goodson, R.D., a sports dietitian in Dallas. During a vigorous exercise session, most women lose some sodium, potassium, and fluid. But “salty sweaters” lose more and thus need to replenish it afterward. (To find out if you fall into this category, see “What to Do.”) (Related: The One Reason Your Doctor May Want You to Eat More Salt)

So, Is Sodium Good for You?

It’s the great salt debate. In truth, that answer will be different from person to person, as there are pros and cons to sodium (as with nearly anything you’re ingesting). For some people, too much of the mineral can make the kidneys retain extra water (that’s why it causes bloating), increasing blood volume. That puts more pressure on blood vessels, forcing the heart to work harder. Over time, that can turn into high blood pressure, says Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. Because one in three Americans has high blood pressure and eating less salt can help lower hypertension, in the 1970s experts advised cutting back, and suddenly the whole country was on a salt-restrictive kick. According to the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should get less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day; the American Heart Association takes it even further with their recommendation of 1,500 milligrams a day.

But a recent report from the Institute of Medicine questions whether a low-sodium diet is right for everyone. After reviewing the evidence, the IOM’s experts stated there simply wasn’t proof that consuming less than 2,300 milligrams a day resulted in fewer deaths from heart disease and strokes. In the American Journal of Hypertension, an analysis of seven studies involving more than 6,000 people found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduced the risk of heart attacks, strokes, or death in people with either normal or high blood pressure. “The current recommendations were based on the belief that the lower, the better,” says Michael Alderman, M.D., a professor emeritus of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “But the more recent data on health outcomes show that those guidelines aren’t justified.”

Going too low may even be dangerous. In a study by Copenhagen University Hospital, a low-sodium diet resulted in a 3.5 percent decrease in blood pressure for people with hypertension. That would be fine, except that it also raised their triglycerides and cholesterol and boosted levels of aldosterone and norepinephrine, two hormones that can increase insulin resistance over time. All of those things are known risk factors for heart disease.

Now there’s even more reason to go ahead and salt your veggies: In March, Danish researchers announced, after analyzing dozens of studies, they had discovered that consuming too little sodium is linked to a greater risk of death. They’ve determined that the safest range for most people is from 2,645 to 4,945 milligrams of salt a day. Those are numbers that most Americans are already meeting, but, unfortunately, most of that sodium—a whopping 75 percent—comes from packaged and restaurant foods, many of which are loaded with calories, added sugar and even trans fats. The worst offenders are the so-called Salty Six: bread and rolls, cured meats, pizza, soup, poultry, and sandwiches. A typical order of Chinese beef with broccoli has 3,300 milligrams, and a plate of chicken parm comes close to 3,400 milligrams. “Whether it’s a fancy restaurant or a greasy diner, chances are it’s using a lot of salt,” says Michael Jacobson, Ph.D., the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit group that has called on the Food and Drug Administration to limit the sodium allowed in processed and restaurant foods.

That leaves fit women who are eating a high-quality diet that includes lots of fresh food, like fruits and vegetables, and whole grains in pretty good shape. “You don’t need to be as careful about sodium as some people are if you’re doing so many other things right,” Jacobson says. Plus research suggests that being active may offer a natural defense against sodium’s negative effects. “If you’re active, you can probably tolerate more salt in your diet than someone who is not,” says Carol Greenwood, Ph.D., a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. That means protection against sodium’s impact on blood pressure—and maybe even more. In Greenwood’s research, older adults who ate high-salt diets showed more cognitive decline than those with lower salt intakes, but not among those who were physically active. They were protected, regardless of how much salt they ate. “A high level of activity protects blood vessels and the long-term health of the brain,” she explains.

Bottom line: If you’re active and eating a nutrient-rich diet, sodium shouldn’t stress you out. “Of all the things you should worry about,” says Dr. Alderman, “you can take that one off the table.”

Healthy Ways to Include Sodium In Your Diet

Exercising and eating a healthy diet are both excellent safeguards against sodium’s harmful effects, so you don’t need to toss out your saltshaker. Instead, take this sensible approach to sodium. (And try these out-of-the-ordinary ways to use trendy salts.)

Determine if you’re a “salty sweater.”

After your next push-it-to-the-max workout, hang your tank top up to dry, then watch for the telltale white residue. If you see it, you need even more sodium than the typical fit woman. Novice exercisers tend to lose more salt in sweat (over time, your body adapts and loses less). The smartest way to replenish: Have a post-workout snack that contains sodium—pretzels and string cheese or low-fat cottage cheese and fruit—or add salt to healthy foods like brown rice and veggies. You need to supplement during your exercise session—with sports drinks, gels or chews that contain sodium and other electrolytes—only if you are training for a few hours or are an endurance athlete.

Keep tabs on your BP.

Blood pressure tends to gradually increase with age, so even if your numbers are good now, they may not stay that way. Have your blood pressure checked at least every two years. Hypertension has no symptoms, which is why it’s often called a silent killer.

Stick with whole foods.

If you’re already trying to cut back on processed foods and dine out less, you’re automatically lowering your sodium intake. If your blood pressure is slightly high, start comparing products in the same category, such as soups and bread, to see how their sodium stacks up. A few simple switches can help lower your intake.

Find out your family history.

There’s a strong genetic component to hypertension, so fit, healthy people can have high blood pressure if it runs in the family. Keep closer tabs on your blood pressure and your sodium intake if hypertension is in your family tree. About a third of the population is sodium sensitive, which means their blood pressure will respond more dramatically to the substance than other people’s will (this is more common in African-Americans and in people who are overweight).

Get more potassium.

The mineral is kryptonite to sodium, blunting its powers. A high-potassium diet can help lower blood pressure. And wouldn’t you rather eat more bananas and spinach than nibble on plain popcorn? Other star sources include sweet potatoes, edamame, cantaloupe, and lentils. While you’re at it, increase your intake of low-fat dairy and whole grains too. These have shown to be effective in lowering blood pressure.

“The Healthy Geezer” answers questions about health and aging in his weekly column.

In my last column, we discussed sodium in our diets. Today’s column is devoted to tips about how to reduce our sodium intake.

