Sodium is an essential macro-mineral that along with potassium helps to regulate the body’s fluid balance. It is an electrolyte (cation), which is a positively electrically charged atom that performs essential tasks within each cell.
Electrolytes control our blood pressure and blood volume. The kidneys will remove any excess fluid in your blood by drawing the fluid across cell walls. Sodium along with potassium is needed to complete this vital function by passing this fluid through the walls of the blood vessels and into the kidneys. Once sufficient fluid has collected in the kidneys it is expressed onwards to the bladder and excreted as urine.
We also need sodium for normal nerve function, without it there would be no electrical impulses travelling along our nerves necessary to enable muscles to contract. This is done by an exchange pumping motion in the membranes of the cells. Sodium out and potassium in.
If the balance of potassium and sodium is thrown out by an excess of either mineral it can result in some common but potentially dangerous health conditions including high blood pressure.
Why we are rarely deficient in sodium.
Unlike other minerals, sodium or sodium chloride (table salt) has a very recognisable and almost addictive taste. It is very widely used in all processed foods and it is very easy to consume unhealthy amounts in our diet.
One of the main medical conditions associated with excessive sodium intake is very high blood pressure and heart disease so keeping a check on our intake is vitally important. This is one of the leading causes of premature death that can easily be prevented by making some small but significant changes to your lifestyle.
If you are trying to lose weight you may find that reducing your sodium intake will allow you to lose a great deal of water that has been retained in the cells due to the high level of salt in the blood.
Sodium deficiency is rare and in fact it is estimated that we are consuming at least 5 times the amount of sodium that we should be.
What are the recommendations for sodium intake.
The current recommendation is under 2,400 mg of sodium per day, which is approximately one level teaspoon of table salt. If I give you some comparisons for processed foods versus fresh foods you will see how quickly you can take in far more than your body needs.
Half a can of baked beans contains 504mg of sodium – fresh contains 5mg of sodium
Half a can of mushrooms contains 400 mg of sodium – fresh contains 1mg of sodium
Half a can of tomatoes with spices is 600mg of sodium- homemade would be 4mg of sodium.
3oz of salty bacon contains 1,197 mg of sodium – fresh pork chop 54mg of sodium
A chicken frozen dinner contains 2,500 mg of sodium – freshly prepared 50mg of sodium.
Packet of dry minestrone soup contains 6,400mg – freshly prepared 100mg.
Some other foods that we might eat on a regular basis have equally horrifying amounts of sodium including baked ham 3oz = 840mg, French salad dressing 2 tablespoons = 438mg, half jar of Alfredo pasta sauce =1080mg, half can of chicken noodle soup = 1160mg.
How can we reduce the salt in our diets.
As you will know having read the articles and diet recommendations on the website and in this magazine, I am not keen on processed foods. Apart from the fact you have little or no idea exactly where the food has come from you certainly do not have full knowledge of the manufacturing processes or the number of people who have been involved in the finished product.
We now have labels on food and for the most part, although they seem to be written in stupidly small print (mainly because there are so many ingredients they have not got room on the jar) we can find out how much of a certain additive there is in any processed foods that we buy.
There are sodium reduced products on the market but be careful about the substitutes that have been use to produce this supposedly safe product. One of the most popular taste additives is MSG (monosodium glutamate) and that can sometimes be slipped in without you recognising it.
- Only eat canned soups, broths and stock cubes rarely unless you are sure they are sodium reduced or free.
- Avoid bacon and cured meats on a regular basis.
- Avoid salty snacks.
- Use salt free butter or olive oil.
- Check the sodium contents on any processed foods that you buy and choose the lower sodium brands. This applies to mineral water, which can have as much as 60mg of sodium per 100ml. That is 1200mg per 2 litre bottle which easy to drink on a hot day.
- Make eating takeaways an exception not the rule.
- Use fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and chicken products rather than canned or pre-prepared.
- Instant cereals, breakfast cereals, instant rice, pastas etc usually have high levels of sodium.
- All sauces like ketchup are very high so only use a bare amount on the side of your plate rather than on your food.
- Always get sauces on the side when you are in a restaurant and use only the barest to give a taste to your food.
- If you are cooking for the family use a pot of salt containing 1/2 level teaspoon of salt for each family member. Remember that if you all have had breakfast cereal that you will have already consumed sodium during the day so ½ teaspoon per person for cooking will help to keep the total levels down.
- Be aware of aliases in the form of monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrate, sodium saccharin, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and sodium benzoate.
©sallycronin Just Food for Health 2009
Thanks for dropping by and hope you have found this of interest.. as always your comments are the icing on the cake…Sally