Sodium is naturally occurring in most “natural” foods in small amounts but the majority of the sodium we get in our diets is from prepared foods. Sodium is added to foods as a preservative, binder, color and flavor enhancer. In some foods such as lunch meat, canned foods, cheese, dressings and soups — a lot is added! But how much is too much? Most people that suffer from high blood pressure have been told to limit their sodium intake to under 1500 mg a day. The reason for this is that sodium is an electrolyte that works with potassium to regulate the flow of fluids in your body cells. Most people do not eat too much potassium therefore the balance gets out of whack and causes a fluid imbalance in your body. Your body may retain fluids which has serious implications on your heart, muscles, kidneys and nervous system. Your kidneys naturally eliminate excess sodium through your urine but if you are one of the lucky ones that are sodium sensitive then you may retain the sodium and therefore retain fluids. This causes the blood to become thicker and makes the heart work harder, which means your blood pressure will go up.
But what if you are healthy? How much sodium should you eat then? The recommended daily allowance is 2300 mg of sodium for healthy adults. If you eat a lot of processed foods or eat out in restaurants often then this is not hard to achieve. For example, a typical bagel has over 600 mg of sodium, a cup of soup (2 cups per can) is over 1000 mg of sodium, 1/2 cup of cottage cheese = 440 mg/sodium, a greek salad at Panera Bread Restaurant is 1670 mg sodium and a teaspoon of salt in your favorite recipe equals 2,325 mg of sodium! It sure does add up!
Some tips to help you lower your sodium:
- look at food labels and avoid buying anything that has over 200 mg of sodium per serving
- buy no, very low or reduced sodium foods. Beware that if the “regular” version is already extremely high in sodium than the reduced version may also be high since it only has to be 25 – 50% lower.
- eat more fruits and vegetables–they are naturally very low in sodium
- eat fresh meat instead of lunch meat, processed meat or meat that has already been marinated
- skip the salt in your recipes
- buy “no salt” condiments
- when eating out, ask for the dressing/sauce on the side and just eat a little, it is usually very high in sodium
If you are doing cardio exercise for more than an hour or in hot, humid conditions then a little extra sodium is fine. Your sweat contains sodium that will need to be replaced. Hyponatremia is a condition where your body is low on sodium. This usually occurs when an athlete only replaces lost fluids with water. The symptoms are muscle cramps, disoriention, slurred speech and/or confusion. In such a case, is important to rehydrate with a sports drink that contains sodium. For the average person who is running on the treadmill for an hour, this should not be a problem.
What about your dog, should they watch their sodium intake? Sodium in an important for electrolyte balance in your dogs diet. The recommended amount in their food is 0.06% sodium which is not hard to get, most foods have more than that amount. Dogs will eliminate any excess sodium through their urine. If your dog is suffering from any heart or kidney problem–then your vet may want to restrict their sodium intake. There are low sodium dog foods on the market. Also, when your dog is swimming or surfing in salt water they will naturally drink some of the salt water while swimming which will throw off their electrolyte imbalance and mess with the fluid balance in their intestines causing diarrhea, vomiting and stomach upset. Make sure your dog has plenty of fresh water to drink when at the beach.