High-sodium diets are linked to increased blood pressure and a greater risk for heart disease and stroke. Reducing the amount of sodium you consume can help lower blood pressure or prevent it from developing.

Diet experts recommend a daily consumption of less than 2,400 milligrams (mg), which is the amount of sodium in a teaspoon of table salt. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may advise limiting yourself to 1,500 mg of sodium a day.

Table salt (sodium chloride) is not the only problem. The main sources of sodium in the average U.S. diet are: 5 percent added while cooking, 6 percent added while eating, 12 percent from natural sources and 77 percent from processed foods.

About 9 out of 10 Americans consume too much sodium. Americans on average consume 3,436 mg sodium daily. How can you cut down?

When you buy prepared and packaged foods, read the “Nutritional Facts” panel for the amount of sodium. Some products also include sodium terms.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that a food that claims to be “healthy” must not exceed 480 mg sodium. “Meal type” products must not exceed 600 mg sodium.

Here are more tips:

  • Decrease your use of salt gradually. As you use less salt, your preference for it diminishes.
  • Keep the salt shaker off the table.
  • Buy fresh, plain frozen, or canned “with no salt added” vegetables.
  • Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather than canned or processed types.
  • Use herbs, spices, and salt-free seasoning blends.
  • Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt.
  • Cut back on flavored rice, frozen dinners, pizza, packaged mixes, canned soups and packaged salad dressings.
  • Rinse canned foods, such as tuna, to remove some sodium.
  • Select unsalted nuts or seeds, dried beans, peas and lentils.
  • Limit salty snacks like chips and pretzels.
  • Add fresh lemon juice instead of salt to fish and vegetables.
  • When eating out, ask your server about reducing sodium in your meal.
  • Remove salt from recipes whenever possible.
  • Cut down on sodium-rich condiments such as soy sauce, ketchup, mustard and relish.

If you would like to read more columns, you can order a copy of “How to be a Healthy Geezer” at http://www.healthygeezer.com

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

1) p_saranya / Getty Images

2) Biophoto Associates / Science Source

3) yacobchuk / Getty Images

4) (Left to right) Lipowski / Thinkstock, -aniaostudio- / Thinkstock

5) Harvinder Singh / Science Source

6) cturtletrax / Getty Images

7) klebercordeiro / Getty Images

8) Manuel-F-O / Getty Images

9) avemario / Thinkstock

10) lzf / Getty Images

11) Jacob Brown / Getty Images

12) coffeekai / Getty Images

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Canker Sore,” “Ingrown toenails,” “Psoriasis,” “Sodium Bicarbonate (Oral Route, Intravenous Route, Subcutaneous Route),” “Insect bites and stings: First aid,” “Cold remedies: What works, what doesn’t, what can’t hurt,” ”Hives and angioedema,” “Bedsores (pressure ulcers).”

Cleveland Clinic: “Which Is Contagious: Your Canker Sore or Cold Sore?”

American Academy of Dermatology: “Ingrown toenails,” “Treating poison ivy: Ease the itch with tips from dermatologists.”

American Podiatric Medical Association: “What Are Ingrown Toenails?”

Journal of Clinical Otorhinolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery: “Nasal irrigation with different concentrations of saline as an adjunctive treatment in allergic rhinitis: A systematic review and Meta-analysis.”

Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism: “Scientific evidence of the therapeutic effects of dead sea treatments: a systematic review.”

JAMA Dermatology: “Saline Spa Water or Combined Water and UV-B for Psoriasis vs Conventional UV-B. Lessons From the Salies de Béarn Randomized Study.”

National Psoriasis Foundation: “Herbal and Natural Remedies.”

U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Magnesium Sulfate,” “How to care for pressure sores,” “EPSOM SALT — magnesium sulfate granule, for solution.”

Nutrients: “Can Magnesium Enhance Exercise Performance?,” “Myth or Reality — Transdermal Magnesium?”

Indian Journal of Dental Research: “Sodium bicarbonate: A review and its uses in dentistry.”

International Journal of Dermatology: “Bathing in a magnesium-rich Dead Sea salt solution improves skin barrier function, enhances skin hydration, and reduces inflammation in atopic dry skin.”

National Eczema Association: “Eczema and Bathing.”

Sports Medicine: “The role of sodium in ‘heat cramping.’ ”

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: “Heat cramps.”

The Journal of the American Dental Association: “Baking soda dentifrices and oral health,” “Stain removal and whitening by baking soda dentifrice: A review of literature,” “Baking soda as an abrasive in toothpastes.”

Salt: the facts


Eat well

Foods that contain salt

Some foods are almost always high in salt because of the way they are made.

Other foods, such as bread and breakfast cereals, can contribute a lot of salt to our diet. But that’s not because these foods are always high in salt – it’s because we eat a lot of them.

High-salt foods

The following foods are almost always high in salt. To cut down on salt, eat them less often and have smaller amounts:

  • anchovies
  • bacon
  • cheese
  • gravy granules
  • ham
  • olives
  • pickles
  • prawns
  • salami
  • salted and dry-roasted nuts
  • salt fish
  • smoked meat and fish
  • soy sauce
  • stock cubes
  • yeast extract

Foods that can be high in salt

In the following foods, the salt content can vary widely between different brands or varieties.

That means you can cut down on salt by comparing brands and choosing the one that is lower in salt. Nutrition labels can help you do this.

The Change4Life Food Scanner can help you check how much salt you or your child is having. Using your smartphone, the app can scan the barcode on food packets to find out exactly how much salt it contains.

These foods include:

  • bread products such as crumpets, bagels and ciabatta
  • pasta sauces
  • crisps
  • pizza
  • ready meals
  • soup
  • sandwiches
  • sausages
  • tomato ketchup, mayonnaise and other sauces
  • breakfast cereals

Soluble vitamin supplements and painkillers

If you routinely take an effervescent (dissolvable) vitamin supplement, or take effervescent painkillers when necessary, it’s worth remembering that these can contain up to 1g salt per tablet. You may therefore wish to consider changing to a non-effervescent tablet, particularly if you have been advised to watch or reduce your salt intake.

