Sodium is one of those ingredients that the body needs, but not in a great amount. However, it’s something that we likely get in abundance without always realizing.
Almost everything that we eat has salt. Some of it is natural but others are added to the foods. This is a major issue today where so much food is pre-packaged with “secret recipe” formulas. There are now more people eating processed food for a variety of reasons. Processed foods are easier to make. They’re quick and cheap.
But they are bad for the health.
Before we completely demonize salt, you need to know all about it. After all, in a small amount the body needs it to survive! Here’s everything you need to know about salt and just the amount of sodium that is good for you.
Do You Need Salt to Live?
The simple answer to this is yes. Your body needs you to get some salt to be healthy. It’s not something that your body can make from scratch, and sodium helps to regulate some organ functions.
You may have heard of the term “electrolyte.” Many sports drinks have added “electrolytes” to help replace the ones that are lost during sports events and training. Think about the salty taste of your sweat. This is because you’re getting rid of the sodium in your body, and you will need to replace it to keep the organs functioning as they should.
With the right levels of sodium, your muscles don’t cramp or spasm. Your blood pressure remains normalized, and your kidneys work efficiently.
For most people, you only need 3.8g of salt a day. This isn’t that much: half a teaspoon. And this is salt. By getting that amount of salt, you’re getting around 2,300 milligrams of sodium into your body.
By getting this, you will get enough salt for your electrolyte needs. However, you may need to intake more if you sweat a lot, urinating a lot, or drink too much water.
If you drink a lot more than the 8 recommended glasses a day, you can develop what is known as hyponatremia. This is potentially deadly, as it means your body doesn’t have enough sodium to keep kidney functions and blood pressure up.
There is no way around it. Your body needs salt. But it needs good salt—none of this processed stuff that comes out of TV dinners!
Can You Get Away with a Little Extra?
A teaspoon of salt isn’t a lot. Chances are even if you eat naturally and organically you will get this or more in your food. Some foods are naturally salty. Just think about capers and anchovies! Canned food in brine will have salts in them, and we can’t forget about the salt added to bread and other baked goods (even at home).
So, it begs the question as to whether you can get away with a little more salt. Will your body completely shut down if you regularly go over the half a teaspoon a day?
The good news is most people can get away with a little more. While doctors will recommend no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, this doesn’t mean you can’t take any more than that.
This will depend on your doctor’s recommendations. If you have a medical condition, your doctor may tell you to intake. If you do a lot of exercises, you may need to add more sodium back into your body. Those who live in hotter climates and sweat profusely may need to intake more throughout the day.
The guidelines are just guidelines, creating for the average human being. Those with high blood pressure can make their health problems worse with a high salt intake. Those who have trouble getting rid of salt can find that the 2,300mg of sodium recommendation is way too high for them!
Does Your Health Affect Your Salt Intake?
Did you know your salt intake can also be affected by your age? As we get older, our bodies don’t work as effectively or efficiently as they once did. It’s an annoying part of aging but a part of all of us nonetheless.
Older people will need to watch their salt intake more than younger people. You’ll find that your body doesn’t get rid of salt as well as it used to do. You’re already more at risk of having heart problems and high blood pressure, so adding too much salt can tip you over the edge.
Surprisingly, it’s not just age that can cause a problem. African Americans are also more likely to suffer from issues when their salt intake is too high. In fact, there is a lower limit for them (along with those with high blood pressure, kidney disease, or diabetes, and those who are older) recommend at around 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day! That’s half a teaspoon of sodium or so—if you were going to get it through salt, you need much less than half a teaspoon of it!
How Much Do We Currently Get?
The average American currently intakes way more sodium than they need. According to experts, the majority will get 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily. That’s double the recommendation for those on the lower limit recommendations.
While this sounds scary, many experts do acknowledge that this amount doesn’t seem to be much of a problem for the average person. If there are no other health concerns, there is currently no evidence to support the idea of reducing that average intake. It would suggest that this is the limit that the body can take.
Studies show that the current average could be relatively healthy. Those that have reduced their intake by 1,000 milligrams to take them to the recommended levels have suffered low blood pressure and problems with insulin sensitivity.
Unfortunately, not everyone is “average.” There are plenty of people who eat way too much and will suffer the consequences later in life. Many people end up with high blood pressure and other health problems because they’ve eaten a diet that is high in salt.
