Sodium – Retire that Salt Shaker

Posted by on Mar 22, 2015 in Frugal For Everyone, Health | 56 comments

sodiumHas our focus on cholesterol taken the attention away from excessive sodium intake thereby creating other serious health problems? Over the past number of years there has been a great emphasis placed on watching our cholesterol and fat intake and we have taken that seriously. While I’m definitely not suggesting that we stop paying attention to cholesterol, it has become clear to me that we also need to pay attention to our sodium intake.

I know three people who have serious kidney problems. One person was just advised she has 50% kidney function, another has to go for dialysis three times a week and the third person recently had a kidney transplant. That was enough for me to delve into possible contributing factors and discover that sodium was high on the list.

Sodium plays a key role in your body. It helps maintain normal blood pressure, supports the work of your nerves and muscles, and regulates your body’s fluid balance. It is very important to maintain a healthy sodium level as either too much or too little can cause serious health problems.

Hypernatremia -too much sodium in the blood – is linked to asthma, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and high blood pressure which many result in stroke, heart disease and kidney disease.

Hyponatremia – too low a level of sodium in the blood – can result in decreased kidney function or kidney failure. Hyponatremia is hard to diagnose because symptoms tend to be vague – they can include any or all of the following:

  • a person’s mental state can be affected, causing confusion, reduced awareness, irrational or unusual behaviour;
  • the person may suffer from loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting;
  • the person may suffer from extreme fatigue;
  • muscle spasms, cramps and even seizures may occur.

While it is unlikely that hyponatremia will be caused by not taking in enough salt, since almost everything we consume has some sodium content, excessive salt intake can definitely lead to hypernatremia.

According to the World Action on Salt and Health, Studies in humans have now shown that excessive salt intake increases the amount of urinary protein (4,5) which is a major risk factor for developing kidney disease and cardiovascular disease.”

They further state: “Individuals with kidney disease should restrict their salt intake because in nearly all forms of kidney disease the kidney retains sodium and water in the body, causing further deterioration of renal function.”

So how much salt do we need? Recommended daily sodium intake (RDI) by age:

  • Salt should NOT be added to food for children under the age of 1 year.
  • 1-3 years –       1,000mg
  • 4-8 years –       1,200mg
  • 9-13 years –     1,500mg
  • 14-50 years –   1,500mg
  • 51-70 years –   1,300mg
  • 71+ years –      1,200mg
  • Pregnant Women 1,500mg
  • Maximum tolerable limit for adults – 2,300mg

1 teaspoon of salt contains 2,300mg.

However, adult Canadians and Americans consume about 3,400mg per day and in some European countries the average salt consumption may be as high as 4,000mg per day. Governments are taking steps to reduce salt consumption in their countries but do we really want government to take over this responsibility? When we know the risks associated with high sodium intake can we not take on the responsibility for our own health?

SodiumI consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to healthy eating, but the sodium content of some foods came as a huge surprise. For instance, 1/3 cup of bran buds contains 170mg of sodium; 1 large flour tortilla 540mg; 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese 457mg; 2 teaspoon light soya sauce 830mg. These are foods we choose for the low-fat, low-cholesterol reason, but did you realize the sodium content? I didn’t.

What we need in order to cut our sodium intake is to become better educated and pay more attention to how much sodium is in the foods we buy. Considering that sodium  is even found in fruits and vegetables, it would make it extremely difficult to plan meals around a low-sodium diet. It seems preferable to cut back on salt a little at a time now in order to avoid serious health problems and forced to make huge changes later. We can start with things like no added salt at the table, using herbs and spices to flavour foods, even cutting back on salt a little at a time so our taste buds can adapt. It doesn’t need to be a big drastic change, just small changes over a period of time. After all, when it comes to our health, we are the ones ultimately responsible.

NOTE: All salts, including rock salt, sea salt, celery salt, etc. contain huge amounts of sodium. While they are touted as being better for you – they are certainly more expensive – they should not be used to replace regular table salt. Other salt replacements, like LoSalt, come with their own health risks and should not be used without first checking with a doctor. The only real way to improve on sodium intake is to cut back on the use of salt – all salt.