Salt: How Good Or Bad Is It? Swathi Handoo Hyderabd040-395603080 January 29, 2020

Can you imagine your meals without salt? It is like watching a movie blind-folded

Salt is a mandatory tastemaker for all our meals. It makes food palatable and enjoyable. Above all, salt helps maintain the chemical balance in your body. It (sodium) even helps to conduct nerve impulses in the body (1).

But did you know that high salt intake is linked to hypertension and osteoporosis? However, totally abstaining from salt can be equally dangerous (1). Extensive research is done on this tricky ingredient. Swipe up to know if salt is your friend or foe!

Table Of Contents

All About Salt

With about 40% sodium and 60% chloride, table salt stabilizes and flavors food. It doubles up as a preservative in foods with a long shelf-life (1).

The common sources of salt for consumers can be classified into refined (table)salt, sea salt, flower salt, and processed salt. They possess varying mineral content and nutritional values (2).

Our body requires a small amount of sodium (about 500 mg/day) to (1):

  • conduct nerve impulses
  • contract and relax muscles
  • maintain the balance of water and minerals (electrolytes)

Potassium is another mineral our body needs in equal, if not higher, amounts as sodium to perform these functions. Potassium is found in almost all vegetables and fruits. But sodium is abundant in processed and pickled foods (3).

The present-day diet regimen includes relatively large portions of processed/fast foods compared to fresh fruits and vegetables (3).

On the other hand, research links high sodium intake and low potassium intake to cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and even death (1), (3).

What good does salt do to you? Is it even good at all?

Find out for yourself in the following sections.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Salt?

The sodium ions in salt help maintain the electrolytic balance in your body. They can help relieve muscle cramps and treat dental infections. Gargling warm/hot salt water frees airway passages and helps ease sinusitis and asthma.

1. Used For Oral Rehydration

Chronic pathogenic diseases like diarrhea and cholera lead to dehydration. Dehydration causes loss of water and minerals from the body. If not replenished, it will impair the functioning of the kidneys and the GI tract.

Providing water-soluble salts and glucose orally is the quickest way to deal with such loss of function. Oral rehydration solution (ORS) can be given to patients with diarrhea and other pathogenic diseases (4).

2. May Relieve Muscle (Leg) Cramps

Leg cramps frequently occur in older adults and athletes. Little is known about the definite cause. Exercise, body weight fluctuations, pregnancy, electrolyte imbalances, and loss of salts in the body are a few risk factors (5).

Intensive physical activity in the summer heat is a predominant reason for involuntary cramps. Field sports players may lose up to 4-6 teaspoons of salt a day because of excessive sweating. Having foods that are natural sources of salt may reduce the severity of cramps. Increasing sodium intake is suggested in such cases (6).

Drinking water with ¼ teaspoon of salt is recommended to athletes. Tomato juice and sports drinks are also good options (6).

3. May Help Manage Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition characterized by excessive loss of salt and minerals through sweat, dehydration, and mucus secretion. Excess mucus plugs the ducts in the intestines and the GI tract (7).

The loss of sodium and chloride ions in the form of sodium chloride is so high that the patients’ skin tastes salty. To compensate for this loss, such individuals should have salt and salty foods (7).

Since the mucus hinders fat absorption in the gut, those dealing with cystic fibrosis may also be deficient in fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K (7).

4. May Improve Dental Health

Enamel is a hard layer that covers our teeth. It protects them from plaque and acid attacks. The enamel is made of a sparingly soluble salt called hydroxyapatite. Tooth decay happens when such salts dissolve due to plaque build-up (8).

With no enamel, the teeth get demineralized and become weak with cavities. Using salt-based mouth rinses could have preventative effects over caries and gingivitis, similar to brushing or flossing (9).

However, scientific studies do not find any significant benefit of using oral rinses over brushing-flossing, especially in preventing chronic dental diseases (9).

5. May Ease Sore Throat And Sinusitis

Gargling warm salt water may ease a sore throat and also help treat upper respiratory tract infections. There is insufficient scientific evidence to prove this effect, though. Salt water may relieve the itchy feeling in your throat but does not necessarily shorten the duration of the infection (10), (11).

Flushing your nostrils with salt water (nasal irrigation) is an effective remedy for sinusitis. Salt water can relieve congestion that hinders normal breathing. However, clinical trials do not claim this technique to be a cure for sinusitis (12), (13).

In fact, it is difficult to decide if salt is good or bad for your health – both low and high intakes of salt trigger multiple consequences. In the following section, we will cover more on this.

What Happens If You Take Too Less Salt?

Low salt intake may lead to hyponatremia (low sodium levels in the blood) with symptoms like (14):

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent falls or gait deficits
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Permanent brain damage

In older patients, hyponatremia often causes swelling (edema) of the hands, feet, and internal organs. This happens due to the influx of extracellular fluid as the chemical equilibrium is disturbed (15).

There is another set of medical conditions you’d face if you had a lot of salt too. Hypernatremia (high sodium levels in the blood) is one of the major effects. This leads to problems with the heart, pancreas, brain, and kidneys.

What Happens If You Take Too Much Salt?

Excess salt intake can lead to hypernatremia, which is less common. There is a significant loss of water or net sodium gain in the body. Only when the sodium concentration exceeds 158-160 mmol/liter will you experience acute symptoms like (15):

  • Intense thirst
  • Anorexia
  • Nausea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Altered mental status due to lesions in the brain
  • Coma
  • Brain shrinkage (in severe cases)

Excess salt intake interferes not only with the nervous system, but also with the functioning of several organs, including the heart, bones, and kidneys. Scroll down for a detailed account.

What Are The Side Effects Of Excess Salt Intake?

1. Affects Cardiovascular Health

The Institute of Medicine and other researchers concluded that reducing sodium intake lowers blood pressure. In a Japanese study, reducing salt intake was associated with a significant decrease in hypertension and stroke mortality (1), (16), (17).

This was observed in normal and hypertensive subjects, irrespective of their gender and race. However, no scientific body has established yet that lower salt intake could decrease the risk of heart disease (1).

