It’s Time To Lower Your Sodium Intake Now Before Your Doctor Says You Have To
Do you keep track of how much sodium you consume on a daily basis? Most people don’t and would likely be horrified to know how much more than the daily recommended amount they consume. Consuming excessive amounts of sodium can lead to high blood pressure as well as heart, liver and kidney problems.
Take the opportunity now to lower the sodium in your diet before a doctor says you have to.
Over the years I’ve probably heard more about sodium and low-sodium diets than the average person. My mother, and now my uncle, suffer from Ménières disease. I’ve always thought “oh, it’s not hereditary, I’ll be fine” and learned to deal with the home-cooking being a little bland.
Ménières affects the inner ear and leads to episodes of vertigo, hearing loss, ringing in the ears and other symptoms. Some of the things that can cause an “episode” for those that suffer from Ménières are high amounts of sodium, caffeine, smoking or alcohol. You may look at those and think “Oh, I’m fine. I don’t consume any of that excessively.” Sodium is one thing that you likely consume a whole lot more than you realize.
Now, to be honest, I don’t know that I have Ménières. Two weeks ago, I was sitting at a swim meet when I got this weird sensation of the pressure in the room dropping, like taking off in an airplane. Most of the symptoms have gone away, but I still don’t have my hearing back. While seeing the doctor to figure out what the heck is wrong my blood pressure has been checked multiple times. The results haven’t been in my favor on any of the readings. We don’t know if the high readings are a result of an inner ear virus, my nerves over this whole episode or the fact that I’m more overweight than I care to admit.
No matter what the cause is, it’s time I start listening to my mother and at least start seriously looking at my sodium levels.
Sodium Isn’t The Devil
Bobby Boucher’s Mama wouldn’t call sodium. Actually, she may because she’s crazy, but sodium isn’t the devil. Sodium isn’t something that you need to try and completely cut out of your life like it’s “fools’ ball” or Vicki Vallencourt.
Many foods naturally contain at least some sodium, though not much. One cup of blueberries contains 1 mg of sodium. One medium banana also contains 1 mg on average. A cup on chicken meat contains 115 mg of sodium before you add anything during cooking. Three ounces of cooked lean beef contains about 55 mg of sodium naturally. You get the picture.
Sodium is considered an “essential nutrient” by the American Heart Association. It helps regulate fluids in the body on a fundamental basis. Too much sodium can cause an excessive amount of fluid to build up in the body, raising your blood pressure by making the heart work harder to do its thing. Taking in an excessive amount of sodium for a prolonged length of time can lead to more serious things like heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease.
What Should My Daily Sodium Intake Be?
The 2015 edition of the Dietary Guidelines For Americans estimates that the average American consumes 3,440 milligrams of sodium per day. That’s the overall average for men and women. Broken down, it’s 4,240 mg for men and 2,980 for women. This overall average is up slightly from the estimate of 3,400 in the 2010 edition. Dietary Guidelines is published every fiver years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is then used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make dietary recommendations.
So if 3,440 mg is the estimated AVERAGE intake by the AVERAGE American, what is the RECOMMENDED intake? Try less than 2,300 mg for those 14 years of age and older. That 2,300 mg number is what is considered a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) so, it isn’t recommended that you consume 2,300 mg every day. Consider it more as a “cheat” number. For those watching their sodium levels as a way to lower their blood pressure, the recommended level is even less, 1,500 mg per day. It’s noted in the report that any attempt to lower your sodium intake will likely have a positive effect on your blood pressure and overall health. As I break down some common foods, you’ll see that these numbers seem almost unattainable, like target Body Mass Index and obesity standards.
The Numbers Add Up Quickly
Don’t think your sodium intake is that bad? I didn’t either until I started looking at the numbers. The AHA estimates that 75% of the sodium that goes in our bodies comes from processed and restaurant foods. At least some of this number comes from the fact that we know how much sodium is in the processed food and food we eat out because its calculated and written down for us. At least that’s my theory.
Anyone who gets on their high horse about how fast food is bad and anyone who feeds their kids it needs to be thrown in jail should be pushed off their high horse and “accidentally” stepped on like they’re an opposing player that just got thrown to the ground by Ndamukong Suh. Or maybe swatted by LeBron James like that ball in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Many of us hit the drive thru way more than we should. Whether it be out of necessity, convenience or both, it’s a reality.
Consider that rant over, back to calculating your sodium intake. Let’s look at an example lunch I’ve had multiple times at McDonald’s because 1) it’ll only run me about $4 and 2) I enjoy it.
2 McDoubles (Plain)
1 Large Diet Coke
How many milligrams of sodium do you think this is? The plain McDouble sandwiches run just 370 calories each so I would think it’s decently healthy. The Diet Coke, of course, has zero calories. (P.S. Diet Pepsi is better)
If you’re watching your sodium intake, consider this a cheat meal. The sandwiches alone contain 680 mg of sodium each. The large Diet Coke adds another 60 mg of sodium.
Grand total: 1420 milligrams of sodium.
I’m not saying that McDonald’s is the devil and you can never have it, I’m just using this as a personal example of how I didn’t realize how much sodium I was consuming. Consider that 1420 mg is for just one meal. I still consider myself a growing boy so I need to eat my three meals a day.
You say you never eat out? There are some somewhat hidden things to watch out for when cooking meals at home. Watch putting salt on your homemade concoction. 1/4 teaspoon of salt contains 575 mg of sodium. I’m a fan of grilled chicken, which naturally is a pretty healthy option. While researching this piece I was enlightened to the fact that a crazy amount of raw chicken sold in the supermarket isn’t very healthy. Some chicken is injected with a mixture of water, salt and other stuff before packaging. This is done to make the meat juicier and more tender. This can make a 4-ounce serving contain 440 mg of sodium before to add anything during the cooking process. Cooking Light points out that that is 500 percent more sodium than naturally found in the meat.
How Do I Get Started Watching My Sodium Intake?
I’m not trying to put myself out there as a nutritionist or something. I won’t be trying to sell you a book or a daily meal system or anything like that.
As I work to lower my daily sodium intake I’ll be writing about it here at RealLifeSTL. I’ll be looking at the nutritional guidelines not just for dining out, but also for dining in. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share some recipes along the way.
It’s a little scary thinking about these daily limits and numbers. I know I freaked out a bit thinking I can never have my favorite food or meals again. My rationale is if you start at least watching your sodium intake now before a doctor tells you you have to, you’re ahead of the curve.
You deserve a treat for that. May I suggest a Cookies & Cream Klondike bar? It only has 60 mg of sodium.
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