When you think sodium, you may think of the salty foods you crave like potato chips. You may also think of high blood pressure. While the body shouldn't have too much sodium, it isn't a good idea to completely cut it out of your diet. But why do we need sodium?
The Role of Sodium for Health
First of all, it's important to know sodium doesn't completely equal salt. Sodium is an element, a chemical element, that is naturally occurring in most foods. Sodium chloride is the form you're probably most familiar with, which is the refined white salt you may use to season foods. But salt isn't our only source of sodium, which we'll get to in a bit.
Sodium is needed by the body to regulate the blood pressure as well as the amount of blood within the body and also to keep the muscles and nerves functioning as they should. Sodium helps muscles contract and relax and the nerves to fire as needed, sending signals throughout the body. For these reasons, sodium is considered an electrolyte.
How Much Sodium Do We Need?
Because of sodium's role as an electrolyte, we need it on a daily basis to keep the body functioning and performing optimally as we would expect it to. We lose sodium through the loss of bodily fluids like urine and sweat, which is why it's important to make sure we're getting the proper amount.
As for a recommended daily allowance, or RDA, for sodium, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests adults in good health consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium (in all its forms) per day. If you've been diagnosed with a medical condition, this amount may be less -- for example, those with high blood pressure shouldn't have more than 1,500 mg of sodium in their daily diet. When it comes to babies, young children and teens, the general rule is to avoid excessive amounts of salty foods.
Balancing Sodium Intake
Having too much sodium in your daily diet can produce certain symptoms. For many, it can lead to bloating or water retention throughout the body. For those with blood pressure issues, having too much salt can increase blood pressure.
Some of the foods highest in sodium (some of which you may not suspect) are:
- Processed meats (cured, smoked, etc.)
- Canned foods like soup and beans
- Bottled condiments and sauces
- Spice mixes
- Frozen meals
- Salted nuts
- Prepackaged baking mixes
Sodium can be listed as many things on a package. If you're trying to restrict the amount of sodium you take in, here are some names for sodium to look for:
- Sea salt
- Sodium chloride
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Sodium nitrate
- Sodium saccharin
- Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
- Sodium benzoate
The healthiest diet is one that is about balance, giving your body what it needs the majority of the time and what it wants a little bit of the time to keep you happy and satisfied. Cooking your own meals from whole foods that aren't prepackaged and/or processed as little as possible is the best way to make sure you can control your sodium intake. Staying hydrated will also help flush out any excess sodium, but be sure not to overdo it -- after exercising or performing other strenuous activity that causes you to sweat, replenishing electrolytes like sodium is important.
If you're concerned about your sodium intake, be sure to speak with your doctor. Stay well!