Salt or sodium is a naturally occurring substance that our bodies need to function. We need it to:
- Maintain the right balance of fluids in our bodies
- Transmit nerve impulses
- Contract and relax our muscles
Our kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in our bodies for optimal health. When your body sodium is low, your kidneys hold on to the sodium. When your body sodium is high, your kidneys excrete the excess in your urine. But when there is too much sodium the kidneys increase blood pressure to try to excrete more of it. This increase in blood pressure over time can lead to stroke, coronary heart disease and heart failure.
The average Australian intake of salt is about 10g or 4000mg sodium per day. The suggested intake for optimal health is 4g of salt or 1600mg of sodium. So Australians are consuming a lot more salt than they should be which is setting them up for future (or current) health problems. The good news is that you lose sodium when you sweat, so when you exercise you may need to consume a bit more than this. Otherwise, it needs to stay down!
Once your blood pressure has increased due to a high salt intake, it may not go down with reduced intake so it is important to decrease your salt intake before you have high blood pressure to prevent any damage to your body.
You may be surprised at how much sodium is in many commonly consumed foods. Here are a few examples:
Masterfoods BBq sauce = 15ml serve (1 tablespoon) = 164mg sodium
Masterfoods tomato sauce = 15ml serve (1 tablespoon) = 127mg sodium
100g of beef sausage (about 1 sausage)= 652mg sodium
6 inch meatball sub from Subway = 695mg sodium
1 cup of Nutrigrain cereal = 144mg sodium
Masterfoods beef stroganoff sauce = 529mg sodium per serve
Lean Cuisine Chicken Chickpea Curry w Brown Rice and Quinoa = 763mg sodium
Gatorade 591ml bottle = 250mg sodium
So, if you have 1 cup of Nutrigrain cereal (but most people probably have a larger serving), a sausage with sauce at Bunnings or your friend’s BBQ and then a Lean Cuisine for dinner, you are at your limit and you can’t have the hot chips, chips and dip, cheese or salted nuts for a snack. Most of these processed foods are also high in sugar. Read about what sugar is doing to your body and other reasons why you should watch these foods in my blog article about sugar.
Pre-packaged and processed foods as well as restaurant foods are where most people are getting their salt from in their diet. Some of them may even look healthy with ‘heart ticks’ or stars on them, but make sure you read the label for yourself before assuming anything in a package is nutritious, because it usually isn’t.
Even though you may not have high blood pressure now, it is important to implement healthy lifestyle habits before major health issues creep up. Try to cut down on your intake of processed foods, especially meats, and decrease your take-away and restaurant food. And for those in Australia, you don’t have to stop at every sausage sizzle you see! I know they are everywhere, but that doesn’t make them good for you.
Enjoy your salt as a light sprinkle you add yourself and your kidneys will thank you.