Don't Rule Out Sodium
Although sodium sometimes gets bad press, it is still a mineral that is essential to life and to good health — and that also means during pregnancy. Sodium has many important functions in the body, such as controlling the flow of fluids in and out of each cell, regulating blood pressure, transmitting nerve impulses, and helping your muscles relax (including the heart, which is a muscle.) Sodium, chloride, and potassium are known as electrolytes, compounds that transmit electrical currents through the body. As a result of these currents, nerve impulses can also be transmitted.
The terms “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably, yet they are two different things. Sodium is an element of table salt, which is technically known as “sodium chloride.” How much sodium is in table salt? A single teaspoon of salt contains 2,000 mg of sodium. Generally, articles and guidelines that warn of the dangers of eating too much salt are concerned with sodium only.
Fluid retention, or edema, is very normal during pregnancy and is not always the result of eating too much sodium. Instead, this condition is usually the result of increased estrogen production and a greater blood volume. Do not decrease your sodium intake to relieve edema. Restricting sodium too much can disrupt the body's fluid balance. Extra fluids, especially water, can help relieve some edema. If you are experiencing excessive edema, see your doctor before making any dietary changes.
Although pregnant women should not decrease their sodium intake, excessive intake is not recommended either. During pregnancy, your body's need for sodium increases. Most women get plenty of sodium in their regular diets, and it is almost never necessary to arrange for extra sodium. In fact, the typical American consumes 4,000 to 8,000 mg per day, well above daily recommended levels. The moderate goal for adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, is approximately 2,400 mg of sodium per day.
In healthy people, the kidneys help regulate the sodium level in the body. Sodium levels usually don't become too high because most excess sodium is excreted from the body in urine and through perspiration. For example, when you eat foods that are high in salt, you probably urinate more frequently because the body is trying to rid itself of the extra sodium. Even though your sodium intake may vary from day to day, your body is very efficient at maintaining a proper balance.
Moderate Your Sodium Intake
While sodium is a very important mineral during pregnancy, be careful not to overdo it. For many people, consuming sodium in moderation means making some dietary and lifestyle changes. A strong preference for salty foods is easily acquired and usually starts at a young age. It is all in what your taste buds get used to. To help moderate the amount of sodium in your diet, begin to gradually decrease your salt intake, especially if you are accustomed to salty tastes. Eat plenty of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables as well as fresh foods as opposed to processed, canned, or prepared foods. If you eat frozen convenience foods often, look for products that have less than 800 mg sodium per serving. Choose lower sodium foods by paying attention to the nutrition facts panel on all packaged foods. Keep in mind that condiments such as ketchup, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, mustard, pickles, and olives can be high in sodium, so go easy on these.