Sodium is a nutrient that has been often misunderstood, or at the very least misrepresented in the health & fitness community.
It is understandable that we might be confused about sodium. We hear one person telling us to limit sodium and to stop salting all our food, but on the other hand you have athletes pouring electrolytes and sea salt into their water during workouts.
So is sodium good for us or not?
First of all, we actually NEED sodium for survival. Almost all functions in the body depend on sodium in some way.
However, there is an optimal level that helps our bodies function best, and there are levels that are too low or too high that both cause their own problems.
Like most nutrients, sodium is needed, but it is needed in moderation.
Sodium is well-known for its association to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for other chronic diseases.
Many studies have reported a correlation between diets high in sodium with high blood pressure, but it’s important to note that foods that are high in sodium also tend to be:
– highly processed
– high in carbohydrates and fats (particularly simple carbohydrates and trans fats)
– low nutrient density
– high in calories
– and are more likely to be consumed by those who also lead a sedentary lifestyle.
All of these have also been associated with hypertension, obesity, and other risk factors for chronic disease.
So while we do need to monitor our sodium intake, the issue is more likely our lifestyle as a whole, not just the sodium amount on its own that may be causing problems.
So how much sodium do we need?
Adequate intake = 1500mg/day Upper limit = 2300mg/day
Staying within these parameters is generally associated with less chronic disease over time.
Sodium levels within our organs and blood are constantly monitored, a slight change can signal a drastic hormone response.
These hormone responses can affect the way water, fat, and other nutrients are stored in the body, which can make it difficult to lose weight.
We often hear we should stop adding salt to our foods. But is this really where most of our sodium comes from?
MOST of our sodium comes from processed foods.
Canned foods including sauces and vegetables:
The next time you buy your groceries; take a good look at what you have before you put it away.
How much of it is fresh vegetables, fruits, and meats? These are low in sodium. If you combined these together into a meal, they would still be low in sodium.
Now look at how much of it comes from a box, can, or package? Even if they are not ‘high’ in sodium, they still contain some.
On their own, they may not appear to be high, but when combined together to make a meal, they could easily climb to very high levels per serving.
Adding salt to our food does increase our sodium intake, but adding salt to fresh chicken, broccoli and potatoes will not skyrocket your sodium levels too high.
On the flip side, decreasing your salt intake, but continuing to eat mostly takeout, processed, and/or precooked foods will do very little to reduce sodium levels.
Prioritizing food quality and reading nutrition labels before you buy an item are the best methods to reduce sodium intake, not necessarily reducing salt!