If a diet of toast for breakfast, a sandwich and soup for lunch,
followed by pizza and breadsticks for dinner is typical, your
diet may be jam-packed with more sodium than you realize.
world of highly-processed, pre-made food, high levels of sodium aren’t
reserved only for salty snacks, and these hidden
salt mines could be detrimental to your health.
According to the
American Heart Association, the recommended sodium intake for the
average American is 1,500 mg a day. This salt can be contained in almost all foods, even those not classified as “junk” or “salty” foods. The American Heart Association identifies
the ‘Salty Six’ as the other top sources for sodium: bread and rolls,
cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soup and sandwiches.
Lawrence Davis, professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, stressed that food producers can add sodium to foods to make them more appetizing. This increases the likelihood that people find foods appealing and makes people chose high-sodium foods more often. This tendency toward salty food attraction is based on human history, Davis said.
“Our tongues have taste buds that taste sodium, and we naturally crave salt,” said Davis. “We crave sodium because at one point, it was hard to get sodium.”
Today, it is much easier for people to consume sodium. This regular availability can lead to consuming in excess. According to the American Heart Association, the average American consumes between 3,000 and 3,600 mg. of salt a day. This is more than twice the maximum recommended amount, and 18 times more than the amount the average person needs per day (approximately 200 mg. according to the American Heart Association).
Anton Thomas, sophomore in German, doesn’t believe his salt intake is a pressing topic.
“Eating salt isn’t anything I think about,” Thomas said. “I think it balances out.”
Others acknowledge that their diet may include high amounts of salt.
“Being on a college budget, most of the things I can afford are the unhealthy, processed foods, so buying food without salt is literally impossible,” said Elizabeth Steinbock, sophomore in elementary education.
Eating too much salt comes with a variety of health risks, including high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
“Excess sodium in the diet is one factor that can contribute to high blood pressure,” said Dianna Schalles, dietician for Lafene Health Center, in an e-mail interview. “High blood pressure makes the heart work too hard and the force of the blood flow can harm arteries and vital organs such as the heart, kidneys and brain. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart and kidney disease, stroke and blindness.”
While excess sodium can be detrimental to a person’s health, some sodium is necessary for healthy living.
“We need sodium and chloride, which are the chemical elements that allow our muscles and hearts to contract,” said Mark Haub, department head for human nutrition.
Without adequate salt intake, it is possible to develop hyponatremia. According to Mayo Clinic’s Health Information, when salt levels become too low through excess intake of water, or excessive exercising, it is possible to become ill. Symptoms of hyponatremia include nausea, vomiting, confusion, seizures and fatigue.
“It’s very dangerous, especially for athletes,” Haub said. “Without enough sodium, there have been instances where athletes have died because they were not getting enough electrolytes.”
Finding the happy medium of sodium intake starts with reading food labels. Haub
explained that the solution to lowering our sodium intake does not mean
we need to completely cut sodium out of our diets. Instead, an encompassing education is necessary.
“There is a social movement to where people are targeting certain ingredients. That’s not the way to go,” Haub said. “We need to be more educated on our nutritional need.”
Schalles also offers some tips on how to cut down on sodium. Choosing fresh or frozen vegetables and poultry, limiting packaged foods and condiments, rinsing canned foods to remove some of the sodium and using herbs and spices in place of salt can all help reduce the amount of salt consumed.
Attempting to entirely eliminate salt from the diet isn’t the answer.
“It isn’t worth it to eliminate certain kinds of foods,” Davis said. “Maybe lowering salt is not worth the effort because when we cut out salt, we tend to turn to other, just as unhealthy foods.”
Sodium can hide in many surprising foods and can cause serious health problems when consumed in high amounts. While limiting sodium intake may be difficult, it doesn’t have to be an all-consuming dietary rule. Sometimes, balancing salt intake with other food can work well.
“If it takes a little bit of salt to make you eat your vegetables, then that’s okay,” Haub said.