The link below has good information about how much salt is naturally found in vegetables.

http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/much-salt-naturally-vegetables-8949.html

I found this 29 page document from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. It has a detailed listing of the sodium content of foods. This is an excellent resource for anyone interested in reducing their sodium intake.

 http://fcs.tamu.edu/food_and_nutrition/pdf/sodium-content-of-your-food-b1400.pdf

To me it seems very clear – to avoid serious health problems we need to pay attention to how much sodium we consume as well as the fats and cholesterol.

Talk to you again next week,

Lenie

Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

56 Comments

  1. This is a great topic. I do think it has fallen by the wayside lately, though. I started paying attention to my sodium intake years ago when my ankles started swelling for what seemed no reason. I do not use salt when I cook anymore and almost never salt anything. I never eat cereal at all because of the sodium content.But I would rather make those decisions for myself rather than some government making them for me!!!

    • You know Jacquie, this is another thing that bugs me. I want the government to keep us honestly informed about food additives and manipulation and like you say, you don’t want them to make the decisions, just provide truthful information so we can decide. The majority of people will naturally decide what they believe is in their and their family’s best interest. That to me is the crux of the matter – give us truthful information, then let us take the responsibility.

  2. I quickly skimmed through the Texas A&M “The Sodium Content of Your Food” PDF. The amount of sodium in ready-to-eat breakfast cereals (which I eat a lot of) varies widely: who would have guessed that there’s a bunch of sodium in Cheerios, Rice Krispies, and Wheaties?

    Also, I looked up LoSalt at Wikipedia: it’s about one-third ordinary table salt (NaCl). I don’t think you should be reaching for this stuff if you’re trying to minimize the amount of salt in your diet.

    Finally, I completely agree with you that individuals should make their own salt-related choices and that governments should butt out in this regard.

  3. I never add salt to food, everything we use has so much in it already. This is a good reminder to keep an eye on everything we use.

  4. I don’t use salt that often at home. I need to check the sodium levels in the food that I purchase.

  5. Brilliant post Lenin and thanks for the awareness. So much of what we eat contains hidden salt, so I think we should cook without adding it to our food. Learning about sodium is helpful though.

  6. Good to see the emphasis on teaching children by keeping their naturally occuring intake to a minimum and restricting added salt intake, right from the start, Lenie.
    Have never forgotten being across a table from a man and his son, and seeing Dad shake huge amounts of salt on his plate of food without having even tasted it, watched by small son who then copied his Dad like a mirror image. Can we imagine HIS health problems as the years have rolled on? (IF indeed they did!)

  7. Great Post Lenie as always.
    Thanks for the reminder. I need to start paying attention to my sodium intake. These days a lot of products are packed with hidden salts. Thanks for this x

    • ChinWe – it is quite amazing what products contain loads of sodium. Doing the research for this post I was really appalled that the foods we consider healthy choices often aren’t. Considering the serious health problems that could develop from excessive sodium intake, I think it’s a good idea for everyone to be aware.

  8. Lenie — I never add salt to my food. I was visiting with my brother and his family at Christmas and my sister-in-law made a big salad, which I love. To me it was so salty I could hardly eat it. But that was normal for them. In the next few days I was there, she prepared my salad separately from theirs. Salt is something you can get hooked on so I’m glad that I weaned myself away from the salt shaker a long time ago. Of course, I’m no doubt still getting a lot of salt in other foods I eat.

    • Jeannette, I’m glad that you mentioned that salt is something you can get hooked on. That is the big problem. We start adding salt too often and at too early an age and from there it increases. If we started replacing salt with herbs in most cooking and no salt at the table, we would be well on the way to healthier eating. The food processors would realize that a ‘low-sodium’ label is a selling point for their products like the cholesterol labels are now.

  9. Yes, salt is sneaky! Although I didn’t know a person could have too little salt – thanks for this. I’m obsessive with checking labels for sodium content, and rarely buy store-bought soups, one of the worst culprits. Actually, a lot of canned goods, and yes, soya sauce. Like you, I prefer to make as much food as I can from scratch, that’s the healthiest and most economical. Funny how those two often go together!

