Sodium is one of the key minerals in our body that helps regulate fluid balance. Fluid balance is one of the reasons why there is a focus on sodium and heart health.
What is Sodium?
Sodium and potassium are both minerals, they are also often referred to as electrolytes. Electrolytes are molecules that work in the body to;
- Conduct nerve impulses
- Help with muscle contractions
- Maintain hydration and fluid balance in the body
Sodium and potassium exist in balance with each other to ensure that the fluid balance in the body is even on the inside and outside of cells. The balance of these two minerals is what allows the body to function. When they are out of balance, generally more sodium than potassium, the kidneys and the heart work to re-establish this balance. This effort is where the amount of sodium we eat can impact heart health.
Sodium in Food
Sodium occurs naturally in the foods we eat but it also is one of the two molecules that makes up salt. Approximately 40% of salt comes from sodium, the other 60% comes from the mineral chloride. Salt is often referred to as sodium chloride. While our salt intake may seem like a big area of concern, most of the sodium we eat comes from sandwiches, rice pasta and other grain-based dishes, and some other sources. The 2020 – 2025 Dietary Guidelines provides a good chart of foods that contribute sodium to our diets.
Label reading is an important part of knowing how much sodium you consume. Current guidelines recommend that adults consume up to 2300 mg/day, but the average American intake is 3,393 mg/day. Most Americans do not consume enough potassium to ensure a balance between the two electrolytes. The average intake of potassium is between 2400 and 3500 mg/day. This imbalance between sodium and potassium makes it harder for the body to maintain fluid balance. When you purchase packaged foods, you can find the amount of sodium in a serving by checking the Nutrition Facts panel
Maintaining Sodium and Heart Health
When sodium intake is high, and the kidneys worker harder to eliminate the excess, the blood vessels in the body are carrying larger amounts of fluid. This stress on the blood system also impacts the pumping of the heart as it moves blood through the body. If this excess of sodium goes on for years, the heart begins to struggle to pump appropriately leading to increased blood pressure. When blood pressure is elevated watching the intake of sodium and trying to consume more potassium is often the recommendation given to people.
Tips for Reducing Sodium Intake
In addition to checking the labels on the foods you buy it is helpful to think about the foods you get in restaurants. Reading menus can sometimes make it hard to tell how much sodium is in a dish so always ask the restaurant about added salt. In terms of cooking at home, work to limit how much and how often you add salt to the dishes you prepare. The Centers for Disease Control has a very good tip sheet to help you work through monitoring your sodium intake.
In addition to these tips, think about adding salt either during cooking or at the table, not both. You might also try using MSG in place of salt. MSG does contain sodium but you can use less of it in cooking so it can help reduce your sodium intake. Learn more in this post.
To Your Health!
Making changes in eating plans does take some time. Our palates need to adjust to new tastes, our recipes need modification and remembering to ask questions are tasks that all take time. Taking things one step at a time is a good way to ensure you can make changes that last!
About Connie – Connie is a Registered Dietitian with extensive experience communicating in the food and nutrition space. Taking the science of food and nutrition and translating it to simple messages, new products, or exciting menus is her expertise. Making nutrition messages clear, accurate, and engaging aids all consumers.