The Core Diet Blog

Nothing says indulgence like a nice, big order of french fries, sprinkled with plenty of salt, and dipped into a big pile of ketchup. Mmmm!!!! Or, perhaps a big gooey slice of cheese pizza? Wonderful for your taste buds, but not so good for your sodium levels. If you've been trying to cut back on your sodium intake, with just a pinch of table salt on your baked potato and a dash on your scrambled eggs, be advised that a pinch here and a dash there can quickly add up to unhealthy levels! Consider that a single teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 milligrams (mg) of sodium, the equivalent of about four bottles of PowerBar Perform. Not too bad, if our body is going to use it during workouts. But, potentially quite harmful, if not. And it's not just table salt that we have to worry about. Unfortunately, many of the processed and prepared foods, that we eat everyday, already contain much of sodium that is recommended for our diet.

Essential, But In Small Amounts
Your body needs sodium to function properly. In the right amounts it:
  • Helps to maintain the right balance of fluids in your body
  • Helps to transmit nerve impulses
  • Influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles
Your kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in your body for optimal health. When your sodium levels are too low, the kidneys will hold on to whatever sodium is present. When too high, our kidneys excrete the excess sodium through urine.


But, if for some reason our kidneys cannot eliminate enough sodium, it will begin to accumulate in our blood. Because sodium attracts and holds water, this causes our blood volume to increase. Increased blood volume makes the heart work harder to move blood through our blood vessels, which increases the pressure in our arteries. Diseases such as congestive heart failure, cirrhosis and chronic kidney disease can make it hard for our kidneys to maintain balanced sodium levels.


Some people's bodies are more sensitive to the effects of sodium than others. Those who are sodium-sensitive, tend to retain it more easily, leading to fluid retention and increased blood pressure. If this becomes chronic, it can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and congestive heart failure.


How Much Do We Need?
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg each day, or 1,500 mg, for those who are aged 51 or older, black, or suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.


Keep in mind that these are upper limits, and less is usually much, much better for you. If you aren't sure how much sodium your diet should include, definitely speak to your doctor.


Primary Dietary Sources
The average American consumes approximately 3,400 mg of sodium each day; significantly more than is recommended. To help keep your sodium consumption in check, it is a good start to know where it comes from. Here are the main sources of sodium in the typical American diet:
  • Processed and prepared foods -These foods account for the vast majority of sodium that we consume. These foods are typically high in salt, which is a combination of sodium and chloride, and in other additives that contain sodium. Processed foods include bread, prepared dinners (pasta, meat and egg dishes), pizza, cold cuts, bacon, cheese, soups, and fast foods.
  • Natural sources -Some foods, such as all vegetables, dairy products, meat, and shellfish naturally contain sodium. While they don't have an abundance of sodium, eating these foods will add to your overall sodium intake. For example, 1 cup (237 milliliters) of low-fat milk contains about 107 mg of sodium.
  • In the kitchen and at the table -Many recipes call for salt, and many people add it to their meals, at the table. Condiments may also contain a good amount of sodium. One tablespoon (15 milliliters) of soy sauce, for instance, has about 1,000 mg of sodium.
Tips To Cutting Back
  • Eat more fresh foods -Most fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium. Also, fresh meat is lower in sodium than are luncheon meats, bacon, hot dogs, sausage and ham. Buy fresh and frozen poultry or meat that hasn't been injected with a sodium-containing solution. Check the label, or ask your butcher. Buy plain whole-grain rice and pasta, instead of those that have added seasonings. Make your own soups from scratch.
  • Opt for low-sodium products -If you do buy processed foods, choose those that are labeled "low sodium."
  • Use herbs, spices and other flavorings to enhance your foods -Use fresh or dried herbs, spices, zest from citrus fruit and fruit juices to jazz up your meals. And remember that sea salt is not a low sodium option!
Cut Back Gradually
Salt is an acquired taste, so it is possible to learn to enjoy it less and less. Gradually decrease your use of salt, and your taste buds will adjust. Be sure to check the Nutrition Facts label, closely, for serving sizes, and try to avoid products with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving. Don't forget to consider how many servings you actually eat.
After a few weeks of cutting back on salt, you probably won't miss it very much. Once you wean yourself down, some foods may end up tasting too salty. Start out by using no more than 1/4 teaspoon of salt each day - at the table and in cooking. It won't be long before you can throw the salt-shaker away, altogether. As you use less salt, your preference for it will diminishes, allowing you to enjoy the taste of the food itself, with heart-healthy benefits!


For Endurance Athletes
I change my tune a bit, when talking about endurance athletes. As I am sure you are well aware, sodium is a major electrolyte in the body, and is lost in sweat. The amount of sodium lost in sweat is particular to each individual, but it plays a key role in fluid balance, nerve function, muscle contractions, and acid-base balance.
Losing large amounts of sodium, during periods of heavy training or extreme heat can result in some serious issues, such as hyponatremia and muscle cramping. Endurance athletes lose significantly more sodium, through their sweat, than the average American. For this reason, endurance athletes are encouraged to salt their foods, and actually consciously consume sodium containing foods, when training volume is high, or being done in warm weather conditions.


A Call To Arms
Sodium is essential to the proper function of our bodies. But, like anything else, too much of it can cause serious long-term health issues. Too little of it, can be nothing short of dangerous to an endurance athlete. In our American society of fast-food, canned food, and prepared food, daily sodium intakes have gotten completely out of control. It is time to right the ship; to get a better sense of where our individual sodium consumption is, and where it needs to be. Endurance athletes may realize that they need more sodium in their diets, while the great majority of Americans will quickly realize just the opposite. Luckily, it's not too late, and just a few simple changes can have very dramatic and beneficial effects!

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