How much sodium do you really need?
The Institute of Medicine recommends the following adequate intakes for adults per day:
1,500 mg for people aged 9 to 50,
1,300 mg for adults aged 51 to 70,
and 1,200 mg for seniors over 70 years of age.
The good and bad of sodium
Despite the negative press on salt, the reality is that the human body needs some sodium to function properly. What exactly does it do for you? For starters, sodium helps maintain the balance of fluids in our bodies, it helps transmit nerve impulses and it also influences muscle contractions.
By and large, the kidney functions to control sodium. If sodium levels are low, the kidneys retain sodium.
If sodium levels are high, the kidneys excrete excess sodium in the urine. But if, for some reason, the kidneys aren’t working properly, or if we ingest too much salt, sodium begins to accumulate in the blood. Because sodium attracts and holds water, blood volume increases and, with it, so does blood pressure.
It is this increase in blood pressure that makes sodium so dangerous, being a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading killers in the U.S. With that in mind, isn’t it about time you thought about a low-sodium diet?
You can cut it out
Because sodium is found in most foods, avoiding sodium through careful food selection isn’t easy. The easiest way is to simply stop adding extra salt to your food. Just one tablespoon of salt contains over 2,000 mg of sodium. Your next best bet is to remove salt from pre-salted foods. That means scraping the salt off of pretzels or crackers.
Aside from that, it’s up to you to read the labels and pick your foods wisely. Just remember to try to stay within the sodium intake ranges listed above. Help yourself by avoiding processed or prepackaged foods, especially canned soups or lunch meats. Instead, make your own soup or eat fresh.
Lastly, you can try spicing your food using a salt alternative like magnesium chloride or potassium chloride. These will provide a similar — but not identical — flavor.