Your body needs sodium to maintain a balance of body fluids and keep muscles and nerves working smoothly and properly. Unfortunately, According to sodium and dietary guidelines (CDC), Americans eat a lot of foods high in sodium, which is about 3,400 mg per day and very high than the recommended 1 teaspoon (less than 2300mg per day).
This has increased the risk of developing high blood pressure which is a major cause of stroke and heart disease.
In this article, we discuss the foods that are high in sodium that you should avoid, the dangers of eating too much sodium, how to reduce sodium in our bodies, and the alternative foods that are low in sodium. But before we proceed, let us first know what sodium actually means.
What is sodium?
Salt and sodium are at times confused to be the same, but the two are totally different. Sodium is a mineral that exists in many natural foods such as celery, beets, and milk. It can also be added during the manufacture of most packaged and prepared foods like canned soups, lunch meats, and frozen dinners.
Salt on the other hand is a crystal-like compound of sodium and chloride. Table salt for example is 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Almost 90% of the sodium we eat is sodium chloride.
Examples of foods high in sodium?
Most people think that the sodium we consume comes from that added to soups or dishes. This is a misconception. In fact, 75% of the sodium comes from processed foods like fast foods, snack foods, frozen meals, and packaged foods.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the foods that contribute about half of the sodium consumed by Americans. The foods include;
- Yeast Bread and rolls
- Sandwiches like hamburgers, hot dogs, and submarine sandwiches
- Cold cuts and cured meats for example; deli, packaged ham, and turkey
- Burritos and tacos
- Snacks like chips, crackers, microwave popcorn, and pretzels
- Chicken, whole pieces (includes processed chicken)
- Cheese (includes processed cheese)
- Egg dishes and omelets
- Pasta mixed dishes
- Meat mixed dishes
- Bacon, frankfurters, and sausages
- Other Mexican mixed dishes
- Tomato-based condiments such as ketchup
- Salad dressings and vegetable oils
- Poultry mixed dishes
- All plain milk
- All ready-to-eat cereal
- Mashed potatoes and white potato mixtures
- French fries and other fried white potatoes
- Cakes and pies
How much sodium should I eat a day?
The American Heart Association recommends 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults, about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt.
How do foods high in sodium affect your weight?
High sodium intake can make you gain weight! High salt diets are linked to higher body fat that accumulates around the middle section. Let me show you how.
First, eating too much salt can cause water retention by the body. This can temporarily add 2 to 3 pounds to your body weight within a day or two after consumption. This can lead to swelling in the face and hands and, for others, pain in the joints.
Related; how to get rid of water weight.
Secondly, the kinds of foods that happen to be higher in salt are snacks, chips, fast food, fried foods, processed foods, and restaurant meals which are relatively higher in calories. As we all know, the higher the calories consumed, the higher the chances of weight gain.
According to a 2016 Australian study led by Russell Keast, Ph.D., salt is responsible for an 11% rise in food and calorie intake among adults. Salt also improves the flavor and enhances the taste of the food. It is this taste and the flavor that is believed to boost the appetite and tempts people to eat more, leading to weight gain.
Learn more risks associated with binge eating here.
What are the dangers of foods high in sodium?
According to the American Heart Association, too much sodium/salt in the body increases blood pressure due to fluid retention in the body that creates an added burden on the heart. This puts you at risk for:
- Enlarged heart muscle
- Kidney disease
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Kidney stones
- Stomach Cancer
Excess sodium also affects your body weight. Sodium can cause your body to retain water, leading to bloating, puffiness, and weight gain.
How to reduce the consumption of foods high in sodium
Almost every food that we eat contains salts. Much as we cannot do away with most foods, some ideas can help you cut back on salt but remaining within the recommended limits. These ideas include;
1. Plan your meals ahead of time
Planning your meals helps you cut back on processed and convenience foods which are usually high in sodium.
2. Stay hydrated
You can flush out excess salt is by filling up with fluids especially water. Quenching your thirst is one way of reducing the craving for salty foods.
Apart from reducing sodium, water intake also aids weight loss. Read the related article “drinking water for weight loss”
3. Regular exercise
Exercise will help you sweat out that excess salt. So, make sure that you stay on the move. Move away from your couch or desk and do some jogging or have an evening walk. As you exercise, do not forget to hydrate.
4. Read nutrition labels
Always check nutritional labels before buying any food item. Pick on items that are low in sodium.
5. Eat smaller portions
Since food contains sodium, reducing the amount of food you eat is one way of cutting back on sodium intake.
6. Consider preparing your own food
Preparing your own food reduces the chances of eating fast or processed foods such as instant noodles, ready-made pasta, and mixes which are the main culprits of high sodium
7. Add flavor using non-sodium ingredients
Use non-salt seasoning blends like herbs and spices. These can add flavor to your food without adding sodium.
8. Go for fresh foods
Buy fresh meat, poultry, and seafood, instead of processed varieties. Still do not forget to read the labeling on the package. At times saltwater or saline is added to fresh meat, poultry, and seafood.
9. Watch your veggies
Avoid salt added canned vegetables. Go for fresh, frozen, and low sodium vegetables.
Are vegetables good for weight loss? find out here
10. Order for low-sodium items at restaurants
Ask the waiter to prepare your food without salt and let sauces or salad dressings be served on the side. Also, if possible, ask for the nutrition information of the plate being served. This way, you can effectively control what goes into your body.
What foods can we eat instead of foods high in sodium?
There are so many food groups, seasonings, and dressings that have low or no salt at all these include;
1. Vegetables and Fruits
- Fresh fruits such as apples, oranges, or bananas
- Fresh vegetables such as spinach, carrots, or broccoli
- Frozen vegetables minus added butter or sauce
- Canned vegetables with low or no sodium at all
- Low-sodium vegetable juice
- Frozen, canned, or dried fruits
NB always rinse canned vegetables to remove some of the sodium.
2. Bread, Cereals, and Other Grains
When buying bread, cereals, and grains, look at product labels. Buy items with 5% Daily Value (DV) or less for sodium.
- Whole grains like brown or wild rice, quinoa, or barley
- Whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta and couscous
- Whole-grain hot or cold breakfast cereals like oatmeal or shredded wheat
- Unsalted popcorn or low-sodium chips and pretzels
- Whole-grain bread, bagels, English muffins, tortillas, and crackers
3. Protein Foods
For meat, poultry and seafood, go for fresh or frozen instead of processed options with 5% DV or less.
- Fresh or frozen fish or shellfish
- Chicken or turkey breast without skin or marinade
- Lean cuts of beef or pork
- Unsalted nuts and seeds
- Dried beans and
- No salt or low sodium canned beans
Go for fat-free or low-fat dairy products, including;
- Fat-free or low-fat milk
- Fat-free or low-fat plain yogurt
- Low-sodium cheese
6. Dressings, Oils, and Condiments
When cooking, use low or no sodium ingredients. These include;
- Vegetable oils such as canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, or sunflower
- Unsalted margarine and spreads
- Low-sodium salad dressing – or oil and vinegar
- no salt added ketchup
- Picante sauce
- Herbs, spices, or salt-free seasoning blends
- Chopped vegetables such as garlic, onions, and peppers
- Lemon and lime juice
Because most food items contain sodium, people exceed the maximum recommendation of 2,300 mg of sodium per day without even noticing. The bad thing is that high sodium intake is linked to many health conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Therefore, to reduce the sodium in our diet, cut back on processed foods, read Nutrition labels, stay hydrated, prepare your own meals, plan your meals ahead of time, opt for other flavoring alternatives, and more as discussed in the above section.