2. May Cause Kidney Diseases

High blood pressure leads to increased calcium excretion. Calcium ions are lost from bone mineral reserves and get accumulated in the kidneys. This accumulation, over time, causes stones to form in the kidneys and the urinary tract (17).

Patients with hypertension often deal with chronic kidney disease (CKD). This happens due to their inability to eliminate excess sodium from their systems. It is recommended to have a sodium intake of <4,000 mg/day to manage CKD and other kidney diseases (1).

3. May Trigger Osteoporosis

When you eat more salt, there is an increase in calcium excretion. Loss of calcium results in the depletion of bone mineral reserves. Bone demineralization (or thinning) ultimately manifests as osteoporosis (1).

Studies have shown that reducing salt intake could slow the bone loss associated with aging and menopause. It is also suggested that hypertension and stroke increase the risk of osteoporosis. This proves that all these conditions may have a common underlying cause – and that could be sodium balance (17), (18).

4. May Lead To Stomach Cancer

Clinical trials done over decades link high salt intake to stomach cancer. They suggest a positive statistical correlation between the bacterial (Helicobacter pylori) infection and salt consumption (17).

High sodium levels in the stomach may worsen the inflammation of the protective gastric mucosal cells. Such episodes may increase the possibility of undesirable mutations that trigger gastric cancer. The Helicobacter species also multiply in these unfavorable conditions (1), (17).

A few studies report high salt intake to be one of the reasons behind developing asthma, cataracts, and edema (swelling due to fluid retention). But the evidence is insufficient to prove these claims.

Hence, it is best to stick to low-moderate salt consumption to stay protected from these conditions. Avoid eating foods that are high in salt or sodium. We have covered these foods in the next section.

Which Foods Are High In Salt/Sodium?

The following foods are high in sodium (1), (19):

  1. Bread/rolls
  2. Pizza
  3. Sandwiches
  4. Cold cuts/cured meats
  5. Soups
  6. Burritos
  7. Tacos
  8. Savory snacks (chips, popcorn, pretzels, crackers)
  9. Chicken
  10. Cheese
  11. Eggs/omelets
  12. Pickles
  13. Preservatives
  14. Canned products
  15. Processed foods
  16. Instant foods

All you need to do is find low-salt or low-sodium substitutes for such foods. Having fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables instead of the above-listed foods is a great idea to start with.

Moreover, you can find various types of salt on the market. We need more research to understand if they are superior to table salt.

Types Of Salt

What we eat every day is a variety of processed salt. It is made by evaporating ocean water or harvesting from salt mines. Other salt varieties are all sodium chloride compounds but with varying degrees of processing. Here are a few of them:

  • Iodized (table) salt: Heavily processed to remove impurities and refine the texture. Additives include iodine and anti-caking agent (calcium silicate). Salt is iodized mainly to combat epidemic deficiency of iodine in certain countries where soil is lacking in iodine, like in India, where only iodized salt is recommended.
  • Kosher salt: Contains coarsely grained salt. Additives may be an anti-caking agent. May not have iodine.
  • Sea salt: Composed mostly of sodium chloride, but has small amounts of potassium, zinc, and iron. Undergoes almost no processing. Has a coarser texture and appears unevenly dark. Carries oceanic impurities like heavy metals (lead).
  • Himalayan pink salt: Harvested from the salt mines in Pakistan. Pink hue comes from small amounts of iron oxide. Less processed and refined. Crystals appear larger and contain small amounts of minerals (iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium).

Note: Larger salt grains take time to dissolve but give a burst of flavor. Use them (Kosher, sea, and pink salts) before cooking on meats/vegetables. Do not use them in baking recipes.

In Summary

Salt is the trickiest of all ingredients. It certainly makes your food palatable, but possibly at the cost of your health. So, watch how much of it you have every day. It is safe to consume less than 3,000 mg of salt per day, and that’s about just 1.5 to 2.0 teaspoons.

Consult a dietitian/nutritionist to find out ways to reduce/substitute salt in your regimen. Also, keep your blood pressure levels in check.

Remember: Moderation is key, especially if it is salt.

How often do you eat salty foods? What steps have you taken to reduce your salt intake? Do share with us by leaving a comment in the box below.

19 sources

Stylecraze has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

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Swathi Handoo

Swathi holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology and has worked in places where actual science and research happen. Blending her love for writing with science, Swathi writes for Health and Wellness and simplifies complex topics for readers from all walks of life.And on the days she doesn’t write, she learns and performs Kathak, sings Carnatic music compositions, makes plans to travel, and obsesses over cleanliness.

Health benefits of eating well

A well-balanced diet provides all of the:

  • energy you need to keep active throughout the day
  • nutrients you need for growth and repair, helping you to stay strong and healthy and help to prevent diet-related illness, such as some cancers

Keeping active and eating a healthy balanced diet can also help you to maintain a healthy weight.

Deficiencies in some key nutrients – such as vitamin A, B, C and E, and zinc, iron and selenium – can weaken parts of your immune system.

More about vitamins, minerals and nutrients

Type 2 diabetes

Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet that’s low in saturated fat and high in fibre found in whole grains can help to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

More about type 2 diabetes

Heart health

A healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy can help to reduce your risk of heart disease by maintaining blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

High blood pressure and cholesterol can be a symptom of too much salt and saturated fats in your diet.

Eating a portion of oily fish – such as salmon and trout – each week can also help to lower your risk of developing heart disease. The high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish are good for heart health.

Strong bones and teeth

A diet rich in calcium keeps your teeth and bones strong and can help to slow bone loss (osteoporosis) associated with getting older.

Calcium is usually associated with dairy products, but you can also get calcium by eating:

  • sardines, pilchards or tinned salmon (with bones)
  • dark green vegetables – such as kale and broccoli
  • calcium-fortified foods – such as soya products, fruit juices and cereals

As vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, make sure you get outside (your body gets vitamin D from the sun) and have plenty of foods containing vitamin D in your diet – such as oily fish and fortified cereals.

More about vitamin D

How to manage your weight

Eating a healthy diet that includes lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and a moderate amount of unsaturated fats, meat and dairy can help you maintain a steady weight. Having a good variety of these foods every day leaves less room for foods that are high in fat and sugar – a leading cause of weight gain.

