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Can You Please Pass The Salt? 2013 – 12 Days of Fitness: Day 10

December 17, 2013 0 Comments

(This is Part 10 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

iStock_000000597146XSmallIt seems almost every day you’re being told what to eat, what not eat, what to eat in moderation, etc. The truth of the matter is, as we learn more and more of how the body works and more importantly what we’re feeding it with, our knowledge and appreciation of nutrition continually evolves. For example, let’s take a look at sodium. What is it? What does it do? Why do we need it? Why does it get such a bad rap? How much do I need?

What Is It and What Does It Do?

Sodium is an essential mineral and one of the key electrolytes in our bodies. It is the yin to potassium’s yang, or to put it mildly, without it you wouldn’t exist. Your body needs some sodium to function properly because it:

  • Regulates blood volume and blood pressure
  • Helps maintain the right balance of fluids in your body
  • Is vital to the  transmission of  nerve impulses
  • Influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles

Why Does It Get Such a Bad Rap?

The average American gets about 3,400 mg of sodium a day — much more than recommended. The minimal physiologic requirement of sodium is only 500 mg/day. The kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in your body.  When body sodium is low, the kidneys essentially hold on to the sodium. When body sodium is high, the kidneys excrete the excess through urine and sweat. But if for some reason the kidneys can’t eliminate enough sodium, the sodium starts to build up in the blood. Since sodium attracts and holds water, the blood volume increases, which makes the heart work harder and increases blood pressure. Some people have a higher sensitivity to sodium than others, leading to fluid retention and increased blood pressure all of which can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and congestive heart failure.

How Much Do You Need and What Can I Do To Be Careful?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day. Keep in mind that these are upper limits, and less is usually best, especially if you’re sensitive to the effects of sodium. So what steps can you take to be mindful of your sodium consumption? Here’s a ten point checklist:

1)    Find out how much salt you’re getting by writing everything you eat and its sodium contents

2)    Read food labels to check their sodium levels

3)    Compare products in the same category for their comparative salt content, and opt for the low or no salt versions

4)    Consume more potassium, which blunts salt’s unhealthy effects

5)    Don’t add extra salt from the shaker to foods

6)    Flavor your food with salt substitutes such as lemon juice, black pepper, dried basil, chilies, cumin, turmeric and other beneficial spices

7)    Eat as many whole fresh foods as possible

8)    Limit your consumption of fast foods.

9)    When you dine out, request that your dish be prepared without salt

10) Cook with whole, not processed foods

The taste for salt is acquired, so you can learn to enjoy less. Decrease your use of salt gradually and your taste buds will adjust. After a few weeks of cutting back on salt, you probably won’t miss it, and some foods may even taste too salty. Start by using no more than 1/4 teaspoon of salt daily — at the table and in cooking. Then throw away the salt shaker. As you use less salt, your preference for it diminishes, allowing you to enjoy the taste of the food itself, with heart-healthy benefits.

See you tomorrow for Day 11 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.


About the Author:

Jeff Harrison is a fitness coach based in Pottstown, PA. He received a BS in Exercise and Sport Science from Penn State University and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), NSCA Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist (ACE-AHFS). Jeff's articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals as well as consumer oriented websites and magazines.

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