    • Hi Krystyna – as far as I know low-sodium levels are part of some chronic diseases, at least in countries where we have enough to eat. It could very well be that in developing countries where many still go hungry, that low-sodium could be a problem (but then the whole issue of hunger is a problem). I agree, cooking from scratch is healthier and less expensive.

  10. Hi Lenie

    I must say that I am must surprised about this information. You are right that we are told to watch our Cholesterol level but I never thought of the regulation of Sodium intake.

    This post is full of great tips and I learned a lot. Thank you for sharing this post. Must pass this to others.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Ikechi – what surprised me the most – and also made me a little angry – was the fact that food we consider healthy choices have unhealthy levels of sodium Really makes you wonder why that’s necessary. We have enough herbs and spices available to add flavour to any food. And the salt-replacement products many be more harmful than the salt itself.

  11. I’m amazed at the amount of sodium people add to food before they taste it. My mother didn’t use it in her cooking and a saltshaker was never on the dinner table. I can’t tolerate the taste; I even pick it off pretzels! I live on soup and kept vegetable stock in the pantry. But, since I discovered the amount of salt in broths and stocks, I started making my own. Even if it’s low-sodium it can have as much as 830 mg.

    • Hi Pamela – the broth, soups, marinades and sauces seem to contain the highest levels of salt. Why are they allowed to advertise a product with 830mg as low-sodium. Talk about false advertising. Glad you make your own broth, doesn’t it taste a lot better too?

  12. Excellent post Lenie, and I have to confess I too have overlooked salt until recently. Kidney problems are much more likely to be exposed as we age. But that was interesting to me the link between salt and thyroid issues. Didn’t realise they were linked. Thankyou

    • It seems that salt – and potassium – are needed to keep your body healthy and functioning properly. The low-sodium is a side effect of chronic disease and something over which you have no control (at least not without medication). The too high levels definitely is something we can control by cutting our salt intake. But as Catarina pointed out, there are always exceptions. Our bodies are pretty complex, aren’t they?

  13. Hi, Lenie. I try not to eat processed food in general, so that vastly minimizes my sodium intake. I use sea salt when I cook.

    I do have a friend with diabetes who doesn’t get enough salt – she has to work to get more. She is extremely careful about everything she eats.

    • Leora, I love hearing from everyone because I learn so much from these comments. Sea Salt contains sodium just as much as table salt. One important thing sea salt doesn’t contain is iodine, something we need so that may be something for you to look at.
      I am surprised that your friend is able to keep her low-sodium levels balanced by diet – I can’t, I need to take medication to keep things in check. Preparing meals when you’re a diabetic and have low-sodium must be a nightmare since there are so many things to consider.

      • Sea salt can contain iodine (naturally). It has other trace minerals as well.

        Learn more about sea salt:
        http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefits-eating-sea-salt-8730.html

        • Leora – thanks so much – remember what I said about learning from comments? this just goes to show….. I will definitely check this out.

  14. I’ve grown more and more conscious of how much salt is in all of the foods we eat over the years. Our tastebuds become dulled due to all of that salt and the bad health effects can’t be denied. My best friend used to freak out on the weeks she had lunch room duty and had to eat the school’s lunch food. She gained 5-7 pounds each week and said it was because of the extra salt (she really watches her sodium intake otherwise).

    • Jeri, your friend could be right about the weight gain associated with the extra sodium. Scary thought that the kids have to eat this stuff everyday. I think school lunch programs are great but I think they better get some nutritionists involved. If children and youth get used to excess sugar and salt in their foods it will be much harder for them to change later.

  15. Another good reminder regarding our health Lenie so thank you for that. Personally I cannot even remember the last time I added salt to a meal while eating or while cooking but with that said I should include this level in my next check up; can’t hurt.

    • Tim, I think having your sodium checked is a good idea. To my knowledge even doctors don’t seem to take that serious enough and yet your sodium level has such an impact on your health.

