Why is Sodium Important?

By Diane Ruyack

Sodium is an element that the body needs to function properly. The body uses sodium to regulate blood pressure and blood volume. Sodium is also critical for the functioning of muscles and nerves. Sodium occurs naturally in most foods.

Too much sodium may lead to high blood pressure in those who are sensitive to sodium. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will probably recommend that you reduce your sodium (salt) intake. Sodium may lead to a serious build-up of fluid in people with congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, or kidney disease. Such people should be on a strict sodium-restricted diet, as prescribed by their doctor.

Healthy adults should limit sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day while individuals with high blood pressure should consume no more than 1,500 mg per day.  1 teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium.  The following are tips to help you reduce your sodium.  Eating out can break your salt bank! Choose appetizers without croutons, dipping sauces, smoked meats or fish, and brined foods. Request salt-free foods and have your entrée grilled, baked, poached, broiled, or steamed plain. Avoid salted rims on drinks and substitute liquid hot sauce (you’ll use less) for salty spices or rubs. Order sauces on the side and use sparingly.  Avoid soups, anything canned (beans, regular tuna fish), casseroles, deli meats, and salted veggies. Bring your own salt-free seasoning and ask for lemon or lime wedges. Use olive oil as your dipping sauce and request plain oil and vinegar for your salad. Frequent the restaurants that cater to lower sodium items and honor your requests. If you eat breakfast out, go for a yogurt or unsalted bagel.

Some of the worst salt offenders at restaurants are lo mein, Reuben sandwiches, beef jerky, fried rice and nachos. Can’t find a low-salt option? Choose the lesser of two evils, cut your meal in half and take the rest home; add a fruit cup or yogurt to round out the meal. Cut back on other salty foods on days you overdo it. Search sodium in foods at nal.usda.gov.

Shrimp, crab and lobster are all naturally low in fat but high in sodium. Deep-fry in seasoned batter, dip in salted butter or saute in salty sauces, and see your sodium skyrocket.  When choosing shellfish, limit other salty foods like fried side dishes, and use only salt-free dips and sauces.

Carryout, delivery and fast foods may be salt havens. Top offenders: pizza, fried foods, cheeseburgers, breakfast sandwiches, street vendor items (hot dogs, sausages, hoagies, bagged snacks), and Asian food (miso, teriyaki, soy sauce).  For dessert, be wary of graham crusts and corn meal items. Remember, soda contains sodium, so choose water, coffee, tea, 100 percent fruit juice, or low-sodium vegetable juice instead.

So what can we eat?  Concentrate on fresh or frozen veggies, fruits, plain lean meats, smaller portions of food, and cook more at home where you can buy low sodium products and add salt sparingly.

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