Nearly 77% of sodium in the average diet comes from processed foods. Too much salt can upset the body's electrolytes and cause serious health problems. Effects include cardiovascular disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Cutting out salt at the table is only the first step in decreasing sodium intake. Eating fresh foods and using herbs and spices for seasoning keeps blood pressure in check and promotes good health.
A small amount of sodium is essential to the body's functioning. It helps keep fluids balanced and transmit nerve messages. If people lose sodium too fast, it must be replenished before hyponatremia, or an excess of water in cells, disrupts organ function. The kidneys process sodium in the blood by excreting any excess and retaining it when the levels are low. Too much salt will overload the kidneys and makes it difficult for them to remove the surplus.
Some people are sensitive to sodium and will store more than others. According to nutritional guidelines, the average adult should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. If the person is over 40 years of age, is black, or already has high blood pressure, the risk is higher and the amount should be less than 1,500 mg per day. Many people consume far too much salt, up to 3,000 mg or more.
Hypertension is often called the silent killer because it may show no symptoms until it causes a heart attack or stroke. It is important to watch for hidden sources of too much salt if the risk is high. Age and race are a factor, as well as smoking, obesity, and pregnancy. Headaches, dizzy spells, and nosebleeds don't usually occur until blood pressure is at dangerous levels.
To eliminate too much salt from the diet, eating more fresh foods instead of processed is the best way to start. Vegetables and fruits do not have much natural sodium and are high in fiber and nutrients. Fresh meat is better than processed cold cuts, but many major retailers inject meat with a sodium solution to increase moistness. Before purchasing prepackaged beef, pork, or chicken, shoppers can check with the butcher or read the label.
Cutting sodium-rich condiments, such as soy sauce, anchovy sauce, or prepared dips, can reduce salt intake. Foods can be seasoned with herbs, spices, or juice for added flavor, instead of adding salt to recipes or at the table. The taste for salt is acquired and it will take time for the palate to adjust. Once it does, too much salt will not taste good and the body will come to prefer the natural flavor and benefits of healthy foods.