How much salt should you consume?
Do you ever wonder if you’re consuming too much salt? From processed food to restaurant food to just plain old table salt, sodium is in a lot of what we eat and in large quantities. As a plant-based nutritionist, I see from both ends of the spectrum. Some people Uber Eats a bit too often and have gotten used to excessively salty restaurant food. Others are athletes who want to make sure they’re getting the right amount of all their nutrients - including sodium - to achieve their goals.
But how much salt should the average person consume and if you’re an endurance athlete or lead a very active lifestyle, what special considerations do you have to keep in mind when it comes to your sodium intake?
Daily salt intake in the average person
Alright, let’s take it from the top. The average adult should consume about 1,500 mg of sodium per day. That’s less than a teaspoon. Most people, due to processed and convenience foods, consume well above the daily recommended intake.
What happens when you eat too much salt?
Excess salt in the diet can cause high blood pressure, which in turn can lead to heart attacks and strokes, among other major health issues. Excess sodium also leads to water retention (less dramatic of course), which can give you that unpleasant puffy/bloated feeling.
Sodium considerations for endurances athletes
If you’re an endurance athlete, i.e. you sweat a lot during exercise, there are a few extra things to keep in mind when it comes to your salt intake and water/electrolyte balance, the first of which is that you’ll likely need a bit more sodium than the daily recommended intake.
Consider this: Sweat is made of water, but also contains electrolytes, the main one being sodium. So when we sweat, we not only lose water, but sodium as well. Sodium plays a key role in nerve and muscle function, so it’s particularly important for athletes to make sure sodium intake is on point. That’s why it’s so key to not only hydrate after strenuous exercise, but also replenish electrolytes when engaging in cardio exercise for more than 60 minutes.
Everyone sweats in different amounts (sweat rate) and some people lose more sodium than others (sweat concentration). To learn more about ‘salty sweating’, check out this video:
Consequences of insufficient sodium
Whether you’re an athlete or just someone who leads a very active lifestyle, insufficient electrolyte replenishment is something to keep it mind. It can lead to issues like:
gut issues and nutrient malabsorption
hyponatremia (low sodium in the blood)
inability to rehydrate and/or restore electrolyte balance
or even heat illness
Top tips to keep your sodium intake in check, whether you need to cut back or make sure you get enough
1 - Focus on whole foods
While adding tons of salt to your plate isn’t ideal, the main cause of excess sodium in people’s diet is not table salt, but processed foods. Just look at the ingredient links in canned soups, sauces, and crackers and you’ll be blown away by the quantity of salt these products contain. An easy way to cut back on salt is to make the majority of your meals from whole foods that you then season yourself.
2 - Read food labels
While I encourage people to have as much of their diet come from whole foods as possible, packaged and some processed foods are just part of life. When you do reach for those foods though, make sure to read food labels. First, the ingredient list. Second, the nutrient breakdown.
When it comes to salt, look at the percentage of the daily intake of sodium that a serving of this food contains. Keep in mind that most food labels provide a nutrient breakdown based on a 2,000 calories per day intake, so the sodium percentage indicated on the label may not be exactly what it would be in your case, but it’s a good indicator.
3 - Keep a food diary
If you’re an athlete or you lead an active lifestyle and want to get a solid understanding of your current sodium intake, try keeping a food diary. Apps like My Fitness Pal and Cronometer are helpful tools for that.
4 - Opt for spices and herbs
If you’re a bit too much of a salt lover (right there with you), try using spices, as well as fresh and dried herbs to season your food. Paprika, chili powder, cumin, rosemary, and oregano and all great options to keep in your pantry and add to your meals instead of sprinkling yet another pinch of salt.
5 - Consider 'salt rehab’
What I mean by salt rehab is a period of time (this can be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, if needed) where you do not add salt to any of your food to help recalibrate your taste buds. Our taste buds get used to whatever we give them, so if you’ve been in the habit of adding more and more salt to all of your foods, your palette has gotten used to that amount of salt and may not even register it as salty anymore. Giving your taste buds a clean break from salt, at least for a little while, is a good way to kick start better habits. Once you reintroduce salt, a little bit will go a long way and you’ll likely find that you don’t need as much as you once did.
6 - Check out electrolyte tablets or drinks
Endurance athletes and weekend warriors, make sure you’re rehydrating after strenuous exercise and replenish electrolytes. Sports drinks can be a good option, as well as tablets like Nuun Hydration. You may also consider making your own electrolyte drink, but of course that requires a bit more prep in the kitchen. :)
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out via email at email@example.com or DM me on IG at @handfulofgrapes :)