Your body needs sodium to function. Without it, your body wouldn’t be able to maintain proper water balance within your cells, have functioning nerve and muscle impulses, or keep your blood pressure in check. But the truth is, you only need a small amount each day in order to keep all of these processes working the way they should. In fact, about 500 mg is plenty. What does 500 mg of sodium look like? To give you an idea, you probably eat about that much snacking on a single serving of your favorite chips, crackers, or pretzels. Condiments you use everyday like ketchup and salad dressing can be loaded with even more.
You probably didn’t realize how often you’re consuming 500 mg (or more!) of sodium throughout your day. Every meal and snack you consume is filled with sodium, and it’s easy for it to get out of control if you’re not paying attention. But don’t worry; you’re not alone. Most Americans are actually eating between 4,000 and 6,500 mg daily. As you might guess, this isn’t good.
The reason we consume so much salt in the first place isn’t because it’s a necessary ingredient in the meals we eat. It’s because food manufacturers know that salt is addictive. The more they add, the more you’ll crave and come back for more. Studies have shown that salt shares certain characteristics similar to other addictive substances, in that consuming it causes your brain to release endorphins (chemicals that make you feel happy or good) when you eat it. People who do try to reduce their salt intake find out it can be a lot more difficult than they thought and even experience cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Too much sodium is one of the leading causes of high blood pressure, which is an important risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When too much salt enters the blood, your body can no longer absorb it all into your bloodstream. Your body reactions by increasing the amount of water in your blood vessels, causing pressure to increase as your blood vessels expand.
As stated previously, your body only needs about 500 mg of sodium per day, but as long as you don’t have any pre-existing conditions that affect your heart or blood pressure, you should be fine up until about 2,300 mg. In fact, if you stay below 2,300 mg, you’re doing really well. If you’re someone who’s already at risk of high blood pressure, due to diet or family history, you should limit your salt to less than 1,500 mg a day.
You should also try to use mostly unrefined salts like Sea Salt or Himalayan Pink Salt. Unlike your typical table salt, these have 84 minerals (in contrast, table salt has two.)
The best way you can immediately start limiting your sodium intake is by consuming fewer processed foods, choosing low-sodium versions of your favorites snacks, and paying closer attention to the labels on the food you buy at the store. The food you prepare yourself from fresh ingredients is the food that’s going to give you the greatest control over your sodium intake.