Together with exercise, eating a healthy diet in the right proportions can also help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol levels and blood pressure and decrease your risk of type 2 diabetes.

More about how to lose weight safely

5 Foods You Should Be Eating For Your Best Body—Inside and Out

Recipe: Purple Fruit Salad

You’ve heard the old saying: Real beauty comes from the inside. You could say the same for good health. When you eat right, exercise, get enough sleep and find smart ways to manage stress-like trading a Netflix binge for a yoga class or long run in the park-you start to look and feel your best. Not sure where to start? Say hello to the five foods below. As part of a balanced diet, they’re proven to help you lose weight, keep your heart going strong and promote healthy, younger-looking skin.

1. Oats

Image zoom

Pictured Recipe: Cinnamon-Raisin Oatmeal Cookies

Talk about a superfood! Compared to other whole grains, oats came out on top for lowering cholesterol, according to a 2015 review of more than 20 studies. Other research shows the feel-full fiber in whole-grain oats can help you eat less and lose weight; in one study, eating oats helped people trim their waists and lose overall body fat. And oats don’t stop there-they help keep your skin healthy, too, with nutrients like copper, zinc and niacin. In fact, you don’t even have to eat oats to gain their skin-calming benefits: People have used forms of oats for centuries as a topical treatment for dry, rough and itchy skin.

Related: The Only Overnight Oats Recipe You Need

2. Wild Salmon

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Pictured Recipe: Honey-Garlic Salmon

You’ve probably heard for years that when it comes to health benefits, salmon-and wild salmon in particular-is one fantastic fish. Here’s one reason why: salmon contains astaxanthin, a type of antioxidant that helps prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol. Astaxanthin may be an anti-aging weapon, too-one 2014 study suggests it can help fight sun damage and make skin more supple. In another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that people who ate omega-3-rich fish (such as salmon) each week reduced the development of precancerous skin lesions by almost 30 percent. Salmon can help with weight loss as well-studies suggest their omega-3s can help reduce belly fat.

Related: How to Buy the Healthiest Salmon

3. Blueberries

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Pictured Recipe: Blueberry Banana Smoothie (Batido)

These tasty little gems are higher in antioxidants than nearly any other food, delivering powerful heart-healthy benefits. In a Harvard study of more than 93,000 women, eating three servings of blueberries and strawberries each week was associated with cutting heart attack risk by more than 30 percent. And because antioxidants help prevent and slow sun damage, eating blueberries is a way to help your skin look younger, too. One more big blueberry perk: their fiber helps you feel full, so you eat less, potentially losing weight.

Related: The Best Way to Store Fresh Berries

4. Avocados

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Pictured Recipe: Avocado Hummus

Did you know that people who eat avocados tend to be healthier than those who don’t? That’s according to a 2013 study (funded by the Hass Avocado Board) of more than 17,000 people. The researchers found that the avocado eaters weighed less, had less belly fat and showed a much lower risk of metabolic syndrome-a group of symptoms that can lead to diabetes and heart disease-compared to the non-avocado fans. They also tended to eat more fruits and vegetables overall. We’re betting they even had great skin: avocados are packed with vitamins C, E and K, all important for skin health. Plus, the healthy fat in avocados may help prevent wrinkles, while other nutrients help reduce sun damage.

Related: Healthy Avocado Recipes

5. Walnuts

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Pictured Recipe: Pasta with Parsley-Walnut Pesto

It’s true, walnuts are high in calories. But, they’re also soaring in nutrients. Walnuts have more ALA, the heart-healthy omega-3 found in plants, than any other plant food. They’re also high in protein and fiber, both of which can help you lose weight. Recently researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found another surprising way walnuts can help you shed pounds: by activating a part of the brain that helps control cravings. Want healthy, younger-looking skin? Walnuts can help there, too-their antioxidants slow aging, while vitamin E, zinc and selenium help nourish and protect.

Related: Snack on These Healthy Walnut Recipes

Importance of Good Nutrition

Your food choices each day affect your health — how you feel today, tomorrow, and in the future.

Good nutrition is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle. Combined with physical activity, your diet can help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of chronic diseases (like heart disease and cancer), and promote your overall health.

The Impact of Nutrition on Your Health

Unhealthy eating habits have contributed to the obesity epidemic in the United States: about one-third of U.S. adults (33.8%) are obese and approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese.1 Even for people at a healthy weight, a poor diet is associated with major health risks that can cause illness and even death. These include heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer. By making smart food choices, you can help protect yourself from these health problems.

The risk factors for adult chronic diseases, like hypertension and type 2 diabetes, are increasingly seen in younger ages, often a result of unhealthy eating habits and increased weight gain. Dietary habits established in childhood often carry into adulthood, so teaching children how to eat healthy at a young age will help them stay healthy throughout their life.

The link between good nutrition and healthy weight, reduced chronic disease risk, and overall health is too important to ignore. By taking steps to eat healthy, you’ll be on your way to getting the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy, active, and strong. As with physical activity, making small changes in your diet can go a long way, and it’s easier than you think!

Eat Healthy

Now that you know the benefits, it’s time to start eating healthy: start your PALA+ journey today and use these tips on ways to eating healthy and resources to earn it.

To return to the page content, select the respective footnote number.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Obesity Trends. 2011. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/databases.htmlVicheslav/iStock/Getty Images

If you binge on salty foods, you’ll likely consume excess sodium — a substance in table salt, and an ingredient in many cured, smoked, canned and processed foods. A high sodium intake can cause or worsen high blood pressure. Since sodium plays an important role in the body’s fluid balance, consuming excess sodium can also lead to edema, or fluid retention. If you have certain medical conditions that lead to fluid buildup around your organs, excess sodium can cause enough fluid weight gain to put you into a medical crisis. There isn’t a home treatment to quickly cleanse your body of excess dietary sodium. But through cutting back on dietary sodium and taking steps to decrease swelling and improve circulation, a healthy body can naturally and gradually remove excessive amounts of this mineral.

