Here’s a clear way to distinguish between the sodium and salt, as we commonly know it.
- Sodium is what’s found in food – especially in processed food containing preservatives.
- Salt is what we add to our food.
Salt, also known as sodium chloride, is about 40% sodium and 60% chloride. It flavors food and is used as a binder and stabilizer. It is also a food preservative, as bacteria can’t thrive in the presence of a high amount of salt. The human body requires a small amount of sodium to conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals. It is estimated that we need about 500 mg of sodium daily for these vital functions.
But although sodium is important for optimal health, consuming too much has been linked to health problems including hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiovascular disease, and kidney stones.
Guidelines for Adequate Intakes of sodium were established based on the lowest levels of sodium intake used in randomized controlled trials that did not show a deficiency but that also allowed for an adequate intake of nutritious foods naturally containing sodium. For men and women 14 years of age and older and pregnant women, the adequate intake is 1,500 milligrams a day.
Function of Salt and Sodium
Your body takes in sodium through the foods you eat and eliminates extra sodium in perspiration and urine. The role of sodium in overall health is to help cells and organs function properly by regulating blood pressure, supporting muscular contraction, and keeping nerve impulses running smoothly. It’s one of the electrolytes responsible for maintaining a healthy amount of fluids in the body.3
Too much or too little sodium can cause some of those bodily processes to malfunction, and do the body has mechanisms for monitoring how much sodium it’s taken in.
If sodium levels get too high, the body will signal the kidneys to get rid of the excess. If levels dip too low, you may show signs of a condition called hyponatremia, which is a medical emergency in which the brain is affected. Symptoms include dizziness, muscle twitches, seizures, and in severe cases, loss of consciousness.
Sodium occurs naturally in foods like celery, beets, and milk, vegetables. It’s also added to many packaged foods during manufacturing—often in amounts that are considered much too high. High-sodium products include processed meats, canned soups, salad dressings, and soy sauce. Restaurant and fast foods are also typically high in sodium. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the top 10 sources of sodium in our diets include: breads/rolls; pizza; sandwiches; cold cuts/cured meats; soups; burritos, tacos; savory snacks (chips, popcorn, pretzels, crackers); chicken; cheese; eggs, omelets
Other potential sources of sodium include drinking water and certain medications, such as acetaminophen and antacids. If you’re concerned that your over-the-counter drug may be a factor in your overall sodium intake, your healthcare provider will be able to tell you if any of the medicine you take is potentially problematic
Consuming excessive amounts of sodium can cause high blood pressure in some people, which can lead to other health issues such heart disease and stroke. That’s because the accumulation of sodium causes the body to hang on to excess water, forcing your organs to work harder to flush it out as they try to maintain a healthy fluid balance. If your kidneys can’t get rid of extra fluids, sodium will start to build up in the bloodstream.
Keep in mind that foods high in sodium don’t always taste salty, so watch out for sweet offenders like cereals and pastries