Last month we discussed the craving for sugar which seems ubiquitous among us. This month I’d like to focus on another commonly hidden ingredient. Like sugar, this ingredient is also vital to life and health, but when consumed in high amounts, can hinder your well-being. This nutrient is a mineral vital to control of fluid levels and nerve function. We could not live without it. The mineral I refer to is sodium, found in salt.
Sodium is usually added to foods as sodium chloride (salt), sodium bicarbonate, or monosodium glutamate. Our taste for salt can vary depending on our level of consumption. As we eat higher amounts of salt, our craving for salt will increase. Likewise, if we begin to limit our salt consumption, in time we will not feel the need to add as much salt to our food. Our kidneys help us regulate the levels of salt in our bodies, and can accommodate a wide range of intake.
The most publicized negative effect of too much sodium consumption is the effect on blood pressure. Contributing to this population-wide increase in hypertension is not only the increase in sodium consumption, but also a decrease in potassium consumption. These two minerals affect one another, potassium having a protective effect against higher levels of sodium. Many other factors also play a role in regulation of blood pressure, including physical activity, stress levels, and alcohol consumption.
There are conflicting reports on the recommended dose of sodium one should consume each day. Age, gender, level of physical activity, genetic composition and other health conditions can affect your optimal level. In Houston, we tend to sweat more and may require slightly more sodium because of it. Most of us would do well to cut back the level of sodium we get from processed foods and from salt added at the table. A healthy range of salt likely falls between 1.5 to 3.5 teaspoons a day.
For those of us susceptible to frequent headaches, we should consider sodium levels in our diet. Sodium comes in various forms, some of which are powerful triggers for headaches. You may be chemically susceptible to certain forms or be feeling the effect of sudden changes in blood volume. Replacing snacks high in sodium with fresh fruits and vegetables is sure to benefit your health, physically and mentally. Pