Many people are consuming too much sodium in their diets, which can have adverse health impacts. The main source of dietary intake comes from processed and packaged foods.
What is sodium and why do I need it?
Sodium is an important mineral that helps our bodies maintain the right fluid levels, pH balance, and temperature. It is key in transmitting nerve impulses and for proper muscle contraction and relaxation.
Sodium plays a crucial role during pregnancy as blood volumes and other fluids increase. It also deserves special attention for competitive athletes and others who may loose large amounts of sodium through sweat. Too little sodium can lead to dehydration, muscle cramps, and other related issues.
Some foods naturally contain sodium and it is most abundant in salt.
How much do I need?
There is not enough data to set a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), so an Adequate Intake (AI) level is provided instead. The AI amount is sufficient for most people but does not cover those who may be sweating excessively.
The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) also provides a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL), which is the highest amount that is not likely to pose any risk . Here are the recommendations from NAM for women over 9 years old, including during pregnancy and lactation:
- Adequate Intake: 1,500 mg sodium/day
- Tolerable Upper Intake Level: 2,300 mg sodium/day
High intake of dietary sodium is associated with high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease . That is why the majority of the focus is on reducing sodium intake, rather than getting enough.
Getting too much sodium from food?
Salt is primarily made up of sodium chloride, along with other trace minerals depending on the type. Just one teaspoon of table salt provides approximately 2,300 mg of sodium, which is the daily limit. It’s no surprise then that 9 out of 10 American are getting more than the recommended daily amount, with an average intake of 3,400 mg .
A European study showed that vegans and vegetarians are the only dietary groups that consume sodium within the recommendations, at 1,316 mg and 2,228 mg, respectively . This may be a reflection of healthier food choices and lower consumption of foods such as cottage cheese, meat, and cheese.
Whole plant foods naturally contain a low amount of sodium and do not pose a concern. For example, celery has one of the highest amounts for whole foods and it’s just about 80 mg per cup.
Where does all that salt come from?
Generally, salting food during cooking only accounts for about 6% of our daily intake and another 5% is added during mealtimes . Removing salt from the table doesn’t begin to address the largest source of sodium in our diets. Also, iodized salt can be a significant source of iodine, which is especially important during pregnancy.
Processed and restaurant foods account for more than 70% of our typical sodium consumption. Vegan-friendly foods containing the highest amount include soups, sauces, bread and baked goods, canned beans and vegetables, vegan cheeses, alternative meats
- Sodium has an important role in our body functions but too much can cause increased blood pressure.
- US guidelines recommend consuming no more than 2,300 mg per day, which is equivalent to one teaspoon of table salt.
- Whole plant foods contain little to no sodium and the main source in our diets comes from processed foods and restaurant meals.