If your excess salt intake has caused you to gain more than 5 pounds in a week or less, the first thing you need to do is seek urgent medical attention, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. In this situation, you will most likely need treatment to remove the excess fluid. If you already have a condition that causes fluid retention, such as kidney disease or heart failure, your medical team may ask you to check your weight daily, and provide you with personalized guidance on when to call in, and when to seek urgent medical treatment.

Cut back on your intake of salt and sodium. According to the American Heart Association, adults should consume less than 2,300 mg per day. That’s the amount of sodium found in about a teaspoon of salt — but since sodium is found in so many foods, a low sodium diet may not have room for more than a dash of daily salt. Also aim to avoid salt-containing seasonings, such as garlic salt, seasoned salt or onion salt. Choose fresh or dried herbs, salt-free seasoning blends, vinegar, lemon juice or lime to flavor foods instead.

Limit or avoid high sodium foods. Cured, smoked, brined or canned meats and fish are high sodium. Other high sodium foods include fast food, canned vegetables, soups and packaged foods that include a seasoning packet — such as boxed macaroni and cheese or dry noodle soup packets. Condiments such as soy sauce, fish sauce, barbecue sauce and ketchup are also high in sodium.

Choose lower sodium options. Eat fruits and vegetables daily. While any form of fruit is low sodium, select fresh, frozen or low-sodium canned vegetables. Many fruits and vegetables are good sources of potassium, and a diet rich in potassium can help the body remove excess sodium through the urine. Also choose low sodium grains such as rice, pasta, quinoa or barley, and include dried beans or low sodium canned beans regularly. Select fresh or frozen fish, poultry and meat — but be careful to avoid meat or chicken with sodium solutions added. Milk and yogurt may have a small but acceptable amount of natural sodium, but limit cheese due to its high salt content.

Read food labels. If you are trying to limit sodium to 2,300 mg per day, that’s a limit of about 600 mg per meal with a few daily snacks at 100 to 200 mg each. Keep in mind the sodium listed on the label is based on the serving size, so if 1 cup of soup contains 900 mg of sodium, 2 cups has 1,800 mg.

Move your body. Physical activity improves blood flow which can enable your body to pump extra fluid from your extremities — a common place for fluid to pool — and ultimately help you get rid of this fluid through urination.

If your arms or legs are swollen, elevate them several times each day. This may help reduce swelling and ease your comfort. Your doctor may even ask that you wear compression garments on your arms or legs to improve blood flow and decrease swelling.

If you are bothered by mild fluid retention when you consume excess sodium, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Make a nutritious, low sodium diet a long-term lifestyle habit. Ask for a referral to a dietitian if you need guidance on how to follow a low sodium diet, or if you need help adapting this to your food preferences or other diet restrictions.

Reviewed by: Kay Peck, MPH RD

Tip

When you eat an abundance of salty foods, you may get thirsty and be prompted to drink more fluids. If you are in good health, this makes you urinate more, which can help your body naturally remove some excess sodium. However, sodium attracts water, and a high sodium diet makes your body hold on to excess sodium and fluids — so you can’t simply and quickly flush out excess sodium by drinking more water. Also, certain medical conditions require a restriction of fluids in order to prevent fluid retention, so drinking more fluids is not always a safe option.

Warning

If you have a condition that can lead to fluid retention, or if you have high blood pressure, limiting your dietary sodium is an important strategy to manage your condition. Seek advice from your doctor on how to manage edema due to any pre-existing medical conditions. Contact your doctor right away if you have leg swelling that is new to you, or if you have any severe swelling, a weight gain of more than 5 pounds in 1 week, shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing at night, or any other discomforts associated with fluid retention.

Sometimes, those fries are calling your name and you can’t say no – but the bloated feeling you get from the sodium overload isn’t fun. The next time you feel like you’ve overdone it on the weekend, get rid of the bloat with these tips that flush out salt from your body.

  1. Drink up: The best way to debloat is to flush out excess salt by refilling that water bottle all day. Add extra help – and taste – by throwing a few fresh ingredients into your water to help get rid of those toxins. Detoxifying additions to water like ginger or lemon slices are delicious and effective at helping you feel your best.
  2. Eat these foods: Look for foods rich in potassium, since this electrolyte will help your kidneys flush out excess salt. When in doubt, think fresh fruit and veggies, since many have high levels of potassium. Bananas, strawberries, leafy greens, melons, citrus fruits – all of these are great sources of potassium. Here are more foods that are high in potassium; make sure you eat some of these to help get rid of that bloat fast.
  3. Stay on the move: Even if you don’t feel like sweating out that excess salt, making sure you aren’t being sedentary will help move things along and make you feel lighter on your feet. Keep your energy up and that excess salt moving out by taking frequent breaks from your couch or desk for a walk or stretch. Just be sure to stay hydrated no matter how long your workout.

Can You Compensate for a High Sodium Diet?

Nutrition Diva listener Eddie writes:

“I am in my first year of pharmacy school, so naturally I have to eat a lot of those quick and easy foods that contain a ton of sodium. Would drinking more water help the body to eliminate the excess sodium?”

Hang on just a second, Eddie! Before I weigh in on your question about water and sodium, who says that being in school means that you have to eat a lot of high-sodium foods?

Being short on time or money doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to survive on fast food and vending machine snacks! For more strategies on eating healthy when time, money, and/or space are tight, please check out this two-part series on Healthy Eating for College Students as well as this episode on Stocking a Healthy Kitchen on a Budget.

When you are forced to grab a meal on the run, it’s gotten easier and easier to find healthy options. Even gas stations and drug stores now regularly stock things like baby carrots and hummus, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, hard boiled eggs, and fresh fruit. So, I’m afraid that being in pharmacy school doesn’t give you a free pass to spend the next two years eating potato chips and Cheez whiz!>

And now, to get back to your question:

Can Drinking More Water Cancel Out Too Much Sodium?

Eating a lot of salt can cause your body to retain more water and this can lead to a number of problems, such as increased blood pressure and swelling of the feet and other tissues in the body. After a particularly salty meal, drinking some extra water might help flush both the extra sodium and any retained fluids from the body. If your sodium intake is chronically high, though, upping your water intake probably isn’t going to have much effect on your fluid balance.

