Hey Angels and Alphas,
Despite what you might have heard in the nutrition world, sodium isn’t the enemy – it’s an essential electrolyte you need to maintain the proper functioning of your cells. Sodium plays a vital role in regulating your fluid balance along with the functioning of your muscle cells and nerves. It’s consumed through your food, usually table salt.
That being said, when sodium levels are elevated, this could easily become a risk factor for heart disease and high blood pressure. That’s why countless experts and dietitians recommend you should keep an eye out for your sodium intake and reduce any excess you might be consuming through overly processed foods.
How much sodium is the recommended healthy norm?
Most dietary guidelines around the world agree that people should be eating no more than 2,300mg of sodium every day. That’s about 1 teaspoon. But the average American consumes about 1.5 times as much – or 3400mg daily.
That’s because sodium is everywhere. Even in the foods you would usually consider nutritious. 100 grams of raw chicken breast contains about 110mg and a cup of raw spinach has about 30mg. That’s before you add any salt or condiments. Knowing this, it’s easy to see why processed food is the biggest contributor to Americans’ high sodium intake.
But is that limit right for all of us?
2,300mg a day might be a good starting point to aim, but there has been an ongoing debate in the nutrition community about how much is too much. According to most studies, eating less than 2300mg of sodium a day is associated with a much lower risk of heart disease and stroke. For people with existing conditions, the amount drops down to 1,500mg a day.
If you’re an otherwise healthy person, you should know that even though almost 90 percent of Americans eat too much sodium, only about 1/3 of American adults experience high blood pressure. So just eating a lot of sodium won’t necessarily mean you’ll experience problems.
Your sodium needs may differ if you’re an athlete!
That 2,300mg daily sodium recommendation can change based on how often and how intensely you’re training. Athletes usually have higher sodium requirements than non-athletes since they tend to lose more fluids throughout the course of their training sessions. With about 1/3 of a liter of fluid lost via sweat, that’s about 500-1,000mg of sodium per liter.
The amount of sodium you lose while you’re training will depend on various factors, from your genetics to how much sodium you’re consuming currently. If you’re someone who loses a liter and a half of sweat during a 1-2 hour long workout, you could be losing anywhere from 500 to 2,000 milligrams of sodium.
If you find that you regularly get dizzy or feel cramps while you’re training, this might be a clear sign that you need to add more sodium in your diet. This can also be done with electrolyte beverages, sport drinks, or just by replacing more fluids. Exercising regularly won’t be enough for you to drastically require a sodium intake increase, so if you’re otherwise healthy, you should be completely fine as long as you’re staying within that daily range.
If you want to reduce your sodium intake…
Your first step should be to start tracking your food intake via an app or a journal. But let’s be honest – getting a sense of how much sodium you’re consuming is extremely hard since it’s everywhere.
But one of the best ways to generally cut back on sodium is to prioritize whole foods and stay away from processed foods or foods that were prepared and then canned. Buy more fresh or frozen veggies and fruits and, if you’re buying something canned, make sure it has no added salts.
Opt for unseasoned fish, meats, and more plant-based proteins instead of the usual processed animal proteins like deli meat or bacon (which are high in sodium.)
If you have the time, you can try to buy dried beans and make a big batch instead of always buying canned beans which are notorious for their high sodium content. When you’re buying packaged or processed foods, you can always check for labels such as “low-sodium” or “no added salts.” This can be very helpful if you’re one of the people that actually read nutrition labels.
And finally, just remember – when you’re cooking at home, reduce the amount of sodium you’re adding by using more citrus juice, vinegar, herbs, and spices. Not plain table salt.