  16. Very informative Lenie! I’ve never really cared much for salt and never add it to my food, but I started watching the sodium levels in the food I buy several years ago after a visit to my doctor. I’d been sick as a dog with the flu and living on canned soup morning/noon/night. A week later I went in for a follow up with my doctor and he just happened to do a blood work-up as part of my annual physical because I was getting ready to go out of the country for awhile and he freaked out a little about the spike my sodium levels! I cut out the canned soup diet and it dropped right back down but what a valuable lesson!

    • Hi Marquita – valuable lesson indeed and this was only for eating canned soup for a little while. Imagine if that was a routine part of your diet. I remember babysitting this one year old and her mother told me to feed her Campbells Chicken Noodle soup – I don’t have any in the house but can just imagine the sodium content. Now I shudder to think I fed it to a baby.

  17. This is a very important and informative post. We live in a culture where our food is saturated with salt. Salt is added to many of our foods. I think what you posted about is a real health concern. Thank you for sharing.

    • William, I have been so busy watching cholesterol, fats and carbohydrates (my husband is a diabetic) that I never thought to consider salt, but you are right. It is added to everything, oftentimes to foods that don’t even need it. But the kidney disease I’ve been hearing about certainly makes excess sodium something we really need to seriously consider.

  18. These are great resources Lenie! I like how you broke it down by age. That will help me monitor my kids salt intake, as well as my own and my husband’s. Thanks for keeping us healthy! 🙂

    • Meredith, I think if we start paying attention now we can still do a lot to control the salt intake, especially for your kids. They are not going to really tell if you cut back on the salt a little at a time. Unfortunately, if you buy prepared foods of any kind – soups, sauces, etc – you really need to check the sodium because that’s where a lot of it is hidden.

  19. As you mentioned in your Post – it’s the “hidden salt” that worries me too. I tend to pick up the healthier versions of biscuits and cereals only to find that they have either too much salt or too much sugar content!! All the ready meals people tend to eat have a lot more salt and sugar than what one would use for cooking food from scratch.

    • Hi Mina – I think you have the right idea – cook from scratch and use the spices the way you do in your recipe. I’ll bet that overall the dishes you make use very little salt or sugar. Buying ‘healthy’ doesn’t seem to be the answer either because as you found out, that may be rather an false claim.

      • I plan to use less salt and sugar from now onwards.

  20. Many people in my part you a lot of salt in their food, now I understand that why the kidney problems are increasing a lot.
    Thank you for advice. I do not put salt in food for my daughter, even I never put salt on her fries. I did not know that how harmful it is, she I never liked to put her on so much salt.
    The places where people are using sea water has a lot of salt in water, I think it is good to keep away from Sodium as much as possible.
    Thank you for informative post. I think precaution is best when it comes to our health.

    • Hi Andleeb, it does seem as if you hear more about kidney problems nowadays, doesn’t it? But then when you think 50 years ago we didn’t buy processed foods like we do today it’s easy to understand why. Not adding salt to your daughter’s food is a smart move – if she doesn’t get used to the extra salt, she’ll never miss it.

  21. We have gotten ourselves in a bind haven’t we, Lenie? With all the extra salt added into processed foods and the enormous amounts people are adding themselves, now it seems nothing tastes good without it. 🙁 I think you are right, the only way to cut back is a little at a time until our taste buds gradually get used to it and learn to season with other things.

    • We really have created a problem for ourselves Susan, but the cutting back a little at a time and substituting herbs and other spices – even garlic and onion will help us adjust. What really galled me was the fact that foods that we believe are healthy aren’t so much. But now we know.

  22. This is a really good post Lenie. Truly, the only way to have an appropriate amount of sodium in the diet is to eat mostly whole foods. Anything processed (especially condiments) have added salt. Throughout most of human history, diets were plentiful in potassium and sparse in sodium. For that reason we are naturally wired to hold onto sodium in our bodies and excrete potassium. This, of course, creates all sorts of health problems with current diets.

