“Sodium chloride is an essential mineral found in salt that our bodies require to develop and function normally. Due to its ability to bind, preserve and stabilise foods, sodium is found in a wide variety of food products and is therefore difficult to avoid. It is estimated that we require ~2,000mg of sodium per day to function optimally, which is roughly equivalent to 1 teaspoon of salt.
What effect does sodium have on the body?
Sodium helps with many bodily functions, including the contraction and relaxation of our muscles, the smooth running of our nervous system and controls our blood pressure and blood volume.
We typically consume far more sodium than our bodies need. This is because our food environments are dominated by packaged foods, many of which have added sodium. Overconsumption of sodium on a daily basis increases the likelihood of overwhelming our kidneys, which try their best to get rid of the sodium that we don’t need.
Why have I been advised to reduce my sodium intake?
You may have been advised by a doctor or dietitian to reduce your sodium intake if you have a heart condition or renal (kidney) disease. This is because sodium is filtered by the kidneys; if we overload them - or have a disease or condition which makes it hard to balance the amount of sodium in our bodies - the level of sodium in our blood increases, which raises our blood pressure.
Regardless of whether or not you have been advised to reduce your sodium intake, it is always a good idea to keep an eye on the amount of salt you consume daily. High blood pressure can damage our blood vessels, heart and brain - a great way to prevent high blood pressure is to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet.
Which foods are high in sodium?
Meats that have been salted, smoked, cured, or canned are high in sodium – think bacon, ham, salami, sausages, and sardines. Convenience foods that start their lives in a packet, such as frozen pizzas, burritos and other frozen meals, are high in sodium. Sauces such as tomato and soy sauce also tend to have high levels of sodium, which is why you will see low sodium options on supermarket shelves.
Unsurprisingly, food from restaurants have high amounts of sodium. What may come as a surprise, however, is the amount of sodium in bread. Because bread is a staple in most of our diets, it is a major contributor to our sodium intake.
A quick scan of a nutrition label when out food shopping can help to determine which foods are high in sodium. A high sodium food is classified as those which contain more than 600mg of sodium per 100g of food. The team at myWellaBee have tagged the low-sodium options from the leading supermarkets for you!
What are some simple ways of decreasing my sodium intake?
Try to opt for fresh foods over those that are packaged. Fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, chicken, fish, seafood, wholegrain products and unprocessed cereals will have far less sodium than packaged options.
When cooking meals, or when you are seated at the dinner table, try to use less salt. Due to the high level of sodium in many of the foods we consume, our taste buds are used to salty foods. It will be difficult to go cold turkey, so we recommended slowly reducing the amount you add to food over time. Instead of adding salt, play around with different herbs and spices for flavour.
Expert Tip: Another essential mineral you may have heard of is potassium. Potassium has the opposite effect on our blood pressure levels, and is found in high amounts in fresh foods – yet another reason to eat your fruit and veg! If you are finding it difficult to shake the habit of adding sodium whilst preparing foods, or when you’re at the table, there are sodium alternatives you can explore which have potassium instead.
To discover a wide variety of low sodium options, visit www.myWellabee.com and explore the ‘low sodium’ tag.
Resources and References
Sodium – New Zealand Nutrition Foundation
Shake the Salt Resource – Stroke Foundation
Salt & Blood Pressure – Heart Foundation
The Nutrition Source: Sodium & Salt – Harvard School of Public Health