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Sodium vs Salt: What's the Difference?

Jun 24, 2010

There is a lot of confusion about salt vs. sodium and how much is too much. The following information will help you understand the difference between the two, how salt impacts your health, and what amounts you need to stay fit.

Sodium vs. Salt: A Shade of Difference

Salt is sodium plus chloride. Both are minerals. Salt is made up of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. It's that 40% that causes so much concern among doctors today. Their findings point to the dangers of people overdoing salt intake in their daily diets. High blood pressure, strokes, and kidney disease have all been associated with excessive salt intake.

Salt's Bad Rap

Just as fitness gurus warn against the dangers of salt, understand that salt is important--too little of this good thing may also be harmful. Salt, or sodium chloride, does great things for the body. It's essential for the health of all the cells. Along with potassium, you need your salt so that your nerves can function properly and your muscles can contract. Salt helps balance out the body. It contributes to fluid balance, electrolyte balance and pH balance.

Sodium: Counting Down

Various health organizations recommend different levels of sodium as safe for dietary intake per day. As a rule of thumb, think of the range this way: Don't go over 2300 mg if you're a healthy adult, but aim for the lower threshold of 1,5000 mg if you know you suffer from high blood pressure, kidney disease, or diabetes. Older persons should aim for that lower range, too. 

If you just had to deal with natural foods made from scratch, you would find this an easy task. The trouble is when people eat a lot of processed foods--out of the package, out of the can, out of the shake-well bottle. Nutrition experts estimate that processed foods account for as much as 75% of what most people eat each day. That's where sodium intake becomes the problem. Go to any supermarket, take a can of soup, tomato sauce, or beans off the shelf and read the label. Odds are that the sodium levels are quite high.

Here is a list of some high-sodium packaged and canned foods. Use them in careful moderation:

  • Tomato sauce
  • Soups
  • Pickles and sauerkraut
  • Cured meats (bologna, salami, hot dogs, sausage)
  • Processed cheese
  • Condiments (ketchup. mayonnaise, salad dressing)
  • Salty snacks

 Sodium Outlook: Better Days Ahead

With so much concern among consumers and health practitioners, the food industry today is reacting by making a variety of low-sodium options available. What's more, the American Heart Association says that you get used to eating foods with less sodium once you cut down. Apparently, sodium is an acquired taste. The AHA says it takes about two to three months for your taste preference to change.

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