People who have high blood pressure, impaired kidney function, circulatory problems, or various other health conditions often need to limit their sodium. And for folks with these issues, consuming extra fluids is not an effective way to offset sodium intake—and might even make the situation worse.

Assuming, however, that you’re in good health, a more effective way to balance the sodium in your diet—and increase the nutritional quality of your diet at the same time—might be to increase your potassium intake.

Increase Potassium to Balance Sodium

In case you haven’t noticed, getting everyone to cut down on salt is a big priority for government health agencies these days. After all, lots of big studies have linked diets high in sodium with a lower life expectancy. Personally, I think this effort is slightly off-target.

If you widen the focus a bit to include nutrients other than just sodium, a different picture emerges. People whose diets are high in sodium and low in potassium are, indeed, at high risk. But get this: People whose diets are high in sodium and also high in potassium have about the same risk as people whose diets are low in sodium. In most people, high potassium intake may largely offset the negative effects of high sodium intake.

There are a couple of explanations for this. One is purely biochemical: Sodium and potassium work in concert to regulate the balance of fluids in and around your cells, affecting things like blood pressure and kidney function. Not surprisingly, this collaboration functions best when the two are roughly in balance.

The second explanation is more indirect. Most of the sodium in the modern diet comes from processed and pre-packaged foods. Potassium, on the other hand, comes from fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, dairy products, and other whole foods. A diet that’s high in sodium and low in potassium—the profile that’s associated with the highest risks—is likely to contain mostly processed foods and not very many whole foods. It certainly doesn’t surprise me that this dietary rate is associated with higher rates of disease.

What’s Wrong with Low Sodium Diets?

That’s why I think focusing entirely on sodium is the wrong solution. For one thing, it’s not working: People simply don’t want to eat bland, low-sodium foods. For another thing, it completely ignores the other side of the equation: All the positive benefits of potassium-rich foods. In my opinion, a modest reduction in sodium (and processed foods) accompanied by an increase in potassium (and whole foods) would do a lot more good and be a lot more palatable than simply cutting down on salt.

While the government is focused on getting the food industry to produce more low-sodium processed foods, I’d rather encourage people (including you, Eddie) to replace some of the processed foods in their diet with more whole foods. Not only will you be reducing sodium, you’ll also be increasing the overall nutritional quality of your diet!

Keep in Touch

If you have a suggestion for a future show topic or would like to find out about having me speak at your conference or event, send an email to [email protected] You can also post comments and questions on my Nutrition Diva Facebook Page. I answer a lot of listener questions in my free weekly newsletter, so if you’ve sent a question my way, be sure you’re signed up to receive that.

Drinking Water photo from .

Here at the IFIC Foundation and across the internet, we’re seeing, reading and writing more and more about personalized nutrition. Our genetics and environment play significant roles in how our bodies respond to and use certain foods and nutrients. Today let’s focus on sodium.

Sodium is a vital mineral that makes up one-half of sodium chloride, more commonly known as table salt. We can add it to foods ourselves when we sprinkle salt on soups, pasta or roasted vegetables, and it’s also found in many packaged foods, where it not only adds flavor, but also contributes texture and preservative functions. Ninety percent of the sodium we consume is in the form of sodium chloride, but other compounds like sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are used as antimicrobial agents in some foods. More than 70 percent of our salt intake comes from packaged or restaurant foods, 10 percent is added during cooking or at the table and 10 to 15 percent occurs naturally in foods, especially meats. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium.

How does sodium affect our health?

All of us need a small amount of sodium to keep our bodies working as they should. It’s critical for things like muscle function (including the heart) and keeping our nervous system working properly, and it helps to control fluid balance. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day, which is the amount of sodium in about one teaspoon of table salt.

However, it’s well-known that most Americans — an estimated 90 to 95 percent of us — eat much more than this (3,400 mg on average, every day). Usually our kidneys do a great job of regulating our sodium intake by excreting what we don’t need within a few hours. But when this system gets out of whack, problems can arise. Consistently consuming too much sodium, usually over several years, puts extra stress on the heart and blood vessels. Over time this can contribute to high blood pressure. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is associated with risk for heart disease and strokes. There are other risk factors for hypertension, including being overweight or obese, eating an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity, to name a few. Along with making other lifestyle changes like eating well and exercising more, decreasing sodium intake is one way to help bring down blood pressure.

So what’s the “personal” aspect of this health connection?

Even though it’s important to have dietary guidelines for our U.S. population as a whole, research continues to demonstrate that “one size fits all” doesn’t apply. Blood pressure responses to dietary salt intake vary considerably from person to person, a phenomenon called salt sensitivity. Some people are very efficient at removing sodium from the bloodstream without an increase in blood pressure, and others — known as “salt-sensitive” individuals — cannot excrete sodium without a blood pressure increase. Age is a factor in this phenomenon: Sensitivity to salt increases with age, so a 60-year-old person may see a greater reduction in blood pressure from eating less sodium than a 20-year-old. Genetics also play a very important role, though it’s one that is still being defined.

About 25 percent of the U.S. adult population is salt-sensitive, and a little less than half of these people also have hypertension. Salt-sensitive people are likely to benefit the most from decreasing their sodium intake to around the recommended 2,300 mg per day (and in some cases, aim for lower than that). For people with particularly high sodium intakes, a reduction of 1,000 mg per day has been shown to lower blood pressure regardless of achieving the recommended goal.

The problem? So far, there’s no practical, affordable and easy way to test for salt sensitivity at the doctor’s office. Even though researchers have identified a few genes that may be involved, we still don’t know enough to be able to explain how any one variation — or more likely, a network of genetic differences — affects blood pressure in humans. In order for health professionals to focus on people who can benefit the most from lowering their salt intake, better diagnostic methods are still needed.

…okay. So what should I do?

Even though much more research needs to be done to determine the best indicators of salt sensitivity and to find better methods for diagnosis, everyone can take steps to keep sodium intake in check. The American Heart Association has an extensive list of ways to lower sodium intake or keep it near 2,300 mg per day, but you can start by reading nutrition labels to check how much sodium is in a serving of your favorite foods, selecting “low-sodium” versions of foods like soups and broths, choosing fresh fruits and vegetables for meals and snacks, and getting creative by flavoring your foods with sodium-free herbs, spices and citrus.

