If your diet follows that of most people, you probably find yourself consuming large amounts of sodium on a daily basis. While you might not realize how much sodium your diet contains, a pinch of salt on your eggs in the morning or a side of lightly salted fries for lunch can quickly add up, especially when you consider how much sodium gets added to prepackaged and processed foods.
In the right amounts, sodium helps the body function properly by:
- Helping you maintain the correct balance of fluid in the body
- Assisting with the transmission of nerve impulses
- Influencing the contraction and relaxation of muscles
Normally, your kidneys will naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in your body. When sodium levels are low, the kidneys store sodium, and when sodium levels in the body are high, your kidneys pass the excess through urine. However, when sodium levels become higher than what your kidneys can process, the excess sodium begins to buildup in the blood, which can eventually increase your risk of chronic kidney disease, cirrhosis, and congestive heart failure.
If you’re concerned about the amount of sodium you consume daily, you’re not alone. According the results of a new study, approximately three-quarters of the world’s population consume almost twice the daily recommended amount of salt.
A Growing Concern
When it comes to the amount of salt an adult should consume daily, the American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg a day, while the World Health Organization sets their limit a little higher at 2,000 mg a day.
Despite these modest recommendations, the findings of the study, which was conducted as part of the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study, found that the average adult’s sodium consumption from commercially prepared foods, table salt, and soy sauce amounted to nearly 4,000 mg a day globally in 2010, with the average amount in the U.S. at roughly 3,600 mg day. The results of this study mark the first time daily sodium intake levels were successfully measured by gender, age, and country.
As for the nations with the highest and lowest consumption rates, researchers found that the nation of Kazakhstan had the highest rate of sodium consumption at 6,000 mg a day, while Malawi and Kenya had the lowest average rate at just under 2,000 mg daily. Overall, researchers estimate that 99 percent of the world’s population exceeds the daily limit of sodium set forth by the WHO.
While researchers hope the results of this study will cause governments around the globe to make a concerted effort to encourage a change in sodium consumption, many people who already try to reduce their salt consumption find it difficult.
Trying to manage salt consumption and limit sodium intake becomes problematic for many due to a heavy reliance on prepackaged and processed foods. While one teaspoon of salt contains 2,000 mg of sodium, the saltshaker isn’t where the majority of Americans receive their highest concentration of sodium. Restaurants entrees, fast foods, and frozen meals contain thousands of milligrams of salt, which can result in a person doubling their daily limit in just one meal.
To combat sodium consumption, doctors and nutritionists recommend diets that rely less on prepackaged foods and feature more herbs and spices used for seasoning. Fewer dashes of salt and less cured foods, coupled with eating more plant-based foods, can help greatly reduce the amount of sodium a person consumes in their diet.
While researchers urge people to eat less processed foods, it’s important to remember that there’s a place for all types of foods in a diet when eaten in moderation. Whether more people begin to embrace this concept globally will help to determine much of the world’s future health.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance health and science writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of Dr. Bruno da Costa, a dentist in Beaverton.