Sodium and Your Family's Health
What is commonly called table salt is sodium chloride (NaCl). It is a combination of the two minerals sodium and chloride, in a 40:60 ratio. You need both minerals, but only in very small quantities.
They occur naturally in most foods, but you get the majority of your sodium from manufactured food products. Canned soups and vegetables, condiments, baked goods, chips, and other snack foods are loaded with added salt. It is used in preserving, stabilizing, and flavoring.
As an electrolyte, sodium is essential to keep your body fluids in balance, regulate your blood pressure, spark nerve impulses, relax muscles, and digest proteins and carbohydrates.
Salt was historically a hot commodity, difficult to obtain and, therefore, quite expensive. It can be harvested from sea water or rock deposits left from ancient seas. From the ocean, salt water is dried by the sun in shallow pools. Mined salt (halite), also known as rock salt, grows in isometric crystals and is very hard.
How Much Salt?
There is no recommended amount of sodium, because people are in no danger of deficiency. Modern Americans consume 4,000 to 6,000 mg of salt every day. The recommended limit of salt is 2,400 mg (just under 1 teaspoon), but your body only needs about 400 mg a day (less than ¼ teaspoon).
Excessive sodium intake can be problematic. Occasionally eating too much sodium is not uncommon, but most of it is excreted in sweat and urine, with the help of your kidneys.
You may have experienced a bloated feeling after a particularly salty meal. You most certainly experienced the thirst that follows. Thirst is your body’s attempt to regulate fluid balance by sending water to the cells, commonly referred to as water retention. The craving is how the body tells you to drink up.
Sodium and High Blood Pressure
When the kidneys don’t work properly to rid the body of excess sodium, a swelling in your feet and legs occurs, known as edema. Excessive sodium intake is a contributing factor to osteoporosis, as well as high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
Your blood pressure is given with two numbers. The systolic pressure (pressure from beating) is the top number, and the diastolic pressure (from relaxing) is the bottom number. The goal is a blood pressure of 120/80. Blood pressure is considered normal if the systolic pressure is 130 or below, and the diastolic pressure is 85 or below. You have high blood pressure from 130–140/85–90, and hypertension above that.
As blood flows through your arteries, pressure is created against the arterial wall. If sodium is not eliminated it accumulates in the blood. Water is added to compensate for the imbalance and blood volume increases, leading to high blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a result of too much pressure being placed on the arterial wall.
Hypertension is considered a risk factor in coronary artery disease, kidney disease, and stroke. Although not a direct result of sodium intake, elevated sodium levels in combination with other risk factors, including age, heredity, obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and limited physical activity can lead to these problems.