How Excess Sodium Affects Your Health and Weight
Sodium is a mineral that plays an important role in our health. In fact, even minor fluctuations can have a major impact on our bodies, so concentrations of sodium are tightly regulated by the body.
What is sodium used for in the body?
Sodium is most notably utilized for muscle contraction and nerve conduction. When we exercise we lose sodium and other electrolytes through our sweat. This can contribute to muscle cramping and a significant reduction in performance for athletes – which is why you often see athletes drinking sports beverages with electrolyte replacement. It’s therefore important to stay hydrated and replenish electrolytes during workouts, and particularly so if you’re in a warmer climate.
Blood volume & pressure
Most of the body’s sodium is found in the blood and in fluid around cells. When the level of sodium in your bloodstream is higher than it should be, your body retains water to help dilute the concentration and bring levels back into balance. Extra water increases blood volume and so can lead to high blood pressure as it creates stress on the heart, which has to work harder to pump the extra fluid around the body. This in turn creates stress on your artery walls, causing them to harden and increasing your risk of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and other serious health problems. Heart disease is not just the leading cause of death in the US, it’s the leading cause of death in the world. Excess consumption of salt is one of the primary contributors to this disease.
How much sodium should I have?
In the US, the maximum daily recommendation for salt intake is between 1,500-2.300 mg– the lower end of the scale for those over 51, or those who have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. The average American consumes more than 3,000 milligrams every day. As mentioned above, the delicate balance of salt can have a severe impact on our health, so even a small excess can lead to health issues over time. Even an additional 400 milligrams of sodium – contained in just 1 gram of salt – will cause your body to retain an extra 4 cups of water! This is equal to roughly 2 pounds of weight.
The body really only needs 500 mg of sodium a day to function properly so if you want to keep the risk of heart conditions and high blood pressure low, then try to stick to less than 1,500 mg per day.
Where do we get sodium in our diet?
Table salt is one of the most common forms of sodium in the diet. Salt is also widely used in pre-prepared foods as it helps to cure meats, improve or boost flavor and preserve or extend shelf-life. Sodium is especially high in deli-meats, pre-made sauces and ultra-processed foods.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):“More than 40% of the sodium we eat each day comes from only 10 types of food. Many people are surprised to learn which foods are on the list because the foods do not always taste salty.”
Here’s a list of top 10 foods that are high in sodium:
- Breads & rolls
- Cold cuts & cured meats
- Burritos & tacos
- Savory snacks like chips, popcorn, pretzels & crackers
- Pre-cooked chicken
- Eggs & omelets
How to reduce salt intake
Switch out foods that are high in sodium with low-sodium alternatives. Look for “low-sodium” or “sodium-free” products. You can also limit consumption of fast-food and switch “salting” your food with using herbs and spices instead. Here are a few suggestions for reducing salt consumption:
- Trade regular bacon for low-sodium bacon
- Switch out salted nuts for roasted nuts
- Choose canned products with no added salt
- Ditch tinned pre-made soup for easy home-made soups instead – like this Chicken Tortilla Soup
- Flavor your foods with herbs and spices like cumin, oregano & black pepper instead of salt
- Limit vegetable juices & stock high in salt & make your own at home
Will too much sodium prevent weight loss?
Although salt doesn’t contain any calories, there is thought to be a positive correlation between salt and weight gain – and we’re talking about actual body fat gain here not just water weight as identified above. Firstly, salty foods tend to increase thirst, and the majority of people tend to quench their first with drinks that are packed with calories. Ever wondered why bars give away free peanuts or airlines pass out salty pretzels before the drinks cart comes round? Because they know the salt is going to make you thirsty! If they can stimulate your thirst signals, they can increase their sales.
Secondly, salt is added to foods to improve their taste & flavor so it is generally perceived that salty foods encourage overeating as they stimulate your taste buds. Lastly, recent research has actually shown that high sodium intake is positively associated with obesity, leptin resistance & inflammation, independent of energy intake and sugary-drink consumption. i.e. the physiological effects of excess salt on energy balance in the body can lead to weight gain even in the absence of additional caloric consumption.
Whatever your health goals might be – weight loss, performance, debloating, feeling more energized or just improving your overall health – monitoring your salt intake will certainly help you reach those goals. This is super easy to do if you’re already tracking your macros with an app like MyFitnessPal.
Do you have a serious salt tooth? Do you pay attention to how much sodium you take in? Please share your thoughts with us below!