Do you try to be careful about the amount of salt in your diet?  Are you pretty sure you’re eating about the right amount of salt (also known as sodium chloride) every day, according to what most experts recommend?

You may be wrong about that.

Even if you throw your salt shaker away, you may still be taking in a lot of sodium — especially if you eat processed or prepared foods.  In fact, the majority of sodium in the daily American diet comes from such foods, which are often found on supermarket shelves and in restaurant meals.  

Eating too much salt is linked to:

  • high blood pressure

  • increased risk for heart disease and kidney disease

  • increased water retention, which can lead to swelling in the body

  • dehydration

What’s the difference between salt and sodium?

Despite the fact that many people use the words sodium and salt interchangeably, they are different. Sodium is a mineral and a nutrient that’s naturally occurring. Unprocessed foods like fresh vegetables, legumes, and fruit can naturally have sodium. Baking soda has sodium too.

But about 75 to 90 percent of the sodium we get comes from salt already added to our foods. The weight of salt is usually a combination of 40% sodium and 60% chloride.

How can you use sodium chloride?

The most common uses in foods include:

  • food seasoning

  • acting as a natural preservative

  • enhancing the natural colors of foods

  • curing, or preserving, meats

  • creating a brine for marinating foods

How much salt should you eat?

Many companies and restaurants use salt to preserve, season, and flavor their food.  The American Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.  Since one teaspoon of salt has about 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium, it’s very easy to go over the daily value.

According to the CDC, the average American eats over 3,400 mg each day. The very best way you can limit your sodium intake by eating unprocessed foods which is the foundation of the betr program.  By prepping and making meals at home, it is easier to manage your sodium intake.

What does your body use sodium chloride for?

While too much sodium to a bad thing, naturally occurring sodium is beneficial.  The body uses it for nutrient absorption and transportation, maintaining resting energy, and maintaining blood pressure and hydration.

Why do you see a big increase on the scale after eating too much salt?

Your kidneys, brain, and adrenal glands work together to regulate the amount of sodium in your body. Chemical signals stimulate the kidney to either hold on to water so it can be reabsorbed into the bloodstream or get rid of excess water through the urine.  When there’s too much sodium in your bloodstream, your brain signals your kidneys to release more water into your blood circulation. This leads to an increase in blood volume and blood pressure, thus creating a weight gain due to increased fluid retention. Decreasing your sodium intake can lead to less water being absorbed into the bloodstream and often result is a lower blood pressure and a drop on the scale.  

What kinds of food can be high in sodium?

Processed or prepared foods that are high in sodium include pizza, sandwiches, deli meats, pasta dishes, snacks, salad dressings, soups, and cheese.  But don’t rely on your taste buds, alone.  Foods high in sodium don’t always taste salty.  While pickles quickly give themselves away, sweet-tasting cereals and pastries also have sodium.  In addition, while one serving of a food, like a slice of bread, may not have a lot of sodium, if you eat it several times a day it can add up—and you may be consuming more sodium than you realize.

Bottom line
Eating a betr lifestyle is the best way to maintain dietary recommendations for health and disease prevention while keeping daily sodium intake levels in check.  So enjoy the variety of all our betr meals and remember to salt your meals only as needed.

-Sources and data from the US Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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