From your favourite “healthy” ready meal to that sprinkle on your salad, the excess salt in your diet can soon stack up to astronomically unhealthy levels. Not only this, but a high sodium diet can cause a lot of issues for your health and fitness plans. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends no more than a teaspoon of salt per day. That may sound like a very low amount, but sticking to it could really be doing your body a favour. So, what are the health risks of too much salt and how could you achieve a low sodium diet?
Too much sodium interferes with the body’s ability to flush out water. At the correct levels, sodium is vital for maintaining healthy water levels in the blood and organs. However, if there’s too much of it in the body, then the kidneys struggle to process it all. This can cause oedema, or bloat, or give you a layer of “water weight” that stops you getting the results you are working towards.
If you have generally low body fat but are struggling to shift the final layer covering your muscles, this could well be due to water weight and you might want to consider your salt intake.
As excessive amounts of sodium causes your body to retain water, this can increase your blood pressure to potentially dangerous levels.1 If unregulated, this can pose a serious risk of heart attack and stroke. This is especially problematic as there are often no symptoms of high blood pressure until you have it checked by a doctor. If you’re worried that you need to regulate your salt levels and want to exercise regularly, then it might be worth visiting a doctor to check that your blood pressure isn’t too high. Too much salt is also tough on the kidneys as they work harder to excrete it from the body. Luckily, a low sodium diet will quickly correct high blood pressure caused by excessive salt intake.2
A high intake of salt leads to an increase in the urinary excretion of calcium, which could lead to weakened bones. It has also been observed that a rise in sodium intake also leads to altered bone metabolism, which would contribute to decreased bone density.3 What this means is if you consume far too much salt on a regular basis, you are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. This is a condition where the bones are weakened and become more fragile and likely to break.
Hunger and Thirst
Stopping for a water break every 2 minutes can really hamper your workout momentum and your daily routine in general. If you’re desperate for a drink after a meal, this may be a sign that the food that you’re consuming is high in salt. Recent research has also shown that a high-salt diet in the long-term actually increases hunger and reduces thirst as the body works hard to excrete salt in order to conserve water.4 This means that the body requires more food to fuel these processes, which can lead to overeating due to the pathological processes that take place.5 This is pretty new information, but if you’re eating too much or you’re always hungry, it might be worth considering your salt intake.
How Can I Eat Less Salt?
Firstly, ditch the table salt. It may improve the taste of your food, but sprinkling salt over your food is a sure fire way to overshoot your recommended allowance. Try experimenting with different herbs and spices to enhance your cooking instead.
Secondly, ditch convenience food. Salt is used as a flavour enhancer and as a preservative, so it’s found in tons of pre-made foods. Making your own sauces, condiments and meals is ideal for controlling your sodium levels. This is also good practice anyway, as it helps you control your calories and reduces your intake of processed foods, which your digestive system will thank you for.
Check all your packaging — sodium can creep into all kinds of foods, so check everything that you’re putting in your basket. You might be able to guess the main culprits like crisps or soy sauce. But certain brands of bread, butter, frozen meat and tinned vegetables can also send your salt levels skyrocketing.
Low Sodium Diet
As with everything else, eating your greens is good when it comes to maintaining healthy sodium levels. Fresh vegetables and other foods that boast plenty of soluble fibre should feature heavily in your diet to help reduce excess salt in your body.
Unsurprisingly, meat often contains a lot of salt, so be careful with the meat that you eat. Opting for poultry is often a good idea as turkey and chicken contain far less sodium than beef and pork. Fish is also a good option, but you should avoid cured fish and meats as well as processed meats as these have salt added to them.
Cheese products also often contain high levels of salt, so if you enjoy a thick slice in your sandwich or a pile on your pasta, you might want to eat a little less or buy a block that’s lower in sodium.
Take Home Message
There’s one golden rule when it comes to a low sodium diet — check the label. On everything. If you’re worried about your salt levels, then it’s always worth talking to your doctor too as they’ll be able to offer personal nutritional advice. Eating a low sodium diet is a great way to improve your overall health just because it involves eating plenty of vegetables and freshly cooked meals. The answers never change when it comes to looking after your body — eating a balanced diet will leave you feeling fit and healthy.