Your body needs Sodium for proper bodily functions like fluid balance, muscle function, and nerve communication. This means that sodium is required for muscle contraction, including cardiac muscle, but also functions in the kidneys for fluid balance and blood pressure regulation. Therefore, without sodium, your body can’t function properly. You need sodium, but only small amounts, as too much sodium has the potential to cause major problems with your health. Diseases related to excess sodium intake are steadily climbing, but by reducing your sodium intake you can make a big impact on treating and even preventing these common disorders.

How Much Sodium is Too Much?

You need around 500mg a day of sodium to maintain proper body functions. However, 90% of Americans consume well over the recommended daily limit for sodium intake.

According to the American Heart Association, the daily recommended intake for sodium is ≤ 2,300mg. However, since heart disease rates are steadily climbing, newer guidelines are pushing for < 1,500mg of sodium daily, but even less for children under 13 years old.

The problem is that on average, adult Americans tend to consume around 3,400mg of sodium a day. Consuming more than double the ideal limit causes you to retain not only sodium but also water.

1 slice of Pizza, on average, is about 640mg of sodium

1 can of Chicken Noodle Soup is about 2,225mg of sodium

Arby’s Roast Turkey Ranch & Bacon Sandwich Combo Meal is about 3,750mg of sodium

High Levels of Sodium are Harmful to Your Health

Water retention causes you to bloat, but a little belly bloat isn’t the big problem here. The biggest concern is the volume of fluid in circulation. Water goes where sodium goes, which means the more sodium you consume, the more water you’ll retain. More fluid in the blood vessels causes higher blood pressure and added stress and strain on the entire cardiovascular system.

High sodium causes the kidneys to retain more water and signals the brain to activate thirst signals. Drinking more water will dilute the sodium and help remove excess fluid and sodium from the body through the urine, but this process can take around 2-4 days to rid the body of excess sodium, assuming that you aren’t continuing to eat a high volume of salt.

As we age, our blood vessels become stiffer and the heart muscle tends to compensate by becoming larger, which means that we naturally have slightly higher blood pressure with age. If we are also eating high amounts of sodium daily, we are adding more fluid volume that the heart must pump all day long. Therefore, the heart must work harder to push fluid against stiff vessels, add in high cholesterol and you’ve got a perfect storm for heart disease.

A higher sodium meal here and there isn’t going to cause significant damage. It’s the chronic daily exposure that will start to beat up the cardiovascular system and also the kidneys.

Your kidneys also play a significant role in blood pressure and sodium regulation. The kidneys act as a filter for your body pulling excess electrolytes and toxins and excreting waste through urine. However, long-term exposure to high sodium levels increases blood pressure and adds more work for the kidneys. This can eventually lead to kidney problems.

Why is there so much sodium in the Western Diet?

Sodium is used to preserve food for a longer shelflife, but also to improve the taste of food.

Recommended Daily Sodium Intake:

  • Between 1,500 – 2,300mg Daily
  • On Average, Americans consume around 3,400mg a day

Excess Sodium Overtime Can Cause:

“Reducing sodium intake has the potential to prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and illnesses in the coming years” (FDA, 2021).

10 Tips to Reduce Sodium Intake

  1. Cook at Home – Choose whole foods and cook with little to no added salt. Use other spices and herbs to flavor food.
  2. Fresh > Frozen – Frozen processed and prepacked foods tend to be very high in sodium. Choose fresh options over frozen when you can. Look for lower sodium options for frozen/processed foods.
  3. Unsalted Snacks – Any way that you can reduce sodium will help your health including in your snacks. Chips, pretzels, and crackers are usually high in sodium. Look for low-sodium options and healthier choices like unsalted nuts.
  4. Limit Canned Food – Canned foods use sodium to preserve freshness. This is why canned foods can last on the shelf for years, but this doesn’t mean we should be eating preserved food all the time.
  5. Rinse Canned Food Items – Rinse anything that comes in a can to remove excess sodium.
  6. Caution with Condiments – Condiments and sauces like ketchup, soy sauce, and marinara are usually high in sodium. Look for organic sources with no added salt.
  7. Cut Down on the Cold Cuts – Lunchmeat is packed with sodium, as well as other processed meats like hot dogs. All meat naturally contains sodium, but during food processing, more sodium is typically added to preserve freshness and reduce bacterial growth.
  8. Drink Water – Soda and sports drinks can be high in sodium. Better to hydrate with water than with other beverages.
  9. Restaurant Dining – Eating out will increase your sodium intake. Ask for no or low sodium for your food preparation.
  10. Limit Processed Foods– Anything that is prepackaged, premade, in a box or frozen package usually has a lot of sodium. Fast food and movie popcorn are also loaded with sodium. Try to scale these foods back into your diet to reduce your sodium intake.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health conditions without consulting your healthcare provider. Information used is based on experience and opinion, not 100% evidence. Always consult with a health care practitioner before relying on any information in this article or on this website. Some links in this article may contain affiliate links.