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Low Sodium Diet - The Physiological Effects

Recent studies show a low sodium diet for people who have hypertension is beneficial in lowering blood pressure. The studies do not measure long-term effects, so it is unknown what the outcome was for a low salt diet (for people with high blood pressure). Low sodium diets include no more than 1,500 to 2,400 mgs of sodium per day.

Naturally Occurring Sodium Sources

Sodium can occur in many different foods naturally. Knowledge of these foods will assist you when writing recipes and planning menu’s. In the following list, you will find naturally occurring sources of sodium, as well as foods with added sodium.

Natural Sources of Sodium

  • Sodium chloride, which is table salt
  • milk
  • beets
  • celery

Some Forms of Added Sodium

  • sodium nitrite
  • monosodium glutamate
  • baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • bouillon cubes
  • sodium saccharin
  • bacon
  • sausage
  • ham
  • canned soups and vegetables
  • Fast foods are very high in sodium

Maintain Proper Sodium Balance

Sodium is a naturally occurring substance in the human body and is essential to good health. Even blood, sweat and tears all contain sodium, therefore it is essential to maintain the proper balance in these fluids. Excess sodium causes an expansion of the body’s blood volume. This, coupled with blood vessel constriction, causes the heart to work harder than it should.

Low Sodium Medical Conditions and Their Physiological Effects

Although it is important to limit our salt intake, there are medical conditions that occur with a low sodium diet.


Hyponatremia is an electrolyte imbalance indicated by low sodium level in the blood. Some causes of Hyponatremia include kidney, heart or liver problems, and drugs such as diuretics, heparin and certain chemotherapy drugs. Some physiological effects of Hyponatremia include confusion, slight disorientation, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, and chest pain or discomfort.

Chronic Kidney Disease

Even though sodium is an essential part of bodily functions, too much can be harmful for people with chronic kidney disease. Sodium helps the body retain healthy fluid balance, but having kidney disease means the kidneys are not able to eliminate the excess sodium from your body. Sodium and fluid buildup in your bloodstream, causing the blood pressure to increase (which causes more kidney damage and more waste to build up in your body). 


The daily requirement for sodium is only about 69 mg per day. For people with hypertension, any extra may cause negative health effects such as raising your blood pressure, stroke, nephropathy and coronary artery disease.


People with diabetes are urged to lower their intake of sodium because they are already prone to high blood pressure, and extra sodium in the diet will increase blood pressure. High sodium levels also cause excessive thirst, frequent urination and blurry vision.

Doctors recommend for people on a low sodium diet to eat fewer processed foods, like potato chips, frozen dinners and cured meats. When shopping, choose foods that are labeled “low sodium” or “reduced sodium”. Do not add additional salt to your food or recipes, and if you are diabetic or a kidney patient, limit your intake of potassium.

The first thing you should do before starting any new diet or changing you old one is to speak with your health care professional about any needs specific to your medical condition.

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