Pizza. Tacos. Pasta. Burgers. Chips.
Are you hungry yet? In addition to being delicious, these foods are all high in sodium. While some sodium is part of a healthy diet, levels that get too high can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease1. So if you’ve ever wondered how much sodium is too much sodium or if you’re curious about your daily sodium intake, we have the salty details.
What is sodium?
When talking about sodium in diets, the words “table salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably but they actually don’t mean the same thing. Sodium is a mineral, and one of the chemical elements found in salt, while table salt is a combination of sodium and chloride1.
Sodium has many uses as a food ingredient. Sodium can be used for curing meat, baking, thickening, retaining moisture, enhancing flavor or acting as a preservative1. Because of the many use cases, sodium is a popular ingredient found in many foods and not just ones that taste salty. While you’ll find sodium on labels for pickles and soy sauce (which taste salty), you’ll also likely see sodium on bread and cereal labels.
How much sodium should you have a day?
It is recommended that people consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day as part of a healthy eating pattern2. While this may sound like a large number to work with, if you don’t look at sodium levels on labels, you could end up consuming more than the daily recommended amount. About 90% of Americans consume too much sodium, with the average daily sodium intake being more than 3,400mg3.
So, where is all of this sodium coming from? About 70% of sodium consumed comes from processed foods (chips, frozen foods, etc.) and restaurant foods. Only a small portion of sodium intake comes from home cooking or flavoring added at the dinner table. When ordering food from a restaurant, the sodium information isn’t always easily accessible, so it can be challenging to know the exact amount of sodium you’re consuming.
Why is too much sodium bad?
The most talked-about consequence of a high sodium diet is the increased risk for heart disease3. Research has shown a strong relationship between the amount of sodium consumed and increased blood pressure levels. Those high blood pressure levels can be a precursor to heart disease, a heart attack or stroke4.
How do you know if your sodium levels are too high?
With many medical mysteries, blood tests are able to help shed some light on what could be happening in your body. There is a sodium blood test which is used to evaluate sodium levels plus fluids, electrolytes and acidity in your body5. This sodium blood test is often part of an electrolyte panel, but could also fall under a basic metabolic panel (BMP) or a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP)5. Outside of the blood test, some symptoms you may experience that indicate your sodium levels are too high include5:
- Peeing very little
- Muscle twitching
How to lower your daily sodium intake
Between grocery shopping, cooking and going out to eat, there are plenty of ways you can work towards lowering a daily sodium intake. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advice on how you can cut back6:
- When shopping at a grocery store:
- Opt for foods labeled “low sodium”, “reduced sodium” or “no salt added”.
- If buying prepared meals, look for meals with less than 600mg of sodium per meal.
- Buy fresh, frozen or canned vegetables with no salt added.
- Look for fresh poultry, fish, pork and lean meat rather than cured, salted, smoked or other processed meat (ex: deli meat).
- When cooking at home:
- Think outside the box with seasonings. Garlic, citrus juice, salt-free seasonings or spices can all add flavor to your meals without the extra sodium.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Limit sauces, mixes and marinades.
- When dining out/ordering takeout:
- See if nutrition information is available online or ask the server before deciding.
- Ask that no salt be added to your meal.
- Choose vegetables with no salt added, fruit or a salad as a side item versus french fries or chips.
- Reduce your portion size by splitting a meal with the person you’re dining with.
How to watch your daily sodium intake
Long story short, your body needs some sodium to function properly but too much can lead to serious health issues1. If you’re wondering what your sodium levels are like, talking to your healthcare provider is a great place to start. If your healthcare provider orders one of the sodium-related blood tests, Scarlet® can visit you at home for your blood draw and then deliver the sample to BioReference for testing.