Sodium is an important electrolyte and your body needs it to stay alive. Salt contains sodium, together with chloride, but many people consume too much and put their health in danger. This article is all about the consequences of high sodium intake and ways to keep it under control.
How Much Sodium Do We Consume?
People consume way too much salt, but have you ever wondered how serious this problem is? According to the CDC, about 90% of Americans consume excessive amounts of salt. While the recommended intake of sodium is up to 2g a day, the average American eats more than 3.4g. What more, salt consumption worldwide has increased significantly over the decades.
Likewise, while WHO recommends a daily intake of 2g of sodium daily, the average Malaysian consumes almost 3g of sodium daily. The same statistics are true for most of the industrialised world.
How is Sodium Regulated?
When you consume too much sodium, your blood pressure increases. People with hypertension are advised to reduce salt intake, and within a few weeks, are able to see results. Your kidneys excrete sodium through the urine, and this is the main source of sodium balance (other than losing sodium through sweat and from our dietary salt and water intake). The kidneys are very efficient at regulating sodium, but any early damage to kidney function generally is not shown in the blood test (sodium or creatinine abnormality) until late stage with significant damage done. This is one key reason it is highly recommended to reduce salt intake from our diet.
Consequences of High Sodium Intake
As seen above, a vast majority of people eat more sodium than recommended. People tend to add salt to every meal. This seemingly innocent habit can introduce an excessive amount of sodium to your body and pave the way to many consequences. The most common consequences of high sodium intake are:
- Hypertension – about 75 million American adults or 32% of the population have high blood pressure. That accounts for one in three adults. Over 40% of adults in Malaysia have hypertension. With high sodium intake, the body holds onto water to dilute sodium and keep the concentration balanced. As a result, there is an increase in the amount of fluid in the body. This leads to hypertension.
- Heart disease – high intake of sodium contributes to hypertension, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.
- Stroke – the third leading cause of death in the US and it affects about 795,000 people each year. High blood pressure caused by sodium contributes to the accumulation of plaque in arteries i.e. atherosclerosis which puts you at a higher risk of both stroke and heart attack.
- Osteoporosis – patients with high blood pressure tend to excrete more calcium in their urine and are at a higher risk of osteoporosis.
- Kidney damage – high sodium impairs the ability of kidneys to remove the water, thus resulting in hypertension. As a result, there’s an additional strain on kidneys and it could lead to kidney disease. Excessive salt intake increases calcium excretion, thus elevating the risk of kidney stones.
High salt diet can also affect your liver, weight, and overstimulate the immune system thereby contributing to autoimmune diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis, allergies, and others.
Is Reduction in Salt Intake the Answer?
181 out of 187 countries for which data are available show that adults are consuming too much salt. Although there are many efforts worldwide to reduce salt intake, the compliance rate is not so encouraging. Finland is the nation where salt reduction has decreased by impressive 36% thanks to its mandatory warning labels on foods that are high in sodium. Rates of heart disease in Finland decreased significantly since. Other countries with a successful reduction of salt intake are Japan and China.
Tips to Reduce Salt Intake
With the ease of access to salt, cultural practices in cooking, and obvious taste advantages, it seems like a big ask to reduce one’s sodium intake. But, it can be done. Here are some tips to try:
- Read the “Nutrition Facts” label and avoid products with too much sodium
- Reduce portion size
- Add more flavour to your food with natural spices and lower amount of salt you use while cooking
- Rinse canned foods containing sodium
- Buy fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables
- Limit intake of processed and heavily refined foods
- Avoid instant foods
- Remove habit of adding more salt on the table
Statistics show that a vast majority of people eat more sodium than recommended. This increases the risk of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and many other health consequences. To avoid these unfortunate scenarios, try to lower the consumption of salt. The benefits far outweigh the efforts in achieving it.
If you’re interested in learning more about sodium and how to maintain healthy levels of it, read on more about it in our biomarker post here!
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