By now, you have likely heard that watching your sodium intake is beneficial to your health. However, you may be wondering why this topic has gained so much traction over the years.
The standard american diet experienced a rise in sodium intake through the introduction and widespread use of processed food items. Sodium is not only used to enhance taste, but it is primarily used in larger amounts as an inexpensive preservative. Although sodium is a natural preservative, its addition throughout our food system causes an excess in sodium intake throughout the American population, making it a public health concern (1).
As controversies about sodium intake increased, many processed food companies started making a “low-sodium” alternative to the original processed food counterpart. The question is, are these low-sodium alternatives better or even good for us?
Like with anything, that depends on what else is in the product! For a product to be considered “low-sodium” by the Food and Drug Administration, it must contain less than 140 mg of sodium per serving (3). However, this is not the only thing you should be looking at when judging if it is a good product. Since sodium adds flavor, food companies may supplement this decrease in sodium with excess sugar or artificial flavor enhancers/additives. If you find that there is more (or any) added sugar in a product you wouldn’t otherwise expect it, such as canned soup, pasta sauce, packaged bread, etc.. This would make me concerned about the quality of the food and I would seek out an alternative product where low sodium is not supplemented with added sugars. Or better yet, making the home prepared version is a great way to lower sodium levels in your diet.
What are the risks of having too much sodium in our diet?
High blood pressure also known as “hypertension”, cardiovascular (heart) disease, stroke, and kidney damage are a few of the most common risks associated with high sodium intake (2). These health risks occur largely because water follows sodium, which can create excess fluid in our body. Having an excess of fluid in our body increases the pressure in our blood vessels, our heart, and kidneys, which is why we see some of these health associations.
So, is the hype about sodium a big deal?
We shouldn’t fear sodium (our bodies do need some for proper nerve function, electrolyte balance, and more) but we should be aware of how much we are actually consuming in our diet (1). Most Americans consume more than the 2,300 mg of sodium per day recommendation (1,500 mg/day is a low sodium intake recommendation) (1).
What is the most efficient way to lower sodium in our diet?
The most efficient way to lower sodium in our diet is to prepare foods at home, instead of relying on pre-made packaged products or eating out. There are currently no sodium restrictions on food products in the United States, placing the responsibility on the consumer to make the best choice (1).
Although preparing foods at home may sound daunting at first, it doesn’t have to be! If you’re just starting out, try not to focus on diet plans or unfamiliar food ingredients, and simply start cooking basic, familiar meals at home. Cooking or preparing foods at home is the easiest way to reduce your sodium intake because excess salt is not hidden in your foods as a preservative, its primary use will be taste, which really only requires a touch of salt!
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Public Health Concerns: Salt and Sodium
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Salt and Sodium
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Take Action: How to Reduce Your Sodium Intake
This information is not medical advice, please consult with your medical provider for medical guidelines and recommendations.