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How much sodium (salt) per day is good (or bad) for you?

Wie viel Natrium (Salz) pro Tag ist gut (oder schlecht) für Dich?

Salt has played a role in our diet for thousands of years. The Egyptians used it in religious rituals and traded it. The Greeks bought slaves with it. The Romans paid their soldiers with it (and the English word "salary" comes from the Roman word "salarium" which stood for the salt ration). European plutocracies were based on salt and today it is found in countless foods.

Salt was once a coveted resource and today it is nothing more than a boring condiment.

Such is life.

Salt - the most important mineral nutrient in human history - has even become less than a simple condiment.

Salt is one of the most demonized nutrients in our modern diet.

Health authorities have been warning us for decades about the (alleged) dangers of salt, which include an increased risk of heart disease and strokes.

However, recent research casts doubt on these claims and suggests that salt may not be as harmful as previously thought.

In this we will look at the following:

  • What sodium is
  • Why salt is (apparently) bad
  • How much sodium you should eat
  • How much sodium is too much
  • How you can control your sodium intake
  • And more

Let's get started.

What is sodium?

Sodium is a mineral and is also known as an electrolyte - a substance that increases the electrical conductivity of a liquid when dissolved in it.

Electrolytes are essential to human life because our bodies are made up of trillions of cells that rely on electrical signals to function.

These signals must pass through fluids to reach their destinations and these fluids require electrolytes to carry these signals.

Sodium is one of the most important electrolytes in our bodies. It works together with potassium to power a "pump" that is essential for maintaining the action potential of cells.

This cellular pump is always active, pumping sodium ions out of the cell and potassium ions into the cell. It serves to ensure that cells contain relatively large amounts of potassium ions but low amounts of sodium ions.

The cell uses this pump to maintain a balance of sodium, potassium and fluid in its walls.

Sodium also helps to regulate blood volume and is involved in muscle and nerve function.

Are salt and sodium bad for you?

Our collective fear of salt began in the early 20th century when French doctors reported that 6 of their hypertensive patients were following a high-salt diet.

These fears were reinforced in the 1970s when Lewis Dahl of Brookhaven National Laboratory was able to induce high blood pressure in rats by feeding them a high-sodium diet.

Dahl also concluded that countries with a high-salt diet also had higher rates of high blood pressure and strokes.

However, his findings and the underpinnings of the fear of sodium in general are beginning to fall apart. More recent research suggests that this elemental compound is not as harmful as previously thought.

It began with an extensive review of the sodium literature published in 2003, which concluded (1):

"There is limited evidence for benefits of long-term reduction in salt intake." 8 years later, a meta-analysis of 7 studies involving more than 6,250 subjects supported these results and concluded that there is no evidence that reducing salt intake is an effective measure to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke or death in people with normal or high blood pressure (2).

Further research published in 2015 found that lower salt consumption may even be associated with a higher risk of dying from heart disease (3).

What's going on here?

Well, we now know that genetic predisposition and cultural factors come into play. Some people are more sensitive to sodium than others.

We also know that low sodium intake can increase the risk of different types of diseases and dysfunctions. These include, among others:

  1. An increase in levels of bad LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood (5, 6)
  2. Increased insulin resistance (7).
  3. Type 2 diabetes

And when we talk about sodium intake and health, we also need to talk about potassium and the research that shows that the ratio of sodium to potassium intake is very important.

Officials recommend a daily intake of 4.7 grams of potassium per day, whereas in 2010, potassium intake in the Western world was just 2.64 grams per day. This makes inadequate potassium intake one of the most widespread nutrient deficiencies in the Western world (9).

Not surprisingly, the best sources of potassium are the types of foods that many people avoid - fruits and vegetables. This is another argument in favor of maintaining a nutritious diet.

It's important to know this because scientific research shows that sodium intake per se is probably not nearly as harmful as an imbalance of sodium and potassium. A study conducted by scientists at the Center for Disease Control at Harvard University found that people with the highest sodium to potassium ratio were twice as likely to die from a heart attack and 50% more likely to die from all causes compared to people with the lowest ratio (10).

So the bottom line is this:

As long as you're not eating a lot of convenience foods and highly processed foods, and you don't tend to oversalt every meal you eat, and as long as you make sure you're getting enough potassium, you're unlikely to run into any sodium-related problems.

How much sodium should you consume per day?

Sodium is a lot like saturated fat - we thought it caused heart disease, but now we're being proven wrong.

Some people would have you believe that both foods have been given complete absolution and that you can eat as much of them as you want without fear of harming your health.

I disagree with this.

As for saturated fat, prominent nutrition and cardiology researchers remain of the opinion that there is a strong link between high saturated fat intake and heart disease and that we should follow the generally accepted dietary guidelines for saturated fat intake (11, 12) until we know more.

Similarly, until you know for sure that high sodium intake won't raise your blood pressure, it's better to stay on the safe side and follow the official recommendations for sodium intake (about 2.3 grams of sodium per day and 1.5 grams for people of African-American descent and people with high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic kidney disease, and people over 51 years of age).

