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Most of us reach for the salt shaker when we want to flavor food. But consuming the right amount of sodium is also important to your health. Getting enough sodium is crucial to your digestive system and for maintaining the fluid balance in your cells.
Unfortunately, the amount of salt our bodies need is significantly lower than the average amount Americans are consuming each day. According to the American Heart Association, the daily recommended intake of salt for an adult is only 1,500 milligrams. Yet most Americans consume upward of 3,400 milligrams per day.
This overindulgence is largely due to the consumption of processed foods, which often contain high amounts of sodium. Some of the biggest culprits of high sodium content are canned soup, frozen entrée meals and salted nuts.
While we all know eating too much salt isn’t good for us, you might be surprised to learn the damaging effects excess salt can have on your body. Here are four things you didn’t know about what happens when you eat too much salt.
Most people associate eating too much salt with water retention; but if you aren’t well-hydrated when the salt enters your body, you may soon experience symptoms of dehydration. Sodium needs water to balance it out, so eating too much salt can draw on your body’s water supply, leading to headaches, nausea, dizziness, extreme thirst and vomiting.
A Canadian study conducted in 2011 found that a diet high in sodium affected cognitive function in sedentary older adults. While the exact reasons why salt could negatively affect the brain aren’t quite known, researchers recommended exercise as a means of counterbalancing the effects.
Eating too much salt can put a strain on your kidneys, leaving you more susceptible to kidney disease and kidney stones. Kidney stones are caused by an excess of urinary calcium, which increases with a high-sodium diet. Since excess calcium in the urine may also be a cause of bone loss, eating too much salt could also put you at risk for osteoporosis.
High salt intake can wreck havoc on your stomach—from making you more susceptible to ulcers, to possibly being linked to stomach cancer deaths. One theory is that salt can reduce the mucus lining in your stomach, leading to unhealthy stomach tissue.
Luckily there are several simple ways to reduce your sodium intake without sacrificing convenience of flavor.
While buying fresh is the best way to eliminate excess sodium, there are other ways to cut back on sodium content without completely changing how you shop. Look for low sodium versions of your favorite canned soups and make it a point to rinse canned vegetables before serving.
Often, these types of foods contain unnecessary amounts of sodium and are easy to replicate at home with fresher ingredients. Using acidic ingredients—lemon, lime and vinegar—often can distract from the need for salt.
Rather than shaking salt over your food, try shaking it into your hand or a spoon first to see the exact amount you’re about to put on your plate. Try adding less and less each time you eat a food to retrain your taste buds.
Want more tips for how to eat healthier? Download our free guide for eating healthier on a busy schedule.