The lowdown on the low-sodium diet

By Jacob Franek

Stress Management Specialist

Take for example, the low-sodium diet. Sodium is a nutrient found in table salt and many other foods. Most men consume far too much sodium, usually because we add too much table salt to our food. And although many of us recognize that sodium is “bad” for us, very few truly understand the reasons why — and even fewer actually take measures to suck the salt from our diets.

So why exactly do men need to worry about salt? And why should we practice a low-sodium diet?

Read on to find out as AskMen explores the low-sodium diet.

The good and bad of sodium

Despite the negative press on salt, the reality is that the human body needs some sodium to function properly. What exactly does it do for you? For starters, sodium helps maintain the balance of fluids in our bodies, it helps transmit nerve impulses and it also influences muscle contractions.

By and large, the kidney functions to control sodium. If sodium levels are low, the kidneys retain sodium. If sodium levels are high, the kidneys excrete excess sodium in the urine. But if, for some reason, the kidneys aren’t working properly, or if we ingest too much salt, sodium begins to accumulate in the blood. Because sodium attracts and holds water, blood volume increases and, with it, so does blood pressure.

It is this increase in blood pressure that makes sodium so dangerous, being a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading killers in the U.S. With that in mind, isn’t it about time you thought about a low-sodium diet?

How much sodium do you really need?

The Institute of Medicine recommends the following adequate intakes for adults per day:

  • 1,500 mg for people aged 9 to 50,
  • 1,300 mg for adults aged 51 to 70, and
  • 1,200 mg for seniors over 70 years of age.

Meanwhile, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends upper limits that adults should not exceed:

  • 2,300 mg for the healthy adult,
  • 1,500 mg of sodium a day if you have high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes; are black; or are middle-aged or older.