The foods you choose to eat every day have an impact on your health, and some will have a more positive impact than others. With the fast-paced lives that so many of us live, it’s easy to look for meals that are quick to prepare or choose to dine-out or grab restaurant food to go. The problem with these food choices is that these foods tend to be filled with excessive amounts of sodium and we end up consuming more sodium in a day than what is recommended. Regularly consuming too much sodium can have a grave impact on health.
Although too much sodium in your diet isn’t good for you, sodium is essential to your diet. Your body needs sodium to properly function. Sodium helps to maintain fluid balances in the body. Your body also uses sodium to control blood volume and blood pressure. Sodium is also important for muscle and nerve functions. Sodium helps to transmit nerve impulses and it influences the relaxation and contraction of your muscles.
Your kidneys are responsible for balancing the amount of sodium your body stores. When the sodium in your bodies is low, your kidneys will store sodium. And when there is too much sodium in your body, the kidneys will excrete it in urine.
When you consume more sodium than your kidneys can excrete, it begins to build up in your blood. This leads to an increase in blood volume because the sodium attracts and holds water. The increase in blood volume makes it harder for your heart to work and will increase the pressure in your arteries, resulting in a higher blood pressure.
The dangerous problem with high blood pressure is that it rarely presents with any signs or symptoms. This means a person could be living with high blood pressure for an extended period of time and not realize it. High blood pressure that is left untreated can damage blood vessels, the heart, and the kidneys. Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure often do not present themselves until some damage is affecting your health. And that first sign may present itself as a stroke or a heart attack.
So how do you help protect yourself from developing high blood pressure? According to the dietary guidelines for Americans, we should limit ourselves to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. And individuals aged 51 and older, African Americans, and those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should limit their daily sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams (mg) per day. There is currently no specific recommendation for sodium intake for infants, children, and teenagers. However, since eating habits are formed in childhood it would be advisable for children to avoid eating diets that are high in sodium.
Need to know whether your diet includes too much sodium? The Cleveland Clinic and UCSF Medical Center offer great resources that can guide you in detecting foods that are high in sodium and offer alternative food choices. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also offers a great list of easy steps you can take to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet. A great list of low sodium foods can also be found here.