If you’ve ever had high blood pressure or have known someone who has, you’ve likely heard about the link between sodium and your health. And if you’ve ever discussed this link with your doctor, he or she has likely stressed the importance of lowering your sodium levels for your overall health and wellbeing.
Now, it’s true that high sodium intake from processed foods is a big issue here in the U.S. But you may be surprised to learn that sodium itself isn’t all bad. You actually need it for different critical bodily functions, such as muscle contraction and proper hydration. And it’s crucial for it to be in balance with other minerals!
Intrigued? Let’s dispel some common myths about sodium and take a look at both the good and bad parts of sodium consumption. You’ll leave knowing more about the relationship between sodium and your health—and exactly how it works in your body.
All About Sodium: What It Is and Why It Can Be a Problem
So, we hear a lot about sodium and your health in relation to heart health, but what exactly is it? Well, for starters, it’s a lot more than just your average table salt.
First, sodium is the principal electrolyte in your body’s fluids and is highly utilized for maintaining your blood volume, water balance, cell membrane function, and nerve conduction. It’s also essential for proper acid-base balance.
Sodium is also a naturally occurring mineral found in many whole foods. Your body obtains sodium via your food and drink and eliminates it via your sweat and urine. And when it’s consumed in proper amounts from whole foods, it not only typically presents as harmless, but it can actually play a very important role in your overall health!
It has become a large problem in our society due its abundance in processed foods—and that’s where we tend to consume the most of it.  That may come as a surprise, since, historically, there’s been a lot of focus on reducing our consumption of table salt.
So, where exactly does table salt come into play? Why is there such a focus on table salt and heart health?
Well, first, table salt isn’t straight sodium. Instead, it’s actually a combination of sodium and chloride, with sodium making up about 40 percent of the mixture. Second, this mixture isn’t usually required for your body to function properly. In fact, it can cause more harm than good. Your body was built maintain proper electrolyte balance (if you provide it with proper nutrition and water).
When it comes to your health, you need sodium—not sodium chloride—for optimal function. And here’s how it works: Your kidneys actually are responsible for managing the amount of sodium in your body by adjusting the amount excreted in your urine. When sodium consumption and loss are not in balance, it affects your body.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting: Sodium and potassium must remain in balance. So, anytime you experience chronic stress or consume too much sodium, this balance can change.
It’s important to remember that the effect of stress on sodium and potassium levels is very important. Why? Well, cortisol can cause a decrease in potassium, which results in sodium retention.
If your kidneys aren’t able to release the excess sodium, it can build up in your blood. And this causes high blood pressure, putting you at risk of further health complications. Furthermore, if your sodium drops and your potassium becomes too high, it tends to result in heart arrhythmias and palpitations. This is why balance is critical!
Sodium and Your Health: 5 Facts You Need to Know
As you can see, the link between sodium and your health is a very important one. But just in case you’ve been skimming this article (because, hey, we’ve all been guilty of doing that from time to time), here are five fast facts you need to know about sodium and your health.
Fact 1: You’ve likely been consuming too much sodium your entire life.
Think back as far as you can remember. Yep, it’s highly likely that your diet has contained too much sodium for that long. Approximately 90% of Americans age 2 and older consume too much sodium.
How much? Well, according to scientific reports, Americans aged 2 and older consume, on average, about 38 percent more sodium than the recommended daily amount (2,300 mg). That percentage is estimated to be even higher for children aged 2 to 13.
Now, keep in mind that everyone’s individual requirements vary, but that’s still an incredibly large amount of sodium. 
Moreover, the report also revealed that 86 percent of adults diagnosed with high blood pressure still consume more than the daily recommended amount. Now, it’s important to note that the high blood pressure may not be caused solely by high sodium intake. Instead, it could be due to stress.
Regardless, it seems we have a major sodium habit, right? But where is it coming from? I’m so glad you asked ….
Fact 2: Processed foods are the No. 1 source of sodium in America.
Americans get more sodium from processed foods than from any other source—including table salt! In fact, more than 70 percent of the sodium we consume comes from processed foods (foods that have been altered from their original form) and restaurant foods. 
The link here between sodium and your health is hard to ignore, isn’t it? If we simply switched our processed foods for whole foods and drank optimal amounts of water, much of our excess sodium intake would likely be resolved. It really is that straightforward.
Fact 3: Eating more potassium helps to counteract the effect of sodium.
Just as most Americans are consuming too much sodium, they’re also not consuming enough potassium. And that brings us to the third fact about sodium and your health. Since potassium has been shown to help your body remove excess sodium, it makes sense why high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease are so prevalent these days, right? 
So, how can you consume more food-based potassium? Well, the best way to start is by eating more nutritious, plant-based foods that are also rich in this vital mineral. These foods include tomatoes, potatoes (both white and sweet), leafy greens, avocados, and beans. 
Fact 4: Not all sodium is bad.
When it comes to sodium and your health, you must remember that naturally occurring sodium is good! That’s right—just as I stated above, your body actually needs sodium to function properly. Without it, you can’t perform everyday functions. And if you’re in the throes of adrenal fatigue, you may actually need more sodium!
Why? Well, adrenal fatigue depletes your body’s nutrient supply. And it specifically impacts your sodium levels because your cortisol output regulates the sodium in your body. In fact, people with later stages of adrenal fatigue often crave salt due to low sodium levels in their body.
So, as you can imagine, if someone with severe adrenal fatigue lowered their sodium intake, it could cause great harm to their health! In fact, studies have shown that a shift in sodium intake as little as 20 mEq significantly affects adrenal gland function.  (To put this in perspective, there are 1,000 mEq, or milliequivalent, in a single mL, or milliliter.)
Unfortunately, as with all health matters, things aren’t usually cut-and-dry. It’s important to remember that your sodium requirement is as unique as your individual biochemistry.
Fact 5: Incorporating other herbs can help to lower your salt intake.
If you’ve dropped processed foods but you’re looking to lower your sodium intake even further, you can replace your salt with other delicious herbs and spices. There are many options available to add incredible flavor to your foods.
Some of my favorite herbs and spices include: thyme, marjoram, garam masala, turmeric, cumin, chile powder, cayenne, basil, oregano, fennel seed, and cardamom. Each has a unique flavor profile that will take your meals to the next level and help you cut down on the salt you add to your foods.
What’s more is that each of these herbs and spices come with a myriad of health benefits. For example, turmeric has been shown to contain anti-inflammatory properties and help reduce pain.  Meanwhile, oregano is known to support immunity and even help to fight viruses. 
The key thing to remember about sodium and your health is that your individual requirements are unique. If you’re concerned about your sodium intake, speak with your physician and share your findings from this article with him or her. Make sure to discuss the amount of both sodium and potassium you should be consuming so that you can set yourself up for your best possible health.
- There’s a clear link between sodium and your health—but you may be surprised to learn that it isn’t all a bad relationship.
- When it comes to sodium and your health, it’s true that, as a whole, Americans consume too much of it due to our high intake of processed foods. But when you consume sodium in the form of whole foods, your risk of consuming too much drops drastically.
- Sodium is required in the human body for many important functions, such as muscle contraction and proper hydration.
- Always remember that sodium and potassium levels must remain in balance. And when this balance is disrupted, such as in times of stress, that’s when your health becomes at risk.