Is Sodium Bad for You? How Much of It Can You Eat Per Day?

Plate of Salt

What if I were to tell you that you couldn’t add ANY salt to your meals ever again? Would you be okay with that or would you be bummed out about having to eat bland food for the rest of your life? Luckily, nothing that drastic needs to happen—even if you have a sodium intake restriction.

Sure, various top health organizations have warned us how bad it is for quite a while. These strong words of caution stem from blood pressure and the fact that too much salt in the diet correlates to higher blood pressure, which is a risk factor for both stroke and heart disease. You definitely don’t what that!

Sodium Guidelines

So, what do these aforementioned organizations have to say about sodium intake?

It seems like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the American Diabetes Association (ADA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have come to a consensus: 2300 milligrams should be the maximum daily intake, but we should all aim for 1500 milligrams or less.[1][2][3] The American Heart Association (AHA) doesn’t mention 2300 mg, just 1500 mg.[4] It’s safe to say, that sticking to the lower side of the spectrum is key.

Average Sodium Intake

You might be wondering… How much of this stuff do people ingest on average? Add about 1000 mg to that 2300 mg maximum and you have your answer. A whopping 3400 mg, to be exact.[5] Too much of pretty much anything is never a good thing and this is mostly thanks to processed foods.

So, good old sodium… Is it our friend or foe? The answer isn’t that simple despite what I just said. But before I get into this topic a bit more, let’s discuss what sodium even is…

What Is Sodium?

The super scientific definition: “the chemical element of atomic number 11 (“Na” on the period table), a soft silver-white reactive metal of the alkali metal group.” In other words, it’s a mineral that exists in our body and is acquired through what we eat (typically in the form of sodium chloride, also known as salt).[6]

And just a little FYI… table salt consists of sodium AND chloride. Sodium is not synonymous with salt.

Sea Salt in Container

What Kind of Salt Should You Eat?

Kosher salt and plain iodized salt is the most common salt used in restaurant and fast food especially. However, when you cook, opt for something less refined and more nutritious like…

  • Pink Himalayan Salt
  • Sea Salt
  • Celtic Sea Salt

Woman Pouring Salt

Okay, So Is Sodium Bad or Not?

Here’s the thing. We all know that most health organization have made some mistakes in the past. Take saturated fat, for example. Any kind of fat used to be deemed as completely unhealthy and something to be avoided. We now know that healthy fats (like avocado and coconut oil) are good for us.

With that same logic, we can conclude that sodium is good for us as well, right? But I don’t want to jump the gun just yet and you’ll find out why in just a moment here.

How Does Sodium Benefit the Body?

Sodium is an electrolyte and it can even be found in apples. Keep in mind that whole foods—especially fruits and vegetables contain negligible amounts.

In the body, sodium binds to water and ensures that there’s a balance between intracellular (located within cells) and extracellular (located outside of cells) fluids. So if a lot of sodium is floating around in your bloodstream, it binds to more water. This ends up increasing blood pressure, which is why it is recommended to lessen the amount of salt you eat in a day.

However, it’s important to note that the increase isn’t as intense as these organizations havesalt-shaker us believe. (More about this soon.) That being said, high blood pressure is no laughing matter because it could easily lead to a wide variety of other health ailments.

Furthermore, sodium is a molecule that’s electrically charged. When it teams up with potassium, it assists in efficient nerve transmission, muscular contraction, etc. For this particular function, coconut water is highly recommended!

Therefore, our bodies are unable to function without the presence of sodium. That alone should tell you that it is needed in your diet.

According to AAFP and a recent extensive Cochrane review, “Reducing sodium intake does lead to a slightly lower average blood pressure [on average].” The thing is, there is no real evidence sourced from controlled trials that proves anything too substantial.[7a]

You’d think sodium restriction would be especially helpful for people with existing health conditions, but yet another Cochrane review found that there is virtually no effect on mortality or cardiovascular disease, even in individuals diagnosed with high blood pressure.[7b] Many other notable studies further confirm this to be the case.

By the way, a Cochrane review is globally recognized and it’s one of the highest standards when it comes to evidence-based health care resources.

And this brings us to…

Low Sodium Intake

A vast portion of this article is concerned with high sodium intake, but what about not getting all that much sodium in our diets? Can that actually be detrimental to our health?

Believe it or not, a number of studies show that restricting how much sodium we ingest could actually impact our well-being negatively! From insulin resistance to increased LDL (bad cholesterol), it’s obvious that sodium restriction isn’t the answer for the majority.[8] (Please keep in mind that everyone is different and we’re not saying that sodium restriction should be completely overlooked.)

The fact of the matter is, there are many other ways to lower blood pressure (without demonizing sodium) such as making sure you get enough magnesium and potassium in your diet. Exercising helps as well.[9]

[Related Post: Rebounding Benefits: Top 10 Reasons to Jump like Nobody’s Watching.]

It’s safe to say that a multitude of lifestyle choices can directly affect areas of your health more than salt intake ever can.

Sea Salt in Hands

The Salty Verdict?

To make sure you didn’t misunderstand me… If your physician told you to limit how much sodium you eat each day, please don’t go against his/her advice, but also don’t look at salt as this evil thing you should NEVER eat.

For those of you who are healthy and want to stay in tip-top shape, there isn’t really a reason for you to avoid salt like the plague. Just try to stay below 2300mg because remember: too much AND tool little isn’t exactly ideal.

