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Sodium – Good Or Bad?

I grew up in a town in Austria where everybody used an excess amount of salt when cooking. It’s part of our culture and it adds flavor to our meals. I personally always had a negative feeling about salt though. I associated salt with obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle. It got so intense that at an early age I refused to have any salt in my meals. Now you know that I have never been a big fan of salt although it’s crucial for our well being. Let me explain why salt is important for our health and performance.

Salt consists of 40% sodium and 60% chloride and is extremely important for physiologic functions in our bodies. Low levels of sodium in the blood can cause Hypoatremia which can cause a headache, nausea, vomiting, tiredness or even seizures.

HOW DO I GET HYPOATREMIA

Excess water consumption can dilute the normal amount of sodium in your blood which leads to hypoatremia. It can also result when you lose too much sodium through sweat, diarrhea or vomiting.

On the other hand high levels of sodium in the blood can lead to hypertension which is high blood pressure. High levels of sodium is usually related to an unhealthy diet which contains high amounts of sodium like processed foods, processed cheese, snacks like chips, frozen meals to name a few.

Alright, so too much sodium is equally as bad as too little sodium. What exactly is the norm and how much sodium do I need to increase performance and stay healthy?

According to the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” the recommended amount of sodium shouldn’t exceed 2,300 mg per day. The vast majority of adults consume an average of 3,500 mg each day.

The 3,500 mg each day that the average American consumes does not come from table salt. The majority of sodium is already in the food we consume. If you’re not familiar with sodium levels let me list a couple items you for sure have or had in your fridge at least once in your life.

1 can of black beans – 1,505 mg

1 can of black beans (NO SALT ADDED)   –   35 mg 

1 bottle salad dressing (Vegan Cesar) .  –   2,280 mg

1 bottle of ketchup (Trader Joe’s / 680g)   –   6,000 mg

1 bottle of ketchup (HEINZ NO SALT / 794g)   –   200 mg

1 jar of tomato sauce (Trader Joe’s / 737g) .  –   3,480 mg

1 can of tomato sauce (Target NO SALT / 850g)   –   210 mg

1 bag of Lay’s classic chips (10 OZ / 283.5g)   –   1,700 mg

1 Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein (2lbs)   –   3,770 mg

1 Garden of Life Plant Protein (1lbs 14oz)   –   3,420 mg

1 VEGA Plant Protein (1lbs 13oz)   –   7,800 mg

When you look at this short list you’ll realize that it is fairly easy to exceed the recommended 2,300 mg of sodium per day. The key to reduce your sodium intake is to be aware of all the low sodium options available. You can easily cut your sodium intake by 25%-40% by changing to low sodium items without changing your diet at all.

After successfully lowering your sodium intake another factor that can help you increase performance and optimal health is to increase your potassium intake. Potassium is also an electrolyte that is needed for the body to function properly. It helps maintain fluid and blood volume in the body. Potassium is found in a lot of vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, potatoes, beans, seafood and dairy products.

INCREASE POTASSIUM TO COUNTERACT BAD EFFECTS OF SODIUM?

Although potassium can blunt the negative effects that sodium has on your body it is not enough to simply increase your potassium without lowering your sodium intake.

According to the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” the optimal potassium intake per day is 4,700 mg. On average people in the US consume between 2,400 and 3,000 mg per day. Be advised that too much potassium can be harmful to the elderly since their kidneys become less able to remove potassium from the blood. A high level of potassium in your blood is called hyperkalemia. This means your kidney is probably not healthy enough to flush out excess potassium. The symptoms of high potassium levels are similar to hypoatremia (low sodium levels) – tiredness, nausea, vomiting, a feeling of numbness and trouble breathing.

Here is a list of foods that will help you boost your potassium intake:

1 Avocado (250g)   –   970 mg

Potatoes (250g)   – 1,032 mg

Spinach fresh (250g)   – 1,385 mg

1 Banana (150g)   –   550 mg

Mushrooms (250g)   –   798 mg

Oranges (250g)   –   452 mg

1 Tomato (100g)   –   235 mg

Oatmeal (100g) .  –   397 mg

Broccoli (100g)   –   256 mg

As you can see it’s pretty hard to “overdose” on potassium but at the same time it’s not too easy to get to the recommended 4,700 mg either.

CONCLUSION – WHERE TO START?

Make sure to look over the items in your fridge and switch them out to low sodium versions the next time you go grocery shopping. Start consuming more vegetables to increase your potassium intake and reduce processed and frozen meals to a minimum.

Within the first 2 months of reducing sodium to a healthy and recommended amount per day you’ll experience a couple things. First of all your body composition will change, you’ll lose some water weight and maybe even some real weight, you’ll feel better and you’ll be more sensitive to salty foods.

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