Salt has been one of the essential minerals in human history. The Egyptians used it in religious rituals, while the Greeks bought slaves with it. The Romans also paid their soldiers with it, which gave it the name ‘salary.’ Salt intake is directly related to daily sodium intake. Do you know, how much sodium per day is considered safe?
Unfortunately, this mineral has now become one of the most demonized nutrients in our modern diet. The government has been warning us of dangers of salt for decades. It is believed to increase blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.
In fact, according to the recent dietary guidelines, Americans are advised to limit their daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg daily (1). Since only 40 percent of salt is sodium, this amounts to around one teaspoon a day.
What is sodium?
Sodium is an essential mineral for our body. It’s most common form is table salt (sodium chloride). Salt is made up of sodium (40 %) and chorine (60 %). Sodium plays many vital roles in the body.
It helps maintain intracellular and extracellular fluid balance and is the primary nutrient used in nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction.
How much sodium do we need in our diet?
Most health organizations recommend that we reduce our daily sodium intake.
- The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that we do not exceed 1500 mg of our daily sodium intake.
- According to the American Heart Association (AHA), we should not consume more than 1500 mg of sodium in a day.
- The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends daily sodium intake as 2300 mg.
- According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), 1500 mg to 2300 mg is the correct range for sodium consumption per day.
- The American Diabetes Association (ADA) also recommends that we should consume between 1500 mg to 2300 mg of sodium in a day.
As you can see, most health organizations agree that it is safe to consume between 1500 mg to 2300 mg of sodium in a day. Since only 40 percent of salt is sodium, you can eat slightly more than double the amount of salt than sodium.
1500 mg of sodium amounts to around 3.75 grams of salt which is equivalent to .75 teaspoons. 2300 mg of sodium amounts to 6 grams of salt, which is around one teaspoon.
Most of us eat around 3,400 mg of sodium a day, and most of this comes from processed foods.
Consuming less salt is equivalent to lowering daily sodium intake, which can have significant health benefits.
Recent research has also shown that too little salt can also lead to health trouble, especially those with congestive heart failure. Salt plays some critical roles in the body, so we should not eliminate it from our diet altogether.
Factors to consider for daily sodium intake
Age is an essential factor to consider for daily sodium intake. The likelihood that sodium will lead rise in blood pressure increases with age. While around 30 percent of 45-year-olds have hypertension, the numbers rise to 70 percent for 75-year-olds.
So, it is essential to take care of your daily sodium intake as you age.
The blood vessels of diabetes patients are calcified and brittle. They are more likely to be affected by high blood pressure. According to the American Diabetes Association, if you have diabetes but do not have high blood pressure, you should take no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day.
However, if you have hypertension, you should restrict your salt intake to less than 1500 mg per day.
African-Americans carry a gene that causes extreme salt sensitivity. They are more like to have high blood pressure and develop this condition at a younger age as compared to whites and Hispanics.
So, experts advise African-Americans to limit their intake of sodium to less than 1500 mg per day.
4. Physical activity
Sodium plays an essential part in holding on to the fluid when you sweat a lot. So, if you work out regularly and sweat a lot, you should replenish your body with a sports drink that contains sodium.
5. Kidney health
Keeping your salt intake in check keeps your kidneys healthy. When you have too much salt, it can lead to high blood pressure, which further leads to kidney disease.
So, it is even more important to lower your daily sodium intake if you are suffering from kidney disease.
According to a study by the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, when people reduced their daily sodium intake to 1380 mg to 1840 mg, their systolic and diastolic blood pressure also came down by 10 and 4 points respectively.
Low sodium diet also improves the markers of kidney disease.
6. Kidney stones
Consuming too much sodium and increase the amount of calcium that is excreted, and this can lead to kidney stones. So, if you’ve has kidney stones in the past, it makes sense to watch your daily sodium intake.
Why do we need sodium?
Sodium is an essential mineral, and our body can not function without it. It plays various vital roles in our body, including nervous system control. We must, however, consume it in the correct amounts to enjoy its benefits and avoid health risks.