It’s a difficult situation for doctors. They need clinical trials and full studies to find out just how sodium—high or low levels—will affect the health of patients. They need to look at all the factors concerned with salt and the health to make sure they give the perfect advice to their patients.
If it makes it difficult for the doctors, then it makes it extremely problematic for us, right? Just how are we supposed to make sure we get enough sodium for our bodies without going over?
There’s an even bigger problem when it turns out our sodium levels affect our potassium levels. Potassium helps to lower blood pressure and offer the body some energy. It helps to stabilize some muscle spasms, but the sodium can overpower the potassium. We usually eat food that is high in salt, and we don’t get the potassium to counteract it.
It’s not just about getting the right levels of sodium but about getting the recommended 4,700 milligrams of potassium at the same time.
Why Can You Still Add Salt to Your Pasta Water
Do you add salt to the water you cook your pasta or potatoes in? Chances are your doctor isn’t going to tell you to cut back. I mean, if the researchers can’t figure out just how much we need, why should the doctors be able to advise? They’re just as stumped as we are.
But it’s also due to where our current high sodium intake comes from. As I’ve already mentioned, we tend to eat a lot of processed foods. They’re extremely salty—and you may find yourself extremely thirsty afterward because of the dehydrating elements of the salt.
That salt in your water for your pasta isn’t going you much harm. If you cut back on the processed foods completely, the salt you add to your water would help you get the recommended levels. Your current salt water is only making up 5% of where our total salt intake comes from (12% comes naturally from foods).
If you want to reduce your sodium intake, you need to look at the processed foods. And that doesn’t mean opt for low-salt options in the store. These low-salt options usually have other added ingredients. They need to make up the taste somehow! There’s no guarantee that the additives are any better than the full-salt options.
Thinking about switching to sea salt on the table? It’s not necessarily any better for you. Sure, there are some benefits for the skin health, but it still has the same amount of sodium within it. You still only need to consume 2.3g of it. However, feel free to use it on your skin for benefits there.
If you only add salt for taste, you could consider other options instead if you want. This isn’t a necessity, but it can be helpful. Thyme, rosemary, mint, and other herbs will add flavor without offering unhealthy side effects. Opting for fresh options is much better, as they have extra antioxidants and other health benefits.
Still, want to add some salt? Consider iodized salt instead. This is beneficially especially for those with an iodine deficiency. Iodine is necessary to help the thyroid function properly. When the thyroid under acts, the metabolism slows down. You can feel sluggish and gain weight quickly. The thyroid grows to keep up with the hormone production, which can lead to other health problems.
Iodine deficiencies in pregnant women lead to mental development problems in children. Some of these mental developmental problems can lead to fatalities in the womb.
So Just How Much Sodium Can Your Body Take?
While you only need 3.8g of salt a day to get your sodium intake, you will often see 6g as the upper amount. This is considered safe but not always beneficial for the body. Babies shouldn’t have any more than a gram. Children don’t need the full 6g, and you want to think about lowering it if you have health problems or your part of the aging population.
It isn’t a question that is easily answered. After all, scientists just don’t know all the effects. Lowering your sodium intake can be dangerous.
If you do intake more than 6g of salt, you want to consider lowering it immediately. It’s only around a teaspoon of salt, with most of it coming from processed foods. You can cut out the processed foods and opt for salt in its natural form through fruits, vegetables, and meats.
Most of packaging will make it hard to work out your salt intake. Most manufacturers now display their sodium intake, so you’ll need to work out the salt by multiplying the sodium by 2.5.
You can also do a quick check by looking at the amount of salt per 100g. If you see the salt is 0.5g or more in 100g, then this has a high salt content. Anything 0.3g or lower in each 100g has a low salt content. While it’s not a detailed way to make sure you only get up to 6g per day, it’s a good way of making store purchases quickly.
Sodium and salt are two things that scientists are still working on. The guidelines and recommendations are based on the average, healthy man. As a woman, you will likely need less. However, your doctor will be able to give you the best recommendation for your health, like race, age, and medical conditions will need to be considered.
Put your health first and think about the amount of salt your body is currently consuming. Your body needs some sodium, but not likely the amount that you are currently feeding it. Consider cutting back, especially if you have an underactive thyroid, kidney problems, or high blood pressure.