When we talk about sodium and its effect on our health, we are usually referring to sodium chloride, or salt. Most salt is composed of 60% sodium and 40% chloride. It is responsible for nerve conduction, the contraction and relaxation of muscles, and the flow of water in and out of every cell. It also supports your adrenal glands and increases glial cells in your brain which helps with creative thinking and long-term planning, However, too much salt can lead to elevated blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke.
Most Americans consume more salt than is needed for basic health. The US government recommends 1 teaspoon, or 2300 mg, per day. If you are consuming a whole foods diet there will be minimal amounts of salt in your diet. If, however, you consume canned foods, pickled foods, packaged and processed foods, sodium is usually added as a preservative or a flavoring agent and you are most likely getting above the recommended amount. Most salt, apart from direct use, is found in our bread, cereals, meat and dairy products.
Is there a healthy salt option?
Yes. Natural or unprocessed sea salt, such as Himalayan salt, contains 84% NaCl and 16 % trace minerals. Processed or table salt contains 97.5 % NaCl and the other 2.5% consists of moisture absorbents, flow agents, ferrocyanide, and aluminosilicate. Additionally, the processing of table salt alters its structure. Although the general recommendation is to keep sodium below 2300 mg per day, the balance of sodium and potassium is important to consider.
One study called the PURE study involved over 100,000 people in over 17 countries and found that higher levels of potassium lowered the risk of death and cardiovascular events. Also, those people with sodium intake between 3-6 grams per day had lower risk of death and cardiovascular events than a higher or lower level of intake.
Foods that are rich in potassium include bananas, avocados, leafy green vegetables, nuts, mushrooms and salmon. The potassium content in Himalayan salt is 0.28% and in table salt 0.9%.
How do I know when I need less?
If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease or have had a stroke, it would be important to monitor your salt intake. Also, if you notice that you are retaining more water, consuming too much salt could be the culprit. When your sodium intake is too high, the body compensates by decreasing the amount of water excreted in the urine to balance the excess sodium in your body. Another sign that you may need to lower your sodium intake is that your thirst increases.
What are the health dangers of sodium?
In addition to hypertension, heart disease and stroke, a diet too high in sodium may contribute to kidney stones and kidney disease by increasing the amount of protein in your urine. Too much sodium has also been linked to stomach ulcers, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, memory decline, cataracts, RA and erectile dysfunction.
It is important to remember, however, that is isn’t only about sodium, but rather the balance between sodium and potassium. Low levels of potassium are associated with water retention, hypertension, arrhythmias, muscle weakness, thirst and constipation.
Bottom line…eat a whole foods diet, rich in potassium, avoid processed food, and choose an unprocessed salt such as Himalayan sea salt to flavor your food.
If you would like to know more about how food can contribute to your health, please make an appointment with me or any of our other providers at CentreSpring MD!