We still have a lot to learn about how salt affects each of us personally, but these choices will keep us on the right track to healthful choices.

The Role of Potassium and Sodium in Your Diet

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Cdc-pdfExternal. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2015.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th Edition Cdc-pdfExternal. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2015.
  3. Harnack LI, Cogswell ME, Shikany JM, Gardner CD, Gillespie C, Loria CM, et al. Sources of sodium in U.S. adults from 3 geographic regionsExternal. Circulation. 2017;135:1775–83.
  4. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and SulfateExternal. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2004.
  5. Jackson SL, Cogswell ME, Zhao L, Terry AL, Wang CY, Wright J, et al. Associations between urinary sodium and potassium excretion and blood pressure among adults in the United States: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2014External. Circulation. 2018;137:237–46.
  6. Kieneker L, Gansevoort RT, Mukamal KJ, de Boer RA, Navis G, Bakker SJL, et al. Urinary potassium excretion and risk of developing hypertension. The prevention of renal and vascular end-stage disease studyExternal. Hypertension. 2014;64(4):769–76.
  7. Newberry SJ, Chung M, Anderson CAM, Chen C, Fu Z, Tang A, et al. Effects of Dietary Sodium and Potassium Intake on Chronic Disease Outcomes and Related Risk FactorsExternal. Systematic Review No. 206. AHRQ Publication No. 18-EHC009-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; March 2018.
  8. National Institutes of Health. How Too Little Potassium May Contribute to Cardiovascular Disease website. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-too-little-potassium-may-contribute-cardiovascular-diseaseExternal. Accessed May 23, 2018.
  9. U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Potassium in Diet. MedlinePlus website. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002413.htmExternal. Accessed May 23, 2018.
  10. Cook NR, Obarzanek E, Cutler JA, Buring JE, Rexrode KM, Kumanyika SK, et al. Joint effects of sodium and potassium intake on subsequent cardiovascular disease: the Trials of Hypertension Prevention follow-up studyExternal. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(1):32–40.
  11. Willey J, Gardener H, Cespedes S, Cheung YK, Sacco RL, Elkind MSV. Dietary sodium to potassium ratio and risk of stroke in a multiethnic urban population: The Northern Manhattan StudyExternal. Stroke. 2017;48(11):2979–83.
  12. Cogswell ME, Loria CM, Terry AL, Zhao L, Wang CY, Chen TC, et al. Estimated 24-hour urinary sodium and potassium excretion in U.S. adultsExternal. JAMA. 2018;319(12):1–12.
  13. Aaron KJ, Sanders PW. Role of dietary salt and potassium intake in cardiovascular health and disease: a review of the evidenceExternal. Mayo Clin Proc.2013;88(9):987.
  14. American Heart Association. Changes You Can Make to Manage High Blood Pressure website. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/MakeChangesThatMatter/Changes-You-Can-Make-to-Manage-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_002054_Article.jsp#.WqqkuujwaUkExternal. Accessed May 23, 2018.
  15. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. DASH Eating Plan website. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-planExternal. Accessed May 23, 2018.
  16. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label website. https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htmExternal. Accessed April 17, 2018.

Salt

Salt is essential for life, however, Australians are consuming far too much. The terms salt and sodium are often used interchangeably but they refer to different things. Salt is made up of sodium and chloride and it’s the sodium in salt that can be bad for your health.

You can use this calculator to convert sodium listed on food products into grams of salt.

Salt and high blood pressure

Eating too much sodium over time can increase your risk of high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. For a healthy heart, it’s important not to eat too much salt.

To reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease, the Heart Foundation recommends adults eat less than 5g of salt (2000mg of sodium) a day. That’s less than a teaspoon a day.

Talk with your doctor or health practitioner about what’s right for you.

High dietary intakes of salt can lead to high blood pressure. Reducing salt in your diet can reduce your blood pressure, however, the extent to which it does depends on age, physical activity levels, weight and stress.

Salt and your health

High salt intake impacts the body and your health in many ways and is linked to conditions other than high blood pressure such as:

  • heart failure/heart attack
  • kidney problems and kidney stones
  • oedema (fluid retention)
  • stroke
  • left ventricular hypertrophy (thickening of heart muscle)
  • osteoporosis.

Salt in food

Salt is found in almost every food we eat, but the levels within each will vary. As mentioned above, it’s the sodium contained in salt that can be bad for your health. Why? Eating too much sodium is a major cause of heart health issues; consuming too much increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease and death.

Which foods contain sodium? Vegetables and fruits contain very low amounts of naturally occurring sodium. Manufactured foods can contain high amounts of sodium when manufacturers use salt as a flavour enhancer or preservative.

Foods that significantly contribute to high levels of sodium in your diet include:

  • Biscuits, muffins, cakes, pizza, burgers, pasta and noodle dishes
  • Meat, poultry and related products, including processed meats and sausages
  • Bread, breakfast foods and other products made from cereals and grains

To reduce sodium in your diet, eat less “discretionary foods”. The term ”discretionary foods” refers to foods and drinks that do not fit into these five food groups:

  • Vegetables and legumes / beans
  • Fruit
  • Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/ or alternatives, mostly reduced fat
  • Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds
  • Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties

Discretionary foods include:

  • Pizzas
  • Pastries
  • Biscuits
  • Processed meats
  • Sausages
  • Take away foods

Eating discretionary foods increases your sodium intake and means these foods replace healthier options, many of which are naturally low in sodium.​

How to reduce your daily sodium intake

The best way is to follow these simple steps in our nutrition guide. If you still find it hard to cut down, try these tips to help you.

Cut out the salt in packaged foods. If you do eat packaged foods try ‘No Salt’, ‘Low Salt’, or ‘Reduced Salt’ varieties. When looking at the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) try to avoid products with more than 400mg of sodium per 100g. The best options are products with less than 120mg sodium per 100g.

Read more about food labels.

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