Sodium is an essential mineral you must get from the food you eat in order for your body to function. Sodium not only helps in keeping the fluid balance maintained in the body but it also helps in nerve and muscle function. The human body regulates how much sodium it contains depending upon the levels. If the sodium levels in the body are too high, one gets thirsty and drinks water. Along with that the kidneys speed up the process of throwing the excess sodium out of the body. Keeping the intake of sodium in check should always be a part of a healthy eating plan as well as weight loss programs.
What is the difference between sodium and salt?
Sodium is a component of the common salt that we consume in foods. Salt is a chemical compound made up of 40 % of sodium and 60% of chloride and is by far the biggest dietary contributor of sodium. Different varieties of salt are available but the composition of the salt remains the same. One teaspoon of salt contains 2300 milligrams of sodium. However, it is also naturally found in many foods – although in much lesser amounts than the foods in which salt is added. Today, then processed and packaged foods are largely the contributors of the high sodium levels in the diet.
How much sodium is needed by a person?
The American Heart Association recommends not more than 2300 milligrams of sodium per day (1 teaspoon of salt). However, the ideal limit as per them is no more than 1500 milligrams per day. Most of us eat more than the recommended limit. Keeping the intake of sodium within recommended levels is a part of a balanced and healthy eating diet.
Why does sodium need to be restricted?
When there is more sodium than required by the body, the kidneys flush the excess by making more urine. When kidneys are not able to flush out the excess sodium it accumulates in fluid in between the cells. Sodium pulls extra water and increases the volume of the fluid and blood. As the blood volume increases the heart has to work harder and also puts a pressure on the blood vessels. Over a period of time this can stiffen the blood vessels leading to hypertension (high blood pressure), heart attack, stroke or heart failure. High blood pressure can also damage the kidneys leading to kidney failure over a period of time.
Hypertension has become a lifestyle disease today. One in three adult Indians suffers from hypertension today. And what’s more – even children can develop it. A sedentary lifestyle with little or no physical activity coupled with unhealthy eating patterns are major contributors for hypertension. Most people today are unaware that they suffer from hypertension (a repeatedly elevated blood pressure 130/80 mm of Hg).
How do I cut back on sodium?
To watch your sodium intake here are a few tips to follow:
- Avoid processed and packaged foods: Canned, processed, and frozen foods contain high amount of sodium in them. Avoid sauces, pickles, mayonnaise, ready to eat soups, canned vegetables, processed cheese and breads as these foods contain hidden sodium in them. Buy unsalted nuts or seeds. Compare the nutritional labels of the product you are buying with low sodium content per serving. If a nutritional label says sodium free, light sodium, low sodium or reduced sodium it means the following: a sodium free food should contain less than 5 milligrams sodium per serving, light means 50 percent less sodium than the regular version, reduced sodium means 25 percent less sodium than the regular version. Hence, make it a habit to read the nutritional labels when purchasing the food to avoid the high sodium intake consequences.
- Cooking: While preparing or cooking the food use onions, garlic, lemon juice, herbs, spices, vinegar in place of extra salt to enhance the taste of food. Avoid usage of salt while cooking rice, rotis, parathas, pasta etc. Grilling, sautéing, and roasting cooking techniques bring out the natural flavor of the food and hence will reduce the need to add salt. Incorporating potassium rich foods like bananas, tomatoes, oranges, potatoes and sweet potatoes, white beans, will help to reduce the effect of sodium and also help in reducing the blood pressure.
- Be mindful of what you order at restaurants: At restaurants ask if the dishes you are ordering can be made using minimum salt. Request for a salad with the dressing on the side as the dressings contain high sodium content. Avoid foods that contain soy sauce, ketchup, mustard etc. Do not add extra salt to the dish you have ordered. While eating pizza opt for less cheese, pepperoni or barbeque sauce, etc. Eat pasta with red sauce and vegetables instead of creamy cheese, bacon or sausage. In sandwiches, avoid the filling with cheese, bacon, ham, mayonnaise etc. Go for vegetable and avocado based fillings. Avoid eating Chinese meals as they contain lot of sodium in them.
- Concentrate on fruits and vegetables: Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables as they are very low in sodium. Avoid canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. Before buying the canned variety look for no salt added version or reduced salt version.
- Use the sodium allowance wisely: Instead of spending your sodium allowance on salty snacks and heavily processed foods, use small amounts of salt to enhance the flavor of foods like whole grains, legumes, and other healthy ingredients.
Needing the extra salt in your food is an acquired taste. It takes a few weeks to get accustomed to eating foods with less salt in it. Once your taste has been set for low salt in the food you will find the fast foods and the processed foods salty. The above tips may help to reduce the intake of sodium to prevent the hazardous outcomes. High salt intake not only leads to heart problems, high blood pressure and kidney problems, it also increases one’s chances of stomach cancer. High salt intake may increase the growth of Helicobacter pylori a bacterium that causes inflammation and stomach ulcers leading to stomach cancer. A nutritionist in Mumbai would be the best person or you may attend the weight loss program to guide you on your daily intake of sodium and how to reduce sodium in your diet as well. If children are habituated to eating a lot of salt in the diet a child nutritionist with her counselling skills would be the best person to help the child rid of this habit.