As the years go by, more and more nutrition and diet myths become debunked. Remember when fat was supposedly “bad” for you and would make you fat? Then all of a sudden there was a change and the use of fats was actually beneficial for health and fitness. This ingredient would cause cancer. That ingredient would give you cancer. Heck, if you did enough Googling, just about everything would give you cancer it seems. Well, sodium, unfortunately, received the same bad rap. Now, let’s first throw a disclaimer out there… if you suffer from high blood pressure or any illness/disease where you need to reduce your sodium intake for medical reasons, please adhere to your doctor’s advice. While I wouldn’t mind being a doctor, I am not and don’t pretend to be.
For many starting their health and fitness journey, they listen to just about any piece of advice they can get their hands on. They aren’t sure where to start so they Google anything and everything in an attempt to wrap their arms around what they should be doing. Before you know it, someone has you patting your head and rubbing your tummy simultaneously in order for health benefits.
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As for sodium, it was said that it can cause health problems. And while this is somewhat true, it’s reckless to deem it completely bad for your health and something you should limit or eliminate from your diet. Sodium actually has many health benefits and serves important functions within the body to aid with everyday functioning. Yet, as with everything, too much of a good thing is never a good thing. Even drinking too much water can kill you. And no, I’m not making that up.
Let’s first start with some negatives of sodium to get them out of the way. Sodium can be harmful to those over the age of 50, as well as people with diabetes and/or high blood pressure1. Not you? Perfect, then you’re going to want to pay attention to the rest of this article. And don’t skip to the end, there are no cliff notes.
When the body contains too much sodium, it causes water retention which can lead to an increased pressure within the blood vessels as well as a strain on the heart. This can lead to hypertension as well as cardiovascular disease and can even cause a heart attack or stroke if it isn’t controlled. It’s the job of the kidneys to help filter sodium in the body, and when it can no longer keep up with the volume of sodium in the blood is when health issues arise.
Here’s an example for you. If you are fairly lean, have you ever gone to a Chinese Buffet? You know, the good ones! What happens shortly after leaving the buffet to head home? You look in the mirror and see a puffer fish, right? That’s what too much sodium can do for you. It can cause extreme bloating.
Sodium is an essential electrolyte. It aids with bodily functions such as enzyme operations as well as helping regulate muscular contractions which are extremely important when it comes to exercise and getting your “swole” on. Another role of sodium is to regulate fluids in the body.
When we exercise, we excrete sweat which contains sodium – some people also excrete odor, but I’m not here to judge. When sodium and water in the body aren’t replaced, it can cause dehydration which can lead to muscle cramping. In addition, once levels of sodium in the brain are compromised, it can reduce brain function and cause you to become lethargic and confused.
If you watch someone who is outside on a hot day (take an athlete for example) and becomes dehydrated, they will generally become extremely tired and won’t be able to think clearly. If the individual generally doesn’t think clearly, to begin with, imagine what the next step would be. When this happens, water and electrolytes are needed immediately. It’s for this reason that athletes and those who exercise should always be drinking water and some type of electrolyte mixture when they are sweating excessively to replace these vital nutrients in the body.
In terms of brain health, the tissue of the brain utilizes glucose to maintain proper functioning – as does the meathead in the gym eating Sour Patch Kids to fuel his workout. Sodium has the ability to help the cells of the body absorb glucose and utilize it by transporting it throughout the body. The brain is very particular to changes in sodium levels, so for that reason, it is important to be taking in enough sodium each day to keep it functioning optimally. And who couldn’t use a little help in that department?
Through everyday functioning, carbon dioxide is produced. Sodium has the ability to remove excess carbon dioxide in the body. This allows for richer and more oxygenated blood circulating through the body and out to working muscles.
Managing blood pressure is extremely important. Hypertension is known as the “silent killer” because it can be present without someone knowing they have it or showing any signs of symptoms. If blood pressure remains high over a long period of time and isn’t controlled, it can lead to heart failure as well as kidney failure – both of which can cause a life-threatening situation. Not good.
Healthy blood pressure according to the American Heart Association (AHA) is 120/802. There are then multiple levels of “high blood pressure.” These are considered:
· Hypertension Stage 1: 130-139 / 80-89
· Hypertension Stage 2: 140+ / 90+
· Hypertension Crisis: 180+ / 120+
*If you check your blood pressure and it is within the hypertension ranges set above, it is advised that you go see your doctor as soon as possible.
How much sodium is recommended in our diet?
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that we take in less than 1,500mg of sodium each day (according to a 2,000-calorie diet). They also mentioned that the average American is taking in an average of 3,400mg daily3. Any more sodium in the diet and you’d think they hung a salt lick around their neck.
If you were following a “low sodium” diet (first off, shame on you), you’re going to want to change your mindset and not be afraid of sodium – it’s not the devil you think it is as you can see from this article. The nice thing about following a flexible dieting lifestyle is that nothing is truly “off limits” in terms of what you can or cannot eat. Some common foods that contain sodium to consider adding to your diet could be:
· Cold cuts
You could even toss in some pizza or sandwiches if you wanted. Don’t be fooled into old nutritional myths. I want to give you the best information available so you can live a long and healthy life. Adding sodium to your foods or consuming foods with sodium in them are not bad for your health – only when overconsumed. So, don’t shy away from this extremely important electrolyte.
1. Harvard. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/salt-and-sodium/sodium-health-risks-and-disease/
2. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/GettheFactsAboutHighBloodPressure/The-Facts-About-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_002050_Article.jsp#.WlZEVkxFxPY
3. American Heart Association infographic. https://healthyforgood.heart.org/eat-smart/infographics/effects-of-excess-sodium-infographic
Matt Weik, owner of Weik Fitness, LLC, is a well-respected fitness expert/author with a global following. His work has been featured all over the globe as well as having published more than a dozen books. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, personal trainer, and sports nutritionist. Find out more at www.weikfitness.com.