1. Fluid balance
Sodium is an electrolyte, and our body needs it to control blood pressure and blood volume. Our kidneys remove excess fluid from the blood through a process known as osmosis.
For this process, our body needs a specific level of sodium and potassium. The fluid is drawn through the blood vessel walls, into the collecting ducts in the kidneys and removed as urine.
2. Muscle and nerve function
Sodium is also necessary for proper muscle and nerve function. It is needed for electrical impulses to travel along nerves.
When sodium is pumped out of the cells and potassium into the cells, it creates an electrical charge that helps in the transmission of impulses along the nerves. Sodium and potassium are also needed for the muscles to contract.
Sodium plays a vital role in the digestive process. Sodium and glucose are absorbed into the digestive system. When these molecules are transported in the body, they carry a significant amount of water with them.
Sodium also helps the body absorb water much more quickly.
Benefits of reducing daily sodium intake
While we need sodium for various essential functions in the body, excessive sodium in the diet can lead to health issues. A low-sodium diet benefits our health in many ways. Let us learn more about the benefits of reducing daily sodium intake.
1. Helps lower blood pressure
Taking a diet that is low in sodium can help lower blood pressure. According to a meta-analysis of several studies, researchers concluded that salt restriction lowers mean BP in adults, with the most substantial effects among hypertensive participants (2).
According to a study of 34 different trials, a modest decrease in salt intake over the period of four or more weeks causes significant falls in blood pressure in both hypertensive and normotensive individuals (3).
2. Lowers the risk of diseases
High salt diets have been linked to stomach cancer, kidney disease, and digestive disorders. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, salt-preserved food that is mainly consumed in Asia, increase the risk of stomach cancer (4).
Lowering the intake of salt will reduce the risk of these diseases.
3. Prevents water retention
If you eat meals high in salt, your body will retain water (5). Experts believe that if your body keeps an extra 400 mg of sodium, you can carry two extra pounds of water weight.
Salt can cause water retention and leave you feeling bloated and swollen.
Often you will find skinny people with chubby cheeks or a double chin. This effect is due to the bloating effect of a high salt diet. So, decrease water retention by reducing your daily sodium intake.
4. Improves taste buds
Too much of salt can desensitize your taste buds. When this happens, one is not able to enjoy the flavor of anything that does not contain excessive salt. Avoid salt and try to flavor your food with spices like pepper, cumin, and thyme.
5. Prevents weak bones
According to a recent study in the Journal of Human Hypertension, for every additional 2300 mg of sodium consumed, the participants of the trial excreted an extra 42 mg of calcium.
This loss of calcium can have a severe impact on the bone calcium levels over time. Lowering your daily sodium intake levels to less than 2000 mg can ensure that your body holds on to its calcium.
Ways to cut down on daily sodium intake
Follow these easy ways to lower your daily sodium intake.
1. Eat less processed food
Cut down on processed and pre-packaged food. This will not only decrease your salt intake, but it will also improve your overall health and reduce water retention.
2. Read nutrition labels
Always read the labels of pre-packaged food carefully and choose foods that have low sodium content. Any food item that has more than 480 mg of sodium per serving is quite high.
Low sodium content means less than 140 mg per serving, while any food which has 35 mg or less of sodium, is considered very low sodium.
3. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables generally don’t have very high levels of sodium. A banana contains just 1 mg of sodium, while an avocado has only 10 mg of sodium. Raw broccoli contains 12 mg, while fresh spinach has 22 mg of sodium.
4. Avoid salt while cooking
Instead of adding salt while cooking, opt for other spices like garlic, pepper, and fresh lemon juice.
5. Eat foods with potassium
Foods that contain potassium, actually counter the effects of sodium and may help lower blood pressure.
Final thoughts on daily sodium intake
Sodium plays many roles in the body. When consumed in limited amounts it helps with fluid balance, muscle and nerve function, and digestion.
Most health organizations agree that daily sodium intake should be between 1500 mg to 2300 mg. This range is quite safe for health.
Excessive salt in the diet can cause high blood pressure, water retention and can also increase the risk of stomach cancer and kidney disease.
Cut down on processed foods and add more fresh fruits and veggies to your diet to reduce your sodium intake.