Salt in the form of sodium has been in and out of the news for decades, constantly declaring it as the evil villain causing several diseases in our generation. A diet rich in salt can result in hypertension, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, strokes, osteoporosis, and may even be linked to cancer.
In order to decrease the risk of conjuring high blood pressure and or other disease-like states, we should be limiting our intake to 2,300 milligrams of this white stuff a day. To put that into perspective that’s 1 teaspoon, yes just ONE teaspoon. But to be fair, the majority of the sodium we are consuming is not coming from the salt shakers on the table, it’s from the processed foods we grab and munch on. So then why do we even need sodium in our diet?
A little human anatomy break down..
As always, there is a time and place for sodium in the form of salt in our diet. The human body needs sodium and potassium to work simultaneously with each other, creating the sodium & potassium pump. This ultimately produces an energy gradient that promotes ATP synthesis (in other words, energy production). This energy production creates fuel for our bodies to move, run, dance, work, play and ultimately live! Unfortunately, the human body needs more potassium than sodium, but the american diet supplies far MORE sodium in the form of processed foods, fast foods, and convenience foods.
As always, the government tries it’s best to announce the latest findings and ideas on how to incorporate healthier diets for its people. I recently sat down to read the newspaper and caught sight of this article proclaiming sodium as the bad guy. While it has good points, “sodium villain, potassium hero,” I couldn’t help but think of a world where we didn’t have junk foods that were perfectly genetically & chemically crafted for our cravings. In that world, we wouldn’t have to worry about food manufacturers dumping salt into the pre-packaged foods because it sells better than low-sodium snack foods.
It’s a catch 22 within the food industry because the government tries to establish recommendations for sodium, giving food corporations a hint to lower the sodium content. The people who buy their products however, complain because it doesn’t “taste” as good as the original product. Then food corporations have to make up for the lost taste with additional chemicals. Which is worse, SALT or CHEMICALS?
Sources of Sodium in our diet
- Processed/ packaged foods
- Fast food restaurants
- Sit down restaurants
- Cured/ cold meats
- Some poultry items
- Soups/ canned soups
- Canned food
- Frozen food
- Crackers/ chips/ popcorn
- Dips/ sauces
- Snack foods
The Role of Potassium
Potassium thankfully takes the other side of the spectrum. While sodium increases the chance of diseases like cancer, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease etc, potassium can relieve the body of certain ailments and reverse damage done by increased sodium intake.
A diet rich in potassium can help relax blood vessels, thus decreasing blood pressure and improving sodium excretion. Potassium also helps contract our working muscles, remember the old advice of eating bananas after a charlie horse?
It is recommended that we intake about 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day, that’s roughly 11 medium sized bananas. We couldn’t possible eat that many bananas..could we? Unless you eat banana bread for breakfast, banana sandwiches for lunch, and banana crusted chicken for dinner with banana pie and pudding for desert, we cannot meet our potassium needs from this yellow fruit.
Other sources of Potassium
- Cooked spinach
- Baked potato with the skin
- Sweet Potatoes
- Cooked broccoli
Harvard School of Public Health. Health risks and disease related to salt and sodium. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/salt-and-sodium/sodium-health-risks-and-disease/
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The facts on sodium and high blood pressure reviewed by Jill Kohn RDN. http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/wellness/heart-and-cardiovascular-health/the-facts-on-sodium-and-high-blood-pressure
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. What is Potassium? reviewed by Jill Kohn RDN. http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/potassium
-All photos used in this article were taken by Stephanie Rackley for and by The Healthy Chew -all rights reserved
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