According to the American Heart Association, 9 out of 10 people are consuming too much sodium.
Not hard to do, apparently.
The daily value (DV) for sodium is 2,400 mg, which is about a teaspoon of salt. But the AHA says:
– 1,500 mg is actually the *better* daily allowance of sodium
– and 3,400 mg is the amount the average American consumes
Thinking in terms of milligrams often makes sodium content seem minuscule, but it adds up. To put it in perspective: a cup of tomato soup is 471 mg of sodium. A slice of cheese is 468 mg. Two slices of wheat bread are 224 mg. Add a pickle for 569 mg, and voila… your grilled cheese sandwich & soup just put you over 1,500 mg in a single meal.
So, is salt bad for weight loss and overall health? The answer is yes — in excess. And most of us are eating it in excess. Once a coveted mineral and even formerly used as currency, today salt is almost impossible to get away from. Yet when it comes to scanning nutrition labels, sodium isn’t on our radar like sugar and calories. Here are a few reasons it should be…
Dangers of Too Much Sodium
High sodium intake (anything more than the DV listed above) is a risk factor for high blood pressure, which is a leading cause of death among women. African Americans, people with diabetes and people 51 or older are also at a higher risk for high blood pressure. Thus, while 2,400 mg of sodium might be a safe amount for some, a good portion of adults falls into the “1,500 mg is a much better idea” category.
In addition to high blood pressure, consuming a lot of sodium increases our risk of:
- Heart failure
- Stomach cancer
- Kidney disease
- Kidney stones
- Enlarged heart muscle
- Water retention and bloating
As far as affecting weight management, I haven’t found any research that directly shows salt to be bad for weight loss. But this rock is surely not helping us get closer to rock-hard abs. Not only does sodium cause water retention, but there’s a hidden danger: it makes food really, really, really tasty. So in addition to the many chronic diseases that excessive sodium puts us at risk of, it can lead to weight gain if you tend to gobble up salty foods (which are probably also high in calories) without realizing it.
Foods High in Sodium
The biggest vehicle for sodium in mass quantity is processed foods. But it’s something to be on the lookout for in restaurants and at home, too. (I almost died when I saw my brother hold the salt canister upside-down for a good 10 seconds over his pot of gourmet mac & cheese.)
If you have a taste for savory like me, salty foods can be addicting. But sodium content can also be hard to detect — foods often just taste more flavorful. Do we suspect that soups, breads, sauces and condiments, and pizza (960mg!) are loaded with sodium? Do we suspect that this is one of the reasons we can’t stop at one piece of bread or slice of pizza? (Guilty.)
As pointed out in a Reuters story, the more sodium we consume, the more our taste buds get used to it. On the flip side, the less we eat, the more we’ll be sensitive to it and able to detect when foods are high-salt. Try cutting back on sodium and then eating a handful of Cheetos — you’ll see what I mean!
Salt is made up of 40% sodium and 60% chloride, and it is essential to the human body. But as with most things, it’s possible to overdo it — and really pay the price. The Harvard School of Public Health says 90% of Americans will develop high blood pressure at some point in their lives. With that in mind, it’s worth getting down to 2/3 tsp of sodium (1,500 mg) a day, or less.
As you’re scanning labels, be especially wary of anything with 20% DV or higher, so you can avoid it or adjust your other meals accordingly. For a closer look at the sodium content in foods, here’s a good list.
P.S. Can you believe there’s more sodium in tomato juice than chips??