However, it is also important to remember that people who sweat regularly may need more sodium (13) to compensate for losses through sweat. In this case, 3.5 to 4 grams of sodium may make sense.

Most people don't pay attention to their sodium intake and don't know the sodium levels of different foods.

Well, we can start with salt, which contains 2.3 grams of sodium per teaspoon (and now you may realize why many people eat more sodium than they should).

In addition, the following foods are known for their high sodium content (and are very popular in the Western diet):

  • Bread made from yeast dough
  • pizza
  • pasta dishes
  • cold cuts

If you want to get an overview of your sodium intake, numerous nutrient calculators available on the internet can help you, and you shouldn't overlook the salt you add to your food afterwards.

How much sodium should you consume per day during a weight loss diet?

You've probably heard that your sodium intake can affect your weight loss.

This is true.

Sodium pulls water into cells, which is why high sodium consumption can cause a sharp increase in water retention (14, 15). You've probably experienced this the morning after eating a large, salty cheat meal the day before. This is also the reason why water retention decreases when you limit your sodium intake.

Potassium has the opposite effect on cellular fluid levels. While sodium pulls water into the cell, potassium pumps water out of the cell, which explains why restricting potassium intake can worsen water retention (and why increasing potassium intake can reduce water retention).

So if you want to prevent unexplained weight loss plateaus while dieting, make sure you're keeping an eye on your sodium and potassium intake.

How to reduce your sodium intake

So you've analyzed your sodium intake and you've realized that you need to reduce your sodium intake and increase your potassium intake. You can achieve this quite easily.

1. reduce your consumption of salt and certain spices

Many foods naturally contain small amounts of sodium, but most of the sodium in our diet comes from salt, which is about 40% sodium and about 60% chloride.

You should therefore use salt sparingly and use a potassium-based substitute when needed.

Also watch out for spice mixes such as chili and pizza spices. These can contain a lot of salt.

2. pay attention to the sodium content of canned foods and ready meals

Many canned foods and ready meals are overloaded with salt.

3. avoid sausage and smoked meat products

These foods also tend to be high in salt.

4. look at food labels

Many foods now list the salt content per portion or per 100 grams.

5. be careful with sauces and dressings

Many sauces and dressings such as soy sauce, Worcestershire and salad dressings are very high in sodium.

6 Cheese can also be a problem

Just 30 grams of cheese often contains 500 mg of sodium.

7. include more potassium-rich foods in your diet< Popular sources of potassium include:

  • Beans (2 to 3 grams of potassium per cup)
  • Dark green leafy vegetables (500 to 1,500 mg of potassium per cup)
  • Bananas (400 to 500 mg of potassium per medium banana)
  • Potatoes (900 mg of potassium per medium-sized potato)
  • Pumpkin (100 to 500 mg of potassium per medium-sized pumpkin)
  • Yoghurt (250 to 400 mg of potassium per cup)
  • Salmon (100 mg of potassium per 30 grams)
  • Avocado (1 gram of potassium per avocado)
  • Mushrooms (300 to 400 mg per cup)

If you don't feel like monitoring anything else in your diet, I can understand that. However, you don't have to control your sodium and potassium intake forever.

Instead, I would recommend that you monitor your potassium and sodium intake temporarily and see what works best and what doesn't. Then you can use your common sense to maintain good habits and keep moving forward.

(You can also supplement potassium, of course, but you should know exactly how to dose it correctly, as too much potassium intake can have negative health effects).

And yes, all of this means that your sodium and potassium intake will fluctuate and occasionally hit peaks and troughs, but that's perfectly fine.

The goal is not to achieve an absolutely perfect intake every day. Rather, it's about getting it right more often than wrong.

The bottom line on "proper sodium intake"

When it comes to dieting, most "in the know" pay careful attention to their macronutrient intake, but don't really care about micronutrients like sodium, potassium and the many other things the body needs to function properly. While this is better than complete nutritional ignorance, it still leaves a lot to be desired.

I used to be no different myself. However, once I diversified my food choices and included significantly more fruit, vegetables and other superfoods in my diet, the differences were astonishing.

While this didn't affect my body composition, it definitely improved my energy levels, mood and cognitive abilities.

I've also found that I need less sleep to function optimally and on top of that, my body seems to recover faster after exercise and other physical activities.

If you've only ever paid attention to your macronutrients, try the following for a month and see what changes:

  • Eat three cups of vegetables a day. You get bonus points for green leafy vegetables, red and orange vegetables and beans. If you want, you can also eat starchy vegetables like potatoes or sweet potatoes.
  • Eat two cups of fruit a day. Make sure you also eat colorful fruits like berries, plums and cherries.
  • Consume the majority of your non-fruit and vegetable carbohydrates in the form of relatively unprocessed foods. These include whole grains, seeds, nuts and dairy products.
  • Keep your sodium and potassium intake within acceptable ranges. You'll be surprised how much better you'll feel.


  9. 10.


By Michael Matthews

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