Salt vs sodium sounds like a battle between synonyms, but salt and sodium are NOT the same thing. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, there are differences between the two that everyone on a low sodium diet should know.
We all know salt as the tiny white grains we’ve been sprinkling on food to enhance flavor. Salt is made up of two things – sodium and chloride. The salt we use in our kitchens is about 40% sodium and 60% chloride. While salt has a bad reputation for causing a number of health problems, it’s the sodium that’s actually the troublemaker.
Sodium is a naturally-occurring mineral in many foods. Even healthy foods like spinach, celery and beets contain sodium. Despite its notoriety as bad news for your health, your body needs sodium to survive.
Why Your Body Needs Sodium
Sodium helps your body balance fluid, making sure its distributed appropriately where it’s needed most. It helps control blood pressure and supports healthy nerve function. Your muscles also need sodium to help them work properly. This includes helping the muscles in your heart contract.
Why Too Much Sodium is a Problem
Your body needs a small amount of sodium to function. The problem is most Americans consume far more sodium than recommended. The U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans (you can check them out here) recommends less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day as part of a balanced diet. The American Heart Association recommends even less, 1,500 milligrams per day. However most Americans consume more than 3,400 mgs per day. Your doctor may recommend even less, depending on your health and you should always follow your doctor’s instructions.
When you consume too much sodium, your body responds by sending more fluid into your bloodstream to reduce it. Increased fluid in your bloodstream causes high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, stroke and other health issues. (You can learn more about why too much sodium is bad for your heart here.)
It’s easy to consume more sodium than recommended by adding too much table salt to your food. Just one teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 milligrams of sodium. It’s even easier if you’re eating packaged, prepared or processed foods, which all have sodium both to enhance flavor and to acts as a preservative.
More than 70% of the sodium most people consume comes from processed foods like cold cuts, canned foods, and prepared meals. A slice of bread can contain more than 200 mgs of sodium per slice and frozen dinners can contain more than 700 mgs per serving.
Download your FREE Weekly Sodium Tracker here.
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