    • Erica, I just finished reading your post about excessive sugar in foods, including Yoplait yogurt with pineapple. This is the part that really disturbs me because then we tend not to read the labels on foods we consider healthy. How many people eat yogurt or bran buds thinking this is good for you only to discover that it isn’t quite as good as we thought. Oh well, I guess education is key and posts like ours will hopefully help raise awareness.

  23. I was surprised Lenie to read about the bran buds cereal having that much sodium. Yes, we need to pay closer attention to sodium content to be as healthy as possible. Thank you for the quality post.

    • Christy – that one really surprised me too. I’m not sure why sodium would be added because, although most foods do have salt content of their own, it can’t be that much for a grain. But shopping will be a whole new and lengthier experience if we have to start checking contents even on the so-called healthy foods.

  24. I don’t add much salt to anything anymore, but I admit to a fondness for salty foods, so am probably still getting too much salt. Iodine has been added to regular table salt in some western countries for years. In your research, did you come across anything about the risks or possibilities of getting too little iodine bu cutting back too much on salt?

    • Donna, we do need some table salt because it is iodized which has helped prevent many health problems. It’s the excess salt we add add at the table and the hidden salts in foods we believe are healthy choices that are the real problem. The daily sodium requirement for adults is 1 tsp. – if that is iodized salt, there is should be no problem. But having said that, you now have me wondering about people with eating disorders – would that create an iodine deficiency? Maybe I’ll look into that and if it’s interesting enough, write a post.

  25. Thank you for this very helpful synopsis of the problems that salt can cause. I have been gradually reducing my sodium intake and need to continue that and also to remember to drink water even when I’m not thirsty. I like to use herbs for flavoring, replacing salt.

    • Hi Beth – it’s the drinking water I had a problem with but have kind of solved it by adding lemon. I don’t shop very often and so ran into the problem of lemons going bad. I decided to wash them and slice them up, then freeze them. Now I throw 3 or 4 of these frozen slices in a large (3 cup size) glass with a straw and sip away at that all day. Along with the coffee and tea I drink I manage to get my eight glasses. I love using herbs for flavouring – does so much more than just salt.

      • I hadn’t thought of freezing lemon slices. You’re right; they go bad. I’m going to freeze them too! Thanks.

  26. Thanks for the reminder Lenie. I admit to paying very little attention to my sodium intake.

    • Hi Ken – knowing the people that have kidney disease made quite an impact and made me realize that watching the sodium is every bit as important as watching cholesterol.

  27. Great post! I have had sodium issues for years so I stay away from it for the most part. However, iodized salt is important too. Because if you are low in iodine, it can cause other illnesses too. I think the most important thing is to be aware of all you eat and keep a running food journal. That’s really helped me see foods that are high in fat, salt, cholesterol, etc… Great links too. Thanks for sharing this info.

    • Hi Sabrina – I know that cooking from scratch so you can control the ingredients is probably still the best way to go. You’re right, we do need the iodine that’s in table salt but it’s the hidden salt in so much – bread, peanut butter, even natural yogurt has 75g of sodium in a half-cup. Now I make my own yogurt and was going to be smug about not adding any salt but then discovered that the powdered milk I use has 115mg of sodium for 1/4 cup of milk powder. This would make 1 cup of milk so the sodium content is probably not much different from the store-bought stuff. You just can’t get away from it.

      • Very true. It takes some effort to find salt in one’s diet these day. I read somewhere that to enhance food flavor, restaurants either use salt or fat. I prefer to make my own food at home from scratch because of this. Also, I noticed if I stay away from salty or sweet foods long enough, I notice the salt even more. We can’t get away from it completely because we do need some salt especially when we are working out. Great post, I really enjoyed it.

        • Hi Sabrina – I think making food from scratch is the best way to control salt intake. We do need salt, if only for the iodine content but the problem is that we have gotten used to using too much. The only way to turn that around is by raising awareness – look at what that has done for cholesterol – everybody is watching it.

  28. Personally need a lot of salt because it contains jod since I have a minor thyroid problem. Anyone with any kind of thyroid problem need to get much more jod than you get from food no matter how much salt you eat. We hence have to take a supplement of kelp. Once we do we feel as if a ton of bricks have been removed from our body and mind.

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