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Associated song of the day: SALT
SALT. It is in practically everything we eat, naturally or otherwise. This one little molecule (sodium + chlorine) can make or break your entire day. I realize that it is not one of the current hot topics such as calories, fat, protein, sugar or cholesterol. However, this little guy can do a whole lot more damage to your body in excess amounts than most of the aforementioned.
Our bodies require many different molecules and atoms to function properly. With this being said, there is a direct correlation between some of them and how they affect the others functionality inside of our bodies. Sodium and potassium are two such molecules. Our bodies have sodium potassium ion pumps that regulate those amounts inside of our cells. When we are too high in one of them, we require an increased uptake in the other for balance. Therefore, when we get too much sodium in our daily diets, which is really common, then we need to increase our potassium intake to counterbalance all of that. But you and I both know that rarely, if ever, happens.
Why We Crave it
Salt, just like sugar, can be extremely addictive. I call them drugs because the food industry uses them as addictive stimulants to get you addicted to their processed foods. In fact, the same neural pathways that crave drugs, like cocaine, are the same ones that crave salt, hence my correlation. Our craving for salt, as humans, is an evolutionary tactic for survival in sodium deplete environments due to our necessity for it.
Seeing as we don’t live in a sodium deplete environment currently, this is an adaptation that has been taken advantage of by the big food companies. Instead of ensuring our survival, it is now contributing to the increased rate of disease and death. Salt has been used for a very long time to help preserve food, which is the reason why we in the Western culture started using it for processed foods because we could ensure that they would become shelf stable. Albeit in doing so, we also made the foods highly addictive, which then created a negative balance between sodium and potassium. Hence, here we are in the current predicament.
The daily recommended limit for sodium is 2300 mg. However, most Americans get so much more than that due to all of the processed food that we eat. All that we really need for our bodies to function properly is 500 mg. As you can see, there is already a HUGE discrepancy in the amount we NEED versus how much we are told we can HAVE. What sort of negative effects might that much more sodium do to our bodies, you may be asking. Great question and let me tell you some of the biggest issues that can arise due to having too much sodium in our diets.
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Bloating/Fluid retention
- Increased weight gain
What to do
Many years ago, I learned to watch out for how much sodium is in a product per serving to keep myself under the recommended daily limit. I know that for me personally, I have found that sodium directly affects me in a very negative manner fairly quickly if I am too high. I can retain water like nobody’s business, which is great when I’m on a long hike or bike ride. But the rest of the time it just makes me really bloated and gain weight.
I have literally gained 4 pounds in one day solely due to my sodium intake the day before! If I am careful about my sodium intake and increasing my water intake the following day then it falls right off, but if I am not careful then I just continue to gain weight. The body can be an amazingly horrible thing sometimes, depending on what you are doing to it.
For myself, I try to live in between 1000-1500 mg of sodium per day. My sweet spot seems to be around 1200-1300 mg, but sometimes that can be hard to achieve. The best way to do this is the following:
- Maximum sodium intake per day should not be above 1500 mg
- The sodium content in any food is not above 180 mg per serving
- Yogurt is an exception and should not be above 90 mg per serving
- Watch processed foods carefully, especially breads and pastas, as they are sneakily high in sodium
- Add in ALL sodium that you ingest per day, including from fruits and veggies
If you can continually keep your sodium levels lower, then your body has a much higher chance of optimally performing and a reduction of possible health issues as well as weight loss.