We mindlessly consume too much salt.
Have you ever opened a bag of potato chips, popcorn or cookies, and mindlessly eaten the whole thing? I have. Snack foods are engineered to be salty, sweet and addictively delicious. You can NEVER eat just one because they were created to light up the pleasure centers of your brain and keep you coming back for more.
On average, Americans consume six to ten times the amount of sodium necessary for the proper balance of bodily fluids. Our bodies require only 500 mg of sodium a day to function; and the American Heart Association recommends not exceeding 1,200 mg, or three-quarters of a teaspoon daily. The average amount of sodium consumed by most Americans is a shocking 3,400 mg a day.
Sodium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium are all electrolytes, or mineral salts, that conduct electricity when dissolved in water. The proper balance of these nutrients is needed to maintain good health and prevent disease. Consuming too much salt (sodium chloride) disrupts the balance, resulting in high blood pressure. The overconsumption of sodium in the Standard American Diet is so severe it is considered a prominent dietary risk for death and disability.
Sodium consumption is a controllable dietary risk that can be managed by avoiding foods with large amounts of added salt. Simply reducing salt intake would prevent almost one hundred thousand American deaths a year from stroke and heart attack.
There is a difference between sodium and table salt.
Sodium is an essential element, meaning our bodies cannot make it, and we need to get it through our diet. Sodium is a mineral that occurs in natural foods and is also added to manufactured foods as a flavor enhancer. The proper amount of dietary sodium is beneficial to our health. The problem is table salt is being added to our diet in alarming amounts. It is being added to processed and prepared foods, and most of us have no idea how much we are actually consuming. Excessive sodium consumption is a health risk that often flies under the radar until it’s too late.
Table salt is actually sodium chloride, a chemical compound made from 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. Unlike sea salt, sodium chloride does not contain naturally occurring trace minerals and other beneficial elements. It is a processed form of salt and can contain ingredients like anti-caking agents, aluminum and other chemicals. Ninety percent of our sodium intake is chemically compounded sodium chloride.
What does all this salt do to us? Basically, high sodium levels in the body increase the demand for water – both inside our cells, and in the blood vessels outside of our cells. As a result, the body increases blood pressure to push the excess fluid and salt out of our system. Consuming a diet high in sodium puts you at risk for high blood pressure.
Sodium in all its forms raises blood pressure. Consistently consuming six to ten times more sodium for which our bodies were designed, leads to a gradual increase in blood pressure over a lifetime. There have been studies of indigenous people that have no added sodium in their diets, and the elders in those tribes have the same blood pressure as the babies. Added sodium translates into high blood pressure and increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and artery damage, kidney problems, impaired nerve and muscle function, cancer, osteoporosis, intestinal disorders, dehydration, fluid retention and dangerous inflammation in the body.
Processed foods have the most added sodium.
It is almost impossible to avoid excessive sodium if you are eating a typical American diet. Three-quarters of the salt consumed by Americans comes from processed foods! The processed food industry uses super salty and super sweet flavors and chemicals to get us hooked on their products. The more you eat these foods, the more you crave them. The intense salty, sweet and chemically enhanced flavors also skew our ability to taste natural flavors. I have witnessed dinner guests salting their food before taking the first bite, and continuing to salt throughout the meal, tasting only the need for more salt.
Sodium lurks not only in processed and prepared foods, but in foods we consider to be healthy. Poultry producers, for instance, are permitted to inject poultry meat with salt solutions – inflating the weight and adding sneaky sodium into our diet. Even worse, this poultry is still allowed to be labeled 100% natural. Other staples of the American diet that have become sodium bombs are cheese, canned soups and bread. The foods containing the most dangerous amounts of sodium are not the foods we prepare in our own kitchens; but are snack foods, restaurant meals, and foods designed for convenience.
Scary Sodium List
You need to check the sodium content on the labels of the following:
- Baked goods and bread
- Cold cuts, bacon and cured meats
- Prepared ethnic foods sauces and kits (Mexican, Asian, Latin, Italian)
- Prepared soups and soup mixes
- Savory snack foods (chips, popcorn, pretzels)
- Chicken – often injected with sodium and water to increase weight
- Sauces and salad dressings
- Breakfast cereals
- Pickles (not fermented)
- Salted nuts and seeds
- Canned beans
- Tomato-based juices
- Cottage cheese
- Vegetarian burger patties and meat substitutions
Eat less salt to protect your health.
Understanding the power of food gives us a tool for creating and maintaining good health. Processed and prepared foods are filled with things that create inflammation in the body. Large amounts of salt, sugar and chemical additives were never supposed to be consumed by humans; and consistently consuming them erodes good health and leads to disease.
Most deaths in the United States are related to what people eat and are preventable. How shocking is that! The Standard American Diet is linked to mortality by diet. Improve your diet, and you can improve your health.
Instead of eating foods with labels, eat foods that do not have them. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fungi, seafood, and some sustainably raised animal products. The best nutritional bang for the buck is a plant-rich diet. Eating more plants gives you more nutrients per calorie than eating processed foods, meat, and dairy. When you think of food as nutrition, not as calories, you begin to see the value that comes from swapping calories that damage health for calories that support it.
Knowing too much sodium is dangerous to your health, dial it down (here are 15 tips to avoid dangerous sodium in your diet). Use little or no salt in your cooking, do not salt your food before tasting it, and try to avoid processed and prepared foods. A few weeks of consuming less salt will recalibrate your sense of taste; and you will begin prefer less salt as you taste the other flavors in your food. Eating less salt is a valuable investment in your good health.