by Krystal Hawks, ETC blog contributor

The average American eats more than 3,400 mg of sodium each day, yet the American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day, ideally going as low as 1,500 mg per day. That’s a huge difference!

Sodium is a mineral that is essential for life. It regulates the kidneys, aids in controlling your body’s fluid balance, and helps send nerve and muscle impulses. Buttttt, having excess sodium in the bloodstream has many detrimental effects.

First, it pulls water into your blood vessels to dilute the excess sodium, which increases the total amount or volume of blood inside your blood vessels. The increased volume of blood pushes against your blood vessels, ultimately resulting in increased blood pressure.

High blood pressure overtime may overstretch and injure the blood vessel walls, causing your vessels to harden, and quickening the process of plaque build-up, which can block blood flow. This also tires the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump the blood throughout the body.

Eating less sodium can stop the rise of blood pressure that occurs naturally with age, and decrease your overall risk of a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and headaches.

Aside from the not-so-friendly health effects sodium has on the body, it also does some damage to your appearance. Extra water retention in your body can cause bloating, puffiness, and weight gain.

You can easily stop this fast downhill spiral!

 

The first thing to be aware of is that more than 75% of our sodium intake comes from processed, packaged, and restaurant foods—not the salt shaker!

Check out the salty six and the sneaky ways they contribute the most sodium to our diets.

 

1. Cold cuts and cured meats. Compare the food label to various brands and varieties. It is astonishing how big of a difference in sodium content there is between virtually the same food product.

2. Pizza. Not surprising, since this food isn’t exactly marketed as a healthy option, but with more veggies and less cheese, it can easily become a better option. Also, try swapping in a salad for a few slices.

3. Soup. A can of soup has the potential to rack up more than your day’s allotted sodium in just a cup! Try making a big batch of your own using low sodium broth; unsalted fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables; and herbs. Freeze in small batches for an easy, pre-portioned comfort meal.

4. Breads and rolls. Although you can’t taste the salt, breads really can pack a salty punch. Try thinner slices, because thinner slices mean fewer calories and subsequently, less sodium.

5. Chicken. Check the food label for anything like “broth,” “saline,” or “sodium solution” to make sure your lean protein isn’t injected with sodium!

6. Burritos and Tacos. Skip the store-bought seasoning packet! Make your own with ½ tsp of cumin, oregano, chili powder, and garlic powder for significantly less sodium and better flavor!

Cutting out a large portion of your salt intake in a short period of time often leaves foods tasting bland. Allow your taste buds to adapt to the natural flavors of foods by gradually decreasing the amount of sodium you eat…you’ll never believe how wonderful those naked little foods taste!

 

To reduce your sodium intake, try a few of these easy tips and tricks!

 

Choose your packaged and prepared foods carefully. Check their food labels to compare options and look for lower-sodium varieties. At first, combine lower-sodium options with their regular versions to ease your transition. Bonus: Make sure your fresh/frozen poultry hasn’t been injected with a sodium solution.

Watch out for condiments! Condiments, like soy sauce, bottled salad dressings, dips, ketchup, jarred salsas, capers, mustard, pickles, olives, and relish, can sneakily hide a lot of sodium. Look for lower-sodium versions and try onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices, and vinegars instead.  Tune in next week for more sodium-free flavoring tips!

Be careful with cans. Drain and rinse canned beans and vegetables to cut down the sodium content up to 70%. Even better, look for “no sodium added” on the can, as well as frozen vegetables without any salty sauces.

Cook with your heart in mind. Skip the salt when you cook pasta, rice, or hot cereal. You have so many other flavors going into the dish that you won’t miss the salt! Also try grilling, braising, roasting, searing, and even sautéing to bring out the natural flavors in your foods.

Potassium, potassium, potassium! Incorporate foods high in potassium, which help counter the harmful effects of sodium. Focus on: sweet potatoes, potatoes, greens, tomatoes, lower-sodium tomato juice, white beans, kidney beans, yogurt, oranges, bananas, and cantaloupe.

Don’t get discouraged the first time you go to the grocery store with what seems like a million different do’s and don’ts in regards to your shopping cart. A lifestyle change as major as lowering your sodium intake will take a lot of effort! You not only have to cook more of your own foods, you also have to pay attention to what you are cooking, and how you are cooking it! Just remember that your body will thank you for it, and I think you will feel better within a couple of days with sodium in your mind and off your plate. At the end of the day, we are all doing our best. Don’t give up. Love yourself. And #eatthechocolate.

Krystal is an undergraduate student at Kent State University studying Nutrition and Exercise Science. She has a passion for working out and making healthier alternatives to her family’s recipes. Her ultimate career goal is to become a Sports Dietitian and show active individuals the importance of a balanced diet, that it doesn’t have to be boring, and all the benefits of well-being and health!