Sodium is a crucial electrolyte in the body. Many foods contain small amounts of sodium naturally, but most of the sodium in the diet comes from salt.
Salt is made of sodium (40% by weight) and chloride (60% by weight).
What sodium does in the body is to bind water and maintain intracellular and extracellular fluids in the right balance.
It is also an electrically charged molecule, and along with potassium helps maintain electrical gradients across cell membranes, which is critical for nerve transmission, muscular contraction, and various other functions.
The body can NOT function without sodium.
The more sodium we have in our bloodstream, the more water it binds. For this reason, sodium is thought to increase blood pressure (which it does, but only a little bit).
If blood pressure is elevated, the heart has to work harder to push the blood throughout the body and there is increased strain on the arteries and various organs.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for many serious diseases, like heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.
So How much should we have?
The National Health and Medical Research Council has set an ‘Adequate Intake’ of 20–40 mmol (460–920 mg) of sodium per day. This corresponds to 1.15–2.3 grams of salt. Most Australian adults have a daily salt intake of about 10 grams, i.e. many times the maximum value of the Adequate Intake range. A ‘Suggested Dietary Target’ of 1600 mg of sodium (equivalent to about 4 grams of salt) has been set for Australian adults. This is about half the average Australian adult’s current salt intake.
Also from this awesome resource are 10 TIPS to help reduce salt intake!
- Start the day with no-added-salt porridge or a low-salt cereal, with or without low-fat yoghurt (stewed fruit or rhubarb can be added to enhance flavour).
- Snack on fruit, dried fruit and nuts (unsalted).
- Remove most of the processed foods from your shopping list and buy mostly fresh foods, especially fruit and vegetables.
- Dress salads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar without adding salt or salty dressings.
- Remove salt shakers from the table and the kitchen, including salt in all its guises—sea salt, garlic salt, onion salt, and all the expensive gourmet salts of various colours.
- If you need supplementary iodine, using ‘iodised salt’ (salt that has been supplemented with iodine) is not appropriate. There are many other sources of iodine to help you meet your iodine requirements; these can be recommended by your pharmacist.
- Cook food to conserve flavour using methods such as steaming, roasting, baking, stir-frying, microwaving or barbecuing. Boiling foods can result in loss of potassium and flavour into the boiling water; this may entice you to add salt after cooking.
- If fresh vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs and fish need more flavour, use your favourite herbs, spices and vinegars, not salt, to create the flavour you desire.
- Read the Nutrition Information Panel on processed products and select only low-salt processed foods—that is, those with a sodium content no higher than 120 mg/100 g.
- Buy wholemeal or whole-grain bread from small bakers or specialty bread shops that cater for discriminating customers. Some low-salt breads are also available in some supermarkets. You can also make your own bread (perhaps with added iodine) in a breadmaker
Some extra help information if you are not counting your salt intake:
Studies actually show that the effects of sodium may follow a J-shaped curve. Too little and too much are both harmful, the sweet spot is somewhere in between.
Also be aware that if you’re on a low-carb diet, your sodium requirement may go up.
It is probably best to consume unrefined varieties of salt, such as sea salt and Himalayan pink salt. They also contain various trace nutrients that may be important.
Given that most people get most of their sodium from processed foods then I’d like to propose this radical approach to optimizing your sodium intake.
- Eat real food.
- That’s it.
Websites I used to put together this information