Sugar is a major culprit harming our health. And it can be when overconsumed. But what about sodium, aka salt? Almost all Americans consume more sodium than they need, and much comes from the “Salty Six” foods, as dubbed by the American Heart Association. These foods include pizza, tacos, bread, chicken, soup, and deli sandwiches, examples of favorite meals Americans have daily.
Why can salt be unhealthy?
Salt, composed of two minerals – 40% sodium and 60% chloride, is only unhealthy when eaten in excess. In reality, our body requires sodium for various activities such as conducting nerve impulses, contracting and relaxing muscles, and maintaining a proper water balance and minerals.
A human requires a minimum of 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily, and most can safely consume up to 2,300 milligrams of sodium unless otherwise told not to by their doctor. Not meeting the daily minimum of 1,500 mg can result in dangerously low blood pressure and an imbalance of electrolytes. In addition, symptoms of insufficient sodium intake may include headaches, lack of energy, muscle fatigue, and nausea.
But, the vast majority of people are overconsuming sodium. The average sodium consumption among Americans is 3,400 milligrams a day. The only people who need that amount of sodium daily are those who sweat profusely or elite athletes. Sodium is added to many foods Americans buy – especially boxed and canned foods. Unless you prepare most foods from scratch, control salt usage, or primarily eat lots of fruits, veggies, unprocessed meats, dairy foods, and legumes, you like are eating too much salt.
Signs you’re eating too much salt
You’ll be surprised to learn that over consuming salt can affect the body. However, these effects you have blamed on other causes besides overdoing it with salt.
Here are sneaky signs that could be related to excess salt in your diet:
- Excessive thirst
Have you ever noticed that when eating salty foods, you get thirstier? That’s because a higher salt intake can lead to dehydration. So if you find yourself chugging water down more than usual, look at what foods you’re eating. Try to include more “watery” fruits and vegetables, such as grapes, berries, watermelon, summer squash, cucumbers, and broccoli.
- Increased blood pressure
When you consume more salt, this means more of the mineral sodium circulating in your bloodstream. Excess sodium attracts and pulls water, meaning increased water enters your bloodstream. This results in a higher volume of blood that pushes against the walls of your blood vessels, causing hypertension or high blood pressure.
As stated above, sodium attracts water. Eating salty snacks like chips or pretzels can lead to fluid retention causing more water to remain in your body. As a result, your hands, feet, eyes, and abdomen can feel and look swollen or puffier.
- A cycle of unhealthy food preferences
Sodium is an acquired taste preference. If your meals and snacks are mainly salty processed meats (hot dogs, sausage, pepperoni, etc.), chips, grains, soups, TV dinners, and fast food, your taste buds have adjusted to a liking for salty foods. To change this taste preference, slowly add in more fresh fruits and vegetables, unsalted nuts, and fresh meats like lean beef, poultry, and fatty fish.
- Muscle cramps
If you have a heavy hand using the salt shaker at meals, you may notice tighter-feeling muscles or muscle cramps. Muscle cramps can result from an imbalance of the two minerals, sodium and potassium, causing more muscle soreness. Sodium is necessary for muscle contraction, while potassium is necessary for muscle relaxation. Therefore, when you consume too much sodium and not enough potassium, your muscles are not getting the signal to relax and instead are contracting more often, resulting in unpleasant muscle cramps.
- Sleep disturbances
Sodium can even affect your sleep. Eating high sodium foods close to bedtime, such as pizza, can lead to blood pressure increases as well as fluid retention. These changes can lead to restless sleep, waking up frequently, and feeling groggy the next morning.
How to nix too much sodium from your diet
The solution for getting enough but not too much sodium in your diet is to follow The DASH Diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and is a top-rated dietary plan for anyone wanting to keep their sodium intake in check. Here is a link on how to get started on this healthy dietary plan: https://perks.optum.com/blog/the-newbies-guide-to-the-dash-diet/
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.