Sodium — How Much is Too Much? (+ How to Tame Your Salt Habit)

I received the following question via email about salt and sodium:

I read a study that says you can't eat more than 1200mg sodium a day. I find my food is bland without salt. How much sodium is in salt? Everything I buy has salt in it! How can I stay under 1200mg? Help!!

Let's start with the good news: If you eat a whole foods, plant-based diet (i.e., if you follow the meal plans), your diet should already be low in sodium/salt because fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, are naturally low in sodium. With beans, dry beans are also naturally low-sodium, but you have to watch out for the canned ones. Same for canned vegetables like tomatoes. You'll need to buy no salt added.

Salt (sodium) generally only creeps up in processed foods and animal products, which you want to avoid for your health anyway.

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How much is too much?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day — or 1,500 mg if you're over the age of 51, are African-American, or have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. If you have heart disease, or are at risk for heart disease, most cardiologists agree that you should follow a very low-sodium diet. (Source)

How much sodium is in salt?

1/4 tsp salt has 575 mg of sodium (1 tsp has 2,300 mg of sodium).

If sodium is so bad for us, shouldn't we avoid it totally?

Sodium is essential (in small amounts). Our bodies need some sodium to maintain the right balance of fluids in our body and transmit nerve impulses. Sodium also influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles. Problems arise when our kidneys can't eliminate all the excess sodium from over consumption.

More bad news: Salt, like sugar and oil (fat), is very addictive and the more you eat it, the more you crave it. Salt (like sugar) also overstimulates the taste buds, which damages our taste receptors. If you've been salting your food for a long time, that's why food can taste bland without the salt. Thankfully, you can heal your taste buds by removing salt (as well as sugar and oil if you haven't already) from your diet. (Use our meal plans to help you through it!)

Food might taste bland for a few weeks, but within a few months you'll regain healthy, sensitive buds AND you'll be shocked at how "salty" processed foods, desserts, and restaurant fare are.

One of the best things you can do for your health is to eliminate your taste addiction to salt :)

Additional Reading

Jeff Novick MS, RD: "The Truth About Sea Salt"

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Related Blog Posts:

Low-Sodium Diet Guidelines

Canned vs. Fresh — The Sodium Debate

How to Reduce Salt (with video)

Also check out this post and video about ways to replace salt and still get the flavor.

I also can't recommend the meal plans enough — they really show you how to eat flavorful foods without salt, sugar and oil :)

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