One of our mottos here at HMM (and many other nutrition sites, I’m sure): Eat more whole foods! Also, keep restaurant outings to a minimum. It’s smooth sailing from there.

If you still want to be very mindful, we find that using lots of different spices makes it so we don’t have to use as much salt in our dishes. This is especially true with curried dishes.

What kind of salt do you prefer to use in your cooking? And what are some of your go-to spices?

Eva Xanthopoulos


Sources
1. “Eating Right with Less Salt.”
2. “Cutting Back on Sodium.”
3. “USDA Guidelines for Sodium Intake.”
4. “Sodium and Salt.”
5. “The FDA Recommended Sodium Intake.”
6. “Sodium.”
7. “Does a Low-Sodium Diet Reduce Blood Pressure?”
8. “Effects of Sodium Restriction on Blood Pressure, Renin, Aldosterone, Catecholamines, Cholesterols, and Triglyceride.”
9. “It’s Time to End the War on Salt.”


*DISCLAIMER: Always consult a medical professional before applying the advice given throughout this website. While the articles on HMM are thoroughly researched, it is important to speak with your medical provider before starting a new exercise routine or introducing something new to your diet. We ourselves are NOT doctors, so the information we feature should not be used to replace any of your medications or lifestyle choices that have been recommended by your doctor. Read at your own risk and read our full disclaimer here.*

15 COMMENTS

    • Thank you for the suggestions! 🙂 In my research, I found that it can be very harmful to adhere to a low sodium diet if you’re an athlete.

  1. Great article on the topic of salt. I share a similar position with you on the subject. The only point I’d like to share is the quantity the average consumer takes in. The 3000+ range is WELL BELOW the real number. This number (3400mg) has been stated by the CDC from a national survey reaching 35,000 people performed from 2003-2010. Asking consumers questions regarding food intake leads to inaccurate answers. Most people do not truly realize what they eat nor how much. Based on the facts that so many meals are eaten in fast food establishments, chinese restaurants, italian restaurants, etc.. where sodium levels for ONE MEAL can range from 1200mg to 10,000mg, the 3400mg is well below the average person’s consumption. I have tracked my foods in a computer program since 1995 (except for vacation travels) and I average approximately 2700mg. I eat very healthy, but healthy does not mean low sodium. My ORGANIC cottage cheese is 390mg per 1/2 cup. My ORGANIC tomato sauce is 280mg per 1/2 cup. ORGANIC 7 grain bread (2 slices) 270mg, ORGANIC vegan sprouted flakes (1/2 cup) 150mg. Consumers eat much more than 3400mg day. It is more likely 4000-5000mg/day and found in damaging foods as well. This is a much bigger problem than realized.

    Thank you for bring it to the awareness of your readers.

    • Thank you for making that distinction! Those numbers are appalling.

      Bob and I eat very healthy as well, but our salt intake can end up being relatively high if we’re not careful. It’s definitely far easier to maintain when you’re eating lots of whole foods and making everything you’re eating yourself.

      And that’s the thing… Is it the salt that’s harming the person, or is it more the source? If one eats a lot of fast food, sure their sodium intake is extremely high, but so is their intake of preservatives, trans fat, and questionable ingredients.

  2. I like to use a couple of twists of sea salt, but also have the Pink Himalayan and the Kosher salt in my pantry. I mainly use a zesty herb blend rather than salt, a choice made several years ago because of family health history. My b/p runs low — normal being 100/60, but having worked in the medical field in the past, I know how fast those numbers can change. I have MS, type 2 diabetes that is controlled by diet, and some heart related problems, hate swallowing pills if I can find a good alternative, and just don’t bother suffering the foolish stuff that comes out of the mouth of some doctors I have consulted. Apple Cider Vinegar is my go-to for most ailments, with my aloe vera plant and herbs sharing the same shelf.

    I do love reading

  3. Celtic sea salt, haven’t heard of that one :o. This is a great and well thought out article :). As a type 1 diabetic doctors told me for years, since my teens to avoid too much salt and always reduce it everywhere. The problem was that they only discovered when I was an adult that I suffer from low blood pressure sometimes rather than high. Increasing salt just a little in my diet, which felt the right thing to do anyway considering how low my consumption was, has stopped me getting dizzy spells and feeling unwell which the low blood pressure did. I sometimes see these people sprinkling ridiculous amounts of salt on their food but a strict rule for everyone isn’t a good thing considering that a lot of people’s diets might require like me more or the same amount of salt rather than a reduction. It should be worked out by health professionals for each individual.

    • Thank you, C! You already know how much I appreciate your comments, so there’s no need in letting you know that again. 😀

      From what I read, low sodium and low blood pressure don’t mix really well.

      Thanks for sharing your experience with the HMM community!

  4. Good read. I always tell people salt isn’t bad for you without really knowing the science behind it lol, I just knew a body builder that was doing an extremely low sodium diet before a competition and he ended up getting “Low Sodium Poisoning” and had to stop working out for a month to recover. Knowledge is power!

    • Thank you!

      Yes, it absolutely is! I read about “low sodium poisoning” and I was shocked something like that even existed. Honestly, this article could have been a lot longer, but I didn’t want to overwhelm everybody. 🙂

    • Coconut water would be a great addition to one’s diet, granted they’re not allergic to coconut. 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Dave!

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