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A Guide to Sodium

November 14th, 2011 Healthy Living

Health experts everywhere warn that consuming too much sodium has many negative effects on the body, but so far that hasn't stopped some food manufacturers from using high levels of sodium in their products. As a result, Americans oftentimes get way more than they possibly need. If you think there may be too much sodium in your diet, it may be time to start taking steps to reduce your intake. Here's the lowdown on sodium according to the Mayo Clinic and Real Simple magazine.

What it does Your body needs sodium to balance your fluids, transmit nerve impulses and help your muscles flex. Your kidneys handle how much sodium your body has by holding on to it when there's too little and getting rid of it when there's too much. Sometimes your kidney isn't able to remove all the excess, which means the sodium absorbs into your blood and retains water - increasing your blood volume. This translates into higher pressure than your heart is used to handling. Chronic high blood pressure can lead to a variety of health issues like heart disease, kidney disease, stroke and heart failure, according to the Mayo Clinic.

How much you need Real Simple magazine reports that your daily sodium intake should be about 1,300 milligrams (mg) - down from the 2,300 mg that was recommended previously. Despite these guidelines, most Americans get about 3,400 mg of sodium each day. In order to cut down your intake, it's important to know where all of the sodium is coming from.

Where you get it Cutting back on sodium doesn't just mean skipping out on flavoring your meals with table salt. Sodium is prevalent in a lot of foods that you wouldn't even expect. Here are a few places you're likely to find sodium: • Processed foods. Since sodium is a flavor enhancer and a preservative, processed foods are full of them. This includes things like bread, cheese, pre-made dinners, fast food, cold cuts and soups. • Natural foods. Even without adding any extra sodium, many vegetables, dairy products and meat contain plenty of it. • Table salt. Many homemade meals are garnished with a bit of salt for flavor, which adds on to the amount already contained in the ingredients.

How to cut back It's important to read the label on foods you buy at the grocery store. Look for the amount of sodium listed on the nutrition facts, along with ingredients with the word sodium in them, baking soda and baking powder. The Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding products with more than 200 milligrams per serving, especially if you're likely to eat more than one serving at a time.

Another solution is to eat fresher foods. Make meals with fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and whole grains that don't have added seasonings or preservatives. If you do buy something that's not fresh, consider looking for a label which reads "low sodium." Try to take out the salt in many of the recipes you use, except baked goods - as the quality and taste could change. If you cook from recipes found in a book focused on heart-healthy diets, you should be able to find ways to spare the salt without sacrificing taste.

Cut back gradually if you think your taste buds will miss having salt. Pretty soon you should notice that you don't miss it as much and many foods will taste saltier than you thought previously.