You’ve probably known someone who had to cut out the salt from their favorite foods. It’s a common trope of older age: Once we hit fifty and learn we have rising blood pressure at our annual physical, it’s time to say goodbye to pizza, processed foods and potato chips. Get ready for plain, broiled chicken breast from here on out—and maybe a side of kale.
However, we should be mindful of our salt intake throughout our life, according to several medical studies, not just when we’re fifty. Common table salt is made up of the minerals sodium and chloride, and they each play an important role in our everyday health, particularly when we consume them in the right amounts.
What role does salt play in the body?
Sodium and chloride are two important electrolytes that can either improve or disrupt bodily functions, depending on how much we take in. Salt influences sweating, muscle contractions, nerve communication, and blood flow—just to name a few.
Having the right amount of sodium chloride in your diet will help you maintain the appropriate balance of body fluids, support proper nerve function, and help your muscles contract and move.
Your kidneys are important in helping your body regulate sodium levels. You lose sodium through excrements in your urine. Additionally, you can lose sodium through sweating. But since your body can only process salt so quickly, it’s important to also moderate your salt intake by choosing food wisely.
What are the dangers of too much salt?
Some studies show that eating too much salt is linked to stomach cancer. And like the trope says, several studies have found that lowering salt intake can lead to reduced blood pressure, especially for those who already struggle with hypertension.
How much salt should I have daily?
Despite the risks of too much salt, the body actually needs a small amount of salt daily to keep up its optimal wellbeing. The recommended Daily Value for sodium is less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day, or just one tablespoon.
Foods high in sodium
It’s easy to consume too much sodium when living a standard American lifestyle. With so much hustle and go-go-go, we often eat processed convenience foods like sandwiches, wraps, and french fries. Since sodium can act as a preservative in foods, it’s often found in high concentrations in some of our most popular grab-and-go snacks and fast-food meals.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 40% of the sodium consumed by Americans comes from the following nine foods:
- Deli meat sandwiches
- Burritos and tacos
- Savory Snacks (e.g. chips, crackers, popcorn)
- Pasta mixed dishes
- Egg dishes and omelets
Not surprisingly, canned foods including soup stock, vegetables and sauces contain lots of sodium. And since we also tend to season burger meat, omelets, and pastas with salt and pepper, these foods can serve as easy places for sodium to hide. Always check the nutrition label to find out for certain how much salt is lurking inside your favorite foods.
Best low-sodium foods
Fortunately, consumers can enjoy plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that naturally contain low amounts of sodium. When shopping, look for foods with 5% Daily Value (DV) or less for sodium.
Check out any unseasoned or unprocessed versions of the following food items:
- Whole grains and breakfast cereals
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Fresh or frozen meats (without skin, seasoning or marinades)
- Unsalted nuts and seeds
- Dried beans and peas – like kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), split peas, and lentils
- Canned beans labeled “no salt added” or “low sodium”
While they may sound bland in comparison, you can spice up these food options with culinary herbs like garlic, rosemary, oregano, cumin, and more. Avoid buying pre-mixed seasoning packets containing preservatives, and instead enjoy the chance to make your own blends using fresh or dried natural spices.