What does sodium have to do with your risk of type 2 diabetes?
It’s well-known that a poor diet, inactivity, and obesity are all associated with type 2 diabetes. Some people think that the amount of sodium you consume also plays a role. But in reality, eating too much sodium doesn’t directly cause diabetes.
The relationship between salt and diabetes is more complex.
Sodium is responsible for controlling the balance of fluids in your body and helps maintain a normal blood volume and blood pressure. Consuming too much salt can raise blood pressure, resulting in fluid retention. This can cause swelling in the feet and other health issues that are very harmful to people with diabetes.
If you have diabetes or prediabetes, the amount of sodium you consume can worsen your condition by causing hypertension (high blood pressure). Those with diabetes or prediabetes are at a greater risk of high blood pressure, which can make a person more susceptible to heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
While many natural foods contain salt, most Americans consume sodium through table salt, which is added during cooking or processing. The average American consumes 5 or more teaspoons of salt daily, which is about 20 times as much salt than what’s needed by the body.
The saltiest foods are those that are processed or canned. Foods sold in restaurants or as fast food also tend to be very salty. Here are some common high-sodium foods:
- meat, fish, or poultry that’s been cured, canned, salted, or smoked, including: bacon, cold cuts, ham, frankfurters, sausage, sardines, caviar, and anchovies
- frozen dinners and breaded meats, including pizza, burritos, and chicken nuggets
- canned meals, including baked beans, chili, ravioli, soups, and spam
- salted nuts
- canned vegetables, stocks, and broths with salt added
- boullion cubes and powdered soup mixes
- cheeses, cheese spreads, and cheese sauces
- cottage cheese
- salted-top bread and rolls
- self-rising flour, biscuits, pancake and waffle mixes, and quick breads
- salted crackers, pizza, and croutons
- processed, packaged mixes for mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, hash browns, tater tots, potatoes au gratin, and stuffing
- canned vegetable juices
- pickles and pickled vegetables, olives, and sauerkraut
- vegetables prepared with bacon, ham, or salted pork
- premade pasta, tomato sauces, and salsa
- seasoned ramen mixes
- soy sauce, seasoning salt, salad dressings, and marinades
- salted butter, margarine, or vegan spreads
- instant cakes and puddings
- large amounts of mustard and ketchup
- softened water
If you have type 2 diabetes, it’s important to regulate your salt intake. Keep it at less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. People with hypertension should consume less than 1,500 mg per day.
When shopping for food or eating out, it’s important to read labels and menus. By law, food companies are required to put sodium counts on their labels, and many restaurants do so on their menus.
Look for low-sodium foods, which are foods containing 140 mg of salt per serving or less. There are also many sodium-free foods out there to replace those you consume that contain a lot of salt. Some examples include unsalted canned vegetables, salt-free chips and rice cakes, and salt-free juices.
Some good low-sodium alternatives to the high-sodium foods listed above include:
- meats, poultry, and fish that are fresh or frozen without additives
- eggs and egg substitutes, without additives
- low-sodium peanut butter
- dried peas and beans (as an alternative to canned)
- low-sodium canned fish
- drained, water or oil-packed canned fish or poultry
- ice cream, ice milk, milk, and yogurt
- low-sodium cheeses, cream cheese, ricotta cheese, and mozzarella
- unsalted breads, bagels, and rolls
- muffins and most cereals
- all rice and pasta, if you don’t add salt when cooking
- low-sodium corn or flour tortillas and noodles
- low-sodium crackers and breadsticks
- unsalted popcorn, chips, and pretzels
- fresh or frozen vegetables, without sauce
- low-sodium canned vegetables, sauces, and juices
- fresh potatoes and unsalted potato products such as french fries
- low-salt or unsalted fruit and vegetable juices
- dried, fresh, frozen, and canned fruit
- low-sodium canned and powdered soups, broths, stocks, and bouillon
- homemade soup, without added salt
- unsalted butter, margarine, or vegan spread
- vegetable oils, and low-sodium sauces and salad dressings
- desserts made without salt
But be aware that many foods labeled “no sodium” and “low sodium” contain high amounts of potassium salt substitutes. If you’re on a low-potassium diet, you should check with your doctor first before eating such foods.
And many low-sodium foods may also be high in carbohydrates such as sugars and fat, which many people with prediabetes and diabetes should avoid so they don’t worsen their condition.
Foods containing 400 mg or more of salt are considered high-sodium foods. When you’re shopping, look for the word sodium, but also “salt brine” and “monosodium glutamate.” Avoid these foods.
When cooking, you can reduce your sodium intake by being creative with your cooking. Eat at home more often, because it’s harder to control the amount of salt in the prepared foods you purchase outside your home. And try to cook from scratch, as unprocessed foods usually contain less sodium than those that are partially prepared or completely prepared.
Replace the salt you’d normally use for cooking with other kinds of spices that don’t contain salt. Some flavorful alternatives include:
Be sure to check that the spices and spice mixes you purchase don’t contain extra salt. And don’t use softened water for drinking or cooking, as it contains added salt.
Lastly, be proactive by removing the saltshaker from the table where you eat.
Sodium may not cause diabetes but it can greatly affect the health of people with prediabetes and diabetes. If you’re concerned about your salt intake, talk to your doctor about reducing the amount of salt in your diet.
If you have trouble doing so on your own, it can be helpful to ask for the help of a nutritionist who can guide you in your eating decisions.