Too much of a good thing can be bad for us, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to sodium. While it is an essential nutrient our body needs to support normal cell function, nerve impulse transmission, and more, too much sodium can cause ill health.
According to a recent FDA report, high blood pressure – a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease – can be the direct result of eating a diet that is too high in sodium. Almost 50% of American adults suffer from high blood pressure (for non-Hispanic Black American adults, this figure is closer to 60%). More alarming still, is that approximately one in 10 children and one in eight teenagers have high or elevated blood pressure.
Reducing our intake of sodium has the potential to prevent illness and premature death for hundreds of thousands of Americans. So what is being done about it, and what can we do to help ourselves?
FDA taking action to reduce sodium intake
Sodium is naturally present in a variety of whole foods, such as meat, milk, and shellfish. Still, it is our consumption of processed foods that bumps up our daily sodium intake so significantly. Most processed foods contain high amounts, particularly items such as snack foods, breads, processed meats, and condiments like soy sauce.
The FDA is taking action to gradually reduce the amount of sodium present in food supply by establishing voluntary targets for lowering sodium levels across the food industry.
This approach is designed to encourage a ‘level playing field’, setting voluntary targets for companies across both the restaurant and processed foods sectors. Particular attention is being paid to those food manufacturers and restaurant chains whose products represent a significant proportion of sales across one or more categories.
The suggested targets aim to reduce average daily sodium consumption by around 12%, taking the average intake from approximately 3,400 mg down to 3,000 mg.
Why is sodium added to food?
There are a variety of reasons for adding sodium to processed, packaged, and pre-prepared foods. Not only does it improve flavor (and sometimes texture), but it effectively controls microbial growth, preventing foodborne illness and food spoilage. It is also used for curing meat. The reasons for its use aren’t so much in contention – but the amount used is often far higher than necessary.
What about sodium in water?
The amount of salt found in tap water is low, and typically lower still in bottled/mineral water products. The only time that sodium in drinking water would be of concern is regarding an individual with considerably high blood pressure, or some heart, liver, or kidney diseases.
According to leading Spring Water company, JUST Water, “There is no specific sodium standard set for drinking water, although the federal agencies suggest that drinking water not exceed 270 mg/L for anyone on a moderately restrictive sodium diet, and no more than 20 mg/L for anyone needing to follow a particularly low sodium diet.’
For anyone concerned regarding their sodium intake, 100% Mountain Spring Water is far lower in sodium than tap water – JUST water products contain an average of just 3.6 mg/L.”
How much is too much?
Americans currently consume an average of approximately 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily; conversely, federal guidelines recommend that individuals 14 years and over consume under 2,300 mg per day (for children 13 years and younger, the recommended limits are lower still).
According to the American Heart Association, 90% of Americans consume too much sodium, and their recommendation is to aim for an optimal limit of less than 1,500 mg per
day for most adults – especially those that already have high blood pressure.
The science behind the benefits of sodium reduction
The scientific evidence as to the benefits of reducing sodium intake sometimes offer up a mixed bag of results, but many are compelling.
In a randomized trial that was recently run across 600 rural villages in China, the results clearly demonstrated the health benefits of reducing salt intake. Over 20,000 people with high blood pressure (who were also either over 60 years old or had a history of stroke) were split into two groups. One group was given a salt substitute, while the other continued to use regular salt. After five years, the results were significant; the rate of major cardiovascular events or stroke was 13% and 14% lower (respectively) for the salt-substitute group.
In another example, a 2010 study conducted at Stanford University concluded that, while cutting approximately 350 mg of sodium (less than ⅙ of a teaspoon) would only lower systolic blood pressure by 1.25 mm of mercury, it could avert around a million heart attacks and strokes, also saving billions of dollars in healthcare costs.
The bottom line
While the FDA is taking action to reduce the amount of food present in processed foods, there is plenty we can do for ourselves to lessen our daily intake. Not only are lower-sodium food products coming onto the market all the time, but most whole foods contain far less salt, and are much better for us in general.
The evidence points to relatively minimal reductions having the potential to make a significantly positive difference to our health and risk of heart attack and stroke, so it makes sense to prioritize small changes.
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