Sodium – how much is too much? By Lindsay Venn, PA-C RD.
In the 20 years of dietary counseling I have done, sodium remains the one dietary alteration that patients struggle the most with. This is unfortunate because this change can have the most drastic effects on the body if a person can limit their sodium intake successfully. The most significant conditions that can be positively impacted with lowering sodium are blood pressure, heart failure, renal function, liver failure, and edema, just to name a few. Bluntly, too much salt can kill you!
It is a very common misconception that you can just avoid adding salt to your food and you will lower your sodium intake significantly. This is completely false, only about 10% of the salt that people take in comes from the salt shaker.
So if salt doesn’t come from adding it to your food or cooking with it, where does it come from? Processed foods is the big culprit.
I tell all my patients that if they have to open something (box, bag, can) to get to the food, they should look at the food label. Even foods like frozen skinless/boneless chicken breasts have a lot of sodium – usually 600-900 mg. So the next question, how much sodium should you have? To meet the goal to help reduce things like blood pressure, we like you to eat less than 2,000-3,000 mg per day. The average American eats 6,000-8,000 mg per day. Yes, that is a lot of math during the day if you try to keep track. So to make this simple, if each thing you eat is less than 200 mg of sodium, over the course of the day you will meet the goal of being less than 2,000-3,000 mg. So for example, if you have a yogurt that is 140 mg, a piece of toast that is 120 mg, an orange that is 0 mg and a glass of milk that is 120 mg for breakfast, you are meeting the goal of each thing being less than 200 mg.
Why is cutting back on sodium so hard? It is because we are all very used to having sodium in our foods. It is used for preservation for storage and of course for flavoring. It is often used to improve flavor in foods that are altered to be low fat, low sugar, or gluten free. So going from a high sodium diet to a low sodium diet can be a big change for the taste buds that most people don’t like. So I tell people, your taste buds turn over about every 3 weeks, so be diligent, it will get better in time.
Also, use other great flavorings in your food, try fresh lemon or lemon zest, vinegar is great, or Ms. Dash makes a lot of options for seasoning that are all low sodium. This is a very healthy change anyone can benefit from with the right advice and tools.