Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sodium, Potassium, And Your Body

We all think we know a little something about salt (sodium chloride), and how it tastes darn good on that dinner of ours.  It can enhance the flavors of otherwise bland food, and can save some people from the dreaded plate of veggies.  And our body NEEDs salt to survive, because it cannot manufacture the nutrients in salt on its own.  You need sodium to maintain blood pressure, water levels, and to prevent dehydration.

However what we don't realize is that the average person these days takes in wayyy too much salt.  In fact, the recommended daily sodium intake is around 2000-2500mg, and many people can eat this number within two meals if they're big on processed food.  While you may not have realized this, and haven't ever really felt the effects of an overly large sodium consumption,  all that salt isn't doing your body any good, and in fact can be hurting you in some ways you might not initially see or feel.  However these little behind the scenes acts of mutiny can really come back to haunt you if you're desperate to lose a few pounds, or just get healthier in general.  Here's what excess an sodium intake can do to you:

Heart Health:  Excess sodium will most certainly raise blood pressure, because sodium has the job of regulating water levels in your blood.  The more sodium in your bloodstream, the more water is drawn into your veins, causing a higher blood pressure, and forcing your heart to work harder than it already has to.  And eating high sodium foods day in and day out will definitely take a toll on that oh so important chest muscle of yours.

Excess sodium can also wear down your kidneys, as it's their primary job to regulate the sodium in your bloodstream.  Too much salt can cause kidney stones, and in extreme cases, kidney failure.

A salty diet will also be very detrimental to any weight loss goals.  It will cause you to retain water, become bloated, and therefore you'll be unable to shed those last few pounds.  And because excess water appears like fat over your midsection, causing a soft, flabby look, I guarantee you won't be too happy with your appearance either. This water retention can be easily cured with a diet adjustment, but if you don't know what's happening, it may be very confusing and disheartening to wonder why that scale isn't budging, and those abs are still hidden.

Foods to watch out for:

Canned anything:  The general rule of thumb is to watch out for the canned stuff.  Yes, canned soup, canned vegetable, canned meat, fish, etc.  If it's in a can, it usually has a LOT of sodium in it, just to help preserve it for extended periods of time.  I'm guilty of the canned food craze, because being in college, I can't really keep a ton of perishable food and expect it to last long enough to eat it all.  I also happen to LOVE canned tuna, salmon, herring, etc (GREAT LEAN PROTEIN.)  But I never go crazy on the stuff, and the reason for that is the sodium.  One cup of canned soup can have as much as 940mg (or more) per serving, and there's usually two servings per can!  That's incredible, more than half your days sodium for lunch.

Chicken Breast:  Many chicken breasts and other frozen meats, though lean and fresh, tend to be injected with a saline solution to preserve them for a little while longer.  This excess sodium can add up if eaten many days each week, and before you know it you could be consuming much more sodium than you thought.  Wash your food before cooking to remove a lot of that salty mixture.

Fast Food:  I'll start this one off with a quote:

How do you know if you are getting too much sodium?
"If you eat fast food even once a week, you are probably eating 2 to 3 times as much salt as you need," says Jill Minette, R.D., assistant director of clinical nutrition at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

That's incredible.  Fast food is absolutely riddled with salt.  Just plain PACKED with it.  Salt adds a lot of flavor to very bland, processed food, so it's easy to see why fast food chains use so much of it.  One footlong sub from subway can have over 2700mg of sodium.  One Big Mac has 1040mg of sodium.  A Whopper has 1355mg of sodium.  A medium side of fries has around 300mg of sodium, however how often do you eat those without adding a packet of salt or two.  If you're looking to decrease sodium intake, fast food is definitely not the place to start.

Sauces:  A lot of sauces, like tomato sauces, salsa, hot sauce, mustard, chipotle, etc. have a large amount of sodium per serving.  I am a fan of salsa because of it's high flavor to low calorie ratio, but I know it's definitely not a good idea to go crazy on the servings I consume, just because of the large amounts of sodium per serving.  I still suggest sauces as a great way to add flavor to your food (certain healthier sauces of course, I'll give a list in a later article), but watch out for that salt.  Read the nutrition labels!

Any processed food:  Another reason why processed food is bad.  Salt is used for preservation and flavoring, and like I said before, the crappy processed food is what needs the most flavor to keep it selling.  Read the nutrition facts on that lunchable, that ramen (1500mg per block), or that lean cuisine.  Grab a banana or an apple instead and cut that sodium intake a little.

But excess sodium isn't the only problem.  Like I said before, our body needs sodium to survive, and without enough of it, we can easily become fatigued, dehydrated, and overall very inefficient.  Some people may not be consuming an overly huge amount of sodium, but are instead completely messing up the balance of sodium to water in their body.  I've now discussed the desirable amount of each (8-15 glasses a day of water, and 2000-2500mg of sodium), therefore this is the ratio your looking for.  If either one gets out of whack, you'll feel it.  You may feel dizzy, or even slightly sick if suddenly your sodium intake changes drastically.  Try to watch this ratio, keep it in check, and I bet you'll feel a lot better.

Unfortunately the water-salt ratio isn't the only ratio you have to watch in your body.  In fact, yet another problem with a great percentage of diets these days is that people aren't taking in enough of the other electrolyte, potassium.  In fact, some people take in very close the daily recommended dosage of sodium, but because they don't get enough potassium they still see the detrimental effects that a salty diet can bring on.   Potassium works side by side with sodium in your blood to regulate the acid-alkaline balance in your cells.  Basically, sodium works outside the cells, potassium works inside.  Without enough potassium in your diet there can be serious bodily effects such as poor brain function and an irregular heartbeat.  This is because without the correct amount of potassium in your diet, electrical signals to your brain and muscles are very inefficient.

Banana's are a food rich in potassium, try one today!

So here's my final advice.  Firstly, try to cut back a little on sodium.  Replace a few processed snacks with healthier, fresher alternatives, such as fruits and vegetables.  This will not only decrease your sodium intake, but will increase your potassium intake, and will better maintain that critical balance.  Also, drink more water, and while I suggest cutting your sodium, don't go ultra-low salt, because your body does need a regular intake of the stuff.  Keep your ratios in mind, and adjust your diet accordingly.

Keep balanced, stay healthy, and good luck!


  1. this is totally true. i went to buy a store-made spinach quiche at the grocery store and it contained 2050 mg sodium PER SERVING! i made my own instead.

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