The balance of sodium and potassium in our bodies

22 Aug

Most of us enjoy eating out sometimes because it is a good way to meet with family and friends without having to cook at home. However, eating out can often cause guilt due to the consumption of greater food quantities with increased sodium content rather than a fresh meal prepared at home.

Even without eating out, many of us get too much sodium in our diets.  Some people are unaware exactly where it comes from. 

I have done the math so you don’t have to.  About 12% comes from natural sources like certain meats, poultry, dairy products and vegetables.  About 11% comes from added salt and condiments like soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, and taco seasoning.  And about 77% comes from processed foods such as canned vegetables, canned and dried soups, ready-to-eat cereals and frozen dinners.

The possible consequences with going overboard with sodium are: Retaining fluids in your body, increasing your blood pressure, developing stomach problems, and you can also experience headaches and dizziness.

If you’re thinking about cutting sodium all together, don’t.  Sodium is an important mineral necessary for many functions in the body.  We need it for nerve and muscle function, adequate absorption of major nutrients and water balance within cells.  Sodium also works with other minerals like potassium to regulate blood pressure.  

Potassium helps to regulate water and mineral balance throughout the body.  Research suggests that increasing dietary potassium may provide a protective effect against hypertension (high blood pressure) by increasing the amount of sodium excreted from the body.  A high potassium intake has been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Also, potassium may reduce the risk of recurrent kidney stones and bone loss as we age.

Potassium is found in a wide range of foods, such as leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, pumpkins, potatoes, carrots and beans. It’s also found in dairy products, meat, poultry, fish and nuts.

Potassium is not the concern. Sodium is.  To know exactly how much to reduce, we need to know how much is recommended.

The recommendation is a little less than 2,300 milligrams per day, which equals 1 teaspoon of table salt.  The average American consumes about 4,000-5,000 mg a day. To control your intake, eat mostly fresh, unprocessed foods.  Do not add salt while cooking, use spices and herbs instead.  Choose low-sodium products and always read the nutrition label.  Limit products that have hidden sources of sodium, look for words like “sodium nitrite, sodium benzoate, sodium saccharin and monosodium glutamate.” 

If cooking at home is not an option, try to pick a restaurant that prepares their food from scratch, and ask them kindly to avoid using added salt.  When eating in fast food restaurants, the nutrition information is usually available for costumers.  

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