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The Effects of Salt and Sodium

By Scotty Gehlbach, AAS, ACE

Don’t get me wrong, we do need some salt in our diets, but it’s important we don’t have too much. Here's why! Typically, consuming too much salt is something that occurs over time and it contributes to chronic diseases. Too much salt in a small setting can lead to something called hypernatremia, or "too much salt in your blood". This occurs because of dysregulation of sodium, water or both.

Salt has several names including sodium, Na, Na+, NaCl, and KCl. Unsalted, no salt added, sodium free are terms you should look for on a nutrition facts label. Elevated sodium levels are associated with heart disease, heart attack, coronary artery disease, embolisms and blood clots, brain disease, stroke, dementia, kidney disease, kidney failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, kidney stones and headaches. Symptoms of too much salt include dehydration, bloating, puffiness, weight gain, increased thirst, and excessive thirst. Although this might sound a bit intimidating, there are many ways to lower your salt intake.

Here’s my advice on sodium and helpful ways to improve it!

Scotty’s top tips on reducing salt intake:

  1. Choose whole, unprocessed foods and eat plenty of vegetables and fruit. The key to heart healthy eating is to base our diets on whole, minimally-processed foods with plenty of vegetables and fruit. These foods are generally lower in salt than processed foods. The more processing, the more likely salt has been added along the way. Pay attention to food labels and keep in mind next time you’re at the grocery store, about 40% of your cart should be filled with vegetables and fruit. Fresh, frozen, and canned fruit and vegetables are also great options (as long as you check that no sodium has been added to your frozen or canned veggies).

  2. Use herbs, spices, garlic and citrus in place of salt to add flavor to your food during cooking and at the table. Although most of the salt we eat comes from processed and packaged food, you can easily add plenty of flavor to your meals by using herbs, spices, citrus (lemon or lime zest), dressings (opt to make from scratch) and vinegar in place of salt. Gradually add less salt to your favorite recipes - your taste buds will adapt over time!

  3. Reduce portion size - less food means less sodium. Yes! As simplistic as it sounds, it's so true! When being in a calorie deficit and replacing sodium-dense foods with healthier nutritious meals, you’ll not only lower your blood pressure, reduce risk of heart attack and improve your cardiovascular health, you'll also lean out and see results on the scale! You’ll feel better and be more energized!

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