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Hidden Sodium: A Salty Subject

Where does all our sodium come from and why is it so bad for us anyway?

So what is salt anyway and why is too much of it bad for us?  Salt is a naturally occurring mineral found in rock (rock salt) and water (sea salt) that is used to a great extent in the preservation of food.  Historically, it was such a precious commodity because allowed foods to be brought great distances without spoilage.  However, because it was so highly regarded, it was difficult to come by.  Roman soldiers were occasionally paid their wage in salt (salarium in Latin) and some believe this is where we get the term Salary. 

But enough on history…so what is all the hubbub about salt?  Since it’s natural it should be good for us in unlimited quantities, right?  Not exactly my friend.  According to the American Heart Association, most of us should strive for a Sodium intake of no more than 2300 mg per day which is the equivalent of about a teaspoon of salt.  The bad news is that most of us get twice that amount (and often greater) on a regular basis. 

So where does all this sodium come from?  If you said “the salt shaker” you’d be wrong. 

The truth is that the salt we add to our foods is the least of our worries.  Most of the salt consumed (almost 80%) comes in the form of processed and/or restaurant foods.  Now we get back to the function of salt as discussed earlier.  Salt is a preservative and as such is needed in the processing of foods to maintain their shelf life.  Examples of higher sodium items are canned foods like soups, frozen entrees, boxed side dishes, cheeses, deli meats, and soy sauce just to name of few.

Also, remember that kosher salt and sea salt still contain sodium.  Some believe that these are better sources as they have a lower amount of sodium than standard table salt.  However, this difference is very slight and has to do more with the density of the grain.  Table salt has a smaller grain compared to sea or kosher salt which is larger with more space between granules.  Therefore a teaspoon of table salt will contain more sodium because it has less open space between granules.

The good news is that decreasing the amount of sodium in your diet can result in a lower blood pressure. Here are a few tips: 

  • Read your nutritional labels.  You may be surprised at the amount of sodium in the foods you eat on a regular basis.
  • If you are on blood pressure medicines, know that a reduction of sodium intake will help your medications work more effectively.
  • Balance your meals with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies.  They provide wonderful nutrients like potassium while at the same time helps to fill you up with fewer calories and less salt.
  • If you dine out regularly, beware!  Most restaurant foods have very high levels of sodium in their foods to enhance flavor.  Check the menu’s nutritional information or ask your waiter.

Whenever possible, consume foods in their more natural state.  Unfortunately, our busy lives don’t always afford us the opportunity to cook all foods from scratch, but if we work towards reducing the so-called convenience items, we may find ourselves better able to keep our sodium intake in check.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

James Choy May 15, 2011 at 01:00 PM
Big thumbs up on this - People out there are so mindful of fat, carbs and calories that they forget about sodium - the trigger to high blood pressure. Condiments and processed chemicals are mostly responsible to that. Being that I'm a salt-sensitive person (ran genetically), this is critical. One of my friends told me that to be healthy - one should base their eating habits as if they were diabetic. Cut the sugar ... eat in mediocrity ... and excercise often. Since my dad is diabetic, I look at how he tries to control his sugar level by what he eats -- and honestly, it isn't that much of a cutback/setback. But cutting down on sugar and salt!? That's a whole different story!
Gina M. Crome, M.S., M.P.H., R.D. May 15, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Hi Nita- You're not alone. I think many folks believe that specialty salts are somehow better for us. However, since we get most of our sodium from processed and/or restaurant foods, we should probably be focusing on what we can do to make small changes in those areas such as eating a little less processed food and enjoy our specialty salts in our favorite recipes made at home.
Gina M. Crome, M.S., M.P.H., R.D. May 15, 2011 at 04:05 PM
Thanks James! I appreciate your comments and wholeheartedly agree - diet modifications are difficult whether you are a diabetic monitoring carbohydrate intake or just simply trying to eat healthier. The thing we probably need to keep in mind is that our modifications don't have to be major. As a dietitian working with both diabetic and non-diabetic clients, I find they get their biggest health benefits as a result of small changes.
Lou Irigoyen July 14, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Fortunately, I have always been extremely healthy and even at my age of 54, I do not take any medications. I agree that people eat too many condiments and most of consist of high amounts of salt and sugar. Surprise huh? I for one never add salt or sugar to anything including ice tea or coffee. I have read on many articles by other dieticians that you should never add salt to anything as most food has a natural amount of sodium that is sufficient for daily needs. I do have to admit that I have a weakness for the peanut M&M's, but only once in a while so I should be safe. Overall, as a society, I dont think that we have an obesity problem because of fast food, it is eating fast food 5 times per week and lack of excercise that is the problem.
Gina M. Crome, M.S., M.P.H., R.D. July 14, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Thanks for your comments Lou! It's great to hear that you make that effort to take care of yourself and it's definitely paid off by being in such good health. Believe it or not, we actually get most of our salt intake not from the shaker (what we add) but rather what is added to our foods as a preservative. Processed foods and restaurant meals comprise- by far- a majority of our salt intake. Like everything else, it's all about moderation. Eating out a little less often, preparing more foods from fresh ingredients as opposed to processed, and a little physical activity everyday will certainly put someone on a path to better health.

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