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Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Sodium Sensitive?

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I got a question from a devoted Diet Dish reader about sodium. What is the deal with sodium? Do we really need to watch it? Are certain people more sodium sensitive than others?

A high diet high in sodium has been linked mostly to high blood pressure. It has also been weakly linked to stomach and esophageal cancers and osteoporosis. High blood pressure leads to kidney disease and stroke, so you may have heard it associated with those diseases as well. Diabetes can also lead to impaired kidney function, so diabetics are advised to watch their sodium intake. You become more sodium sensitive as you age, so elderly people are advised to restrict salt.

We actually do need some sodium in our diet, and it is thought that amount is about 500 mg, which is not much when you compare that to the average American who eats between 3,300 and 4,000 mg or more per day. Sodium is necessary for nerve impulses, to help absorb nutrients, and for fluid balance. However, too much sodium can cause the cells to retain too much fluid which increases blood volume and therefore results in high blood pressure.

The big debate in the medical community with sodium is that research suggests that only about 1/3 of the population is sodium sensitive to the point where it is going to make a clinically significant difference in your blood pressure. In addition, no accurate test exists to knowing whether someone is sodium sensitive or not.

If you feel bloated after eating sushi dipped in a lot of soy sauce (or any other high sodium meal), you may be sodium sensitive. Other clues: thirsty, swelling in ankles, feet, legs or hands, increased blood pressure, and feeling sluggish.

Another interesting note: Your palate really does become adjusted to the amount of sodium that you eat. When people do go on a low sodium diet and then eat something high in sodium they feel like an entire bottle of salt was poured into that cup of soup. If you are adding salt to your food now, you may find that you need to add more and more as time goes on to get the same taste. Best to not add salt at all (of course!) so you don’t adjust to that high level. You will just keep needing more and more as you age.

How much?
If you have high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart disease, pulmonary disease, or diabetes, try to keep your diet to less than 1,500 mg of sodium. Everyone else is advised to stay below 2,300 mg.

Where is it?
Processed foods, soup, condiments like catsup, pickles, olives, etc., deli meats, smoked meats, salty snacks, fast food, restaurant food, sauces

Label reading
The best way to know how much sodium you are getting is to read labels. It is hard for me to give you a black and white number of how much is too much because it depends on the food. These words on packages might help:

Sodium Free: Contains less than 5 mg per serving
Very Low Sodium: Contains less than 35 mg per serving
Low Sodium: Contains less than 140 mg per serving
Light in Sodium: Contains 50% less than a comparable product
Reduced in Sodium: Contains 25% less than reference product

Photo courtesy of maverickapollo
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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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