Water and salt together regulate the essential functions of the human body. The salt represents the sodium chloride in the body, also referred to as just “sodium.”
The sodium found in many foods is called natural food salt, while the salt you add to foods or kitchen salt is called sodium. Sodium is essential for continuing nerve and muscle functions, and salt plays a vital role in sustaining human life.
What is Sodium
Sodium is an essential mineral for wellness. It is necessary for the proper functioning of the nervous and muscular systems, as well as for maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance. Sodium is one of the ingredients in many foods that we consume throughout the day and enables the body to perform various functions at the optimal level.
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The importance of Sodium in the Body
Sodium is an essential mineral for wellness. It is primarily found in the fluid found in cells and regulates the water that enters and leaves the cells. Water follows sodium in the body. Therefore, excessive sodium intake increases the water that your body retains. Meanwhile, the kidneys regulate the sodium level in the body and excrete it through sweat and urine if it is found in excess.
Reduced salt intake can cause water loss from the body, but as you increase your salt consumption, you also increase your water retention. During this process, the amount of fluid in circulation in your body also increases. In other words, the amount of salt in the diet plays a significant role in regulating the water balance in your body.
The functions of sodium in the body can be summarized as follows:
- It regulates the balance of fluids in your body.
- It helps transmit nerve impulses.
- It enables the muscles to contract and relax.
The Appropriate Amount of Salt Consumption
For every 1 gram of table salt we add to our food, there is approximately 400 mg of sodium. The World Health Organization recommends limiting daily salt consumption to 5 grams a day (2,000 mg sodium).
The American Food and Drug Administration reports that daily sodium consumption should be kept below 2,300 mg. At the same time, the American Heart Association advocates that 1,500 mg of sodium a day is sufficient for maintaining your body’s fluid balance.
Having too much salt has been proven to cause many problems in the long term. Increased salt intake can result in increased amounts of calcium that is excreted through the urine. This calcium is excreted through the urine to help maintain your body’s fluid balance, but it can also result in a less-than-ideal bone structure.
The UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommends the following amount of salt to be taken daily by age group:
Table 1. Recommended Amount of Salt by Age Group:
|Age||Average Salt Intake Target (g/day)|
|0-6 months||<1 g|
|7-12 months||1 g|
|1-3 years||2 g|
|4-6 years||3 g|
|7-10 years||5 g|
|11-14 years||5 g|
*These amounts can vary depending on the presence of chronic diseases.
It is important to consider situations where you might excrete more salt than normal when measuring your daily salt consumption, such as when you sweat excessively due to exercise. Because of this, you should calculate your daily salt requirements based on your individual needs.
Sodium Intake with Urine and 24-hour Intake
Sodium is an essential charged particle (also known as a cation) of the extracellular fluid in the body. It provides osmotic pressure in fluid distribution, and it is also used in the evaluation of fluid-electrolyte and acid-base balances. The preferred method for estimating daily sodium intake is 24-hour urine collection, as it is possible to calculate your daily salt through urine. While it is possible to lose sodium from your body through other means, such as through sweat, approximately 90% of your daily salt intake through your diet is excreted through your urine. The 24-hour urine collection can therefore be a reliable estimate of your salt consumption.
The optimal sodium range in the body is 135-145 mEq/L. The following section details the possible impacts of low or high sodium levels in your body.
Low Levels of Sodium
It is important to be mindful of your intake of vitamins and minerals to prevent sodium deficiency, as regular mineral consumption can help prevent sodium deficiency.
Urine tests can help determine whether there are abnormal sodium levels in your body. You might have low sodium levels if there is not enough sodium found in the body, if it is not being consumed in sufficient amounts, or if the body is unable to excrete sodium. In contrast, excreting sodium in increased amounts through urine can indicate that you have a high intake of salt and that your body is losing too much of this mineral.
The main cause of sodium deficiency is low salt consumption. The following are other causes of low sodium levels in the body:
- Excessive sweating
- Diuretic using
- Low sodium consumption
Sodium deficiency can result in your body feeling weak, as well as more frequent headaches. Other mild symptoms of low sodium intake include restlessness.
Optimal Levels of Sodium
Having optimal urine sodium levels means you are likely getting the recommended amounts of sodium through the foods and drinks you consume.
Sodium has a role in the transmission of nerve signals, fluid balance maintenance, and muscle contraction, among many other body functions.
High Levels of Sodium
Your body has a high level of sodium if there is more than 145 mEq/L in your body . The main causes of high sodium levels in your body include insufficient water consumption, being excessively dehydrated, using diuretics, or excessive consumption of table salt. Suppose you end up having high levels of sodium in your body. In that case, you might experience a strong sense of thirst, a dry mouth, feel weak or nauseous, or experience involuntary muscle contractions.
Managing a Healthy Diet
Many people assume that the only source of sodium is salt. However, there are many hidden sources of sodium that we fail to notice: instant soups, processed meat products, canned goods, pickles, and nuts, to say the least. Considering this, it is best to be cautious of the recommended amount of sodium to avoid any potential complications from high sodium intake.
What are the Primary Sources of Sodium?
Processed and Prepared Foods
People who mainly eat canned foods, soups, and convenience foods like frozen foods are more likely to consume excess sodium. Food manufacturers tend to use salt or other compounds that are packed with sodium as preservatives as well as to add flavor or texture.
Condiments Containing Sodium
It is also important to be cautious of the amount of sodium in different seasonings we use to flavor our meals. Always be sure to check the ingredients list and nutritional label of condiments so that you can be more careful of your sodium consumption.
Natural Sources of Sodium
Sodium is also found naturally in red meat, poultry, dairy products, and vegetables.
Other Sources of Sodium
The following compounds commonly used in food preparation also contain sodium:
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Disodium phosphate
- Sodium alginate
- Sodium nitrate or nitrite
How Do We Reduce Our Sodium Consumption?
Eating more fresh foods and less processed foods is one way to reduce sodium consumption. The natural sodium content in fresh fruits and vegetables is low. The amount of sodium in fresh meat is also lower than the sodium content in a deli and other processed meat products. Choose low-sodium options when buying prepared meals. When cooking, skip the salt or reduce the amount that you put in your dishes. If you are fond of bread, you can choose low-salt or unsalted bread. Watch out for sodium-laden salad dressings, dips, and condiments like ketchup and mustard. Try flavoring your foods with herbs and spices instead.
You may be able to replace table salt with dietary salt. If your palate is accustomed to salt and you sprinkle these “dietary salts” abundantly, you may still have a high sodium intake.
The craving for salty foods is an acquired habit, but the great news is that it is reversible! Gradually reduce the use of salt in your meals, and the taste buds on your tongue will gradually adapt to the change. After a few weeks, your cravings for salty food will decrease, and over time you might discover that you enjoy the taste of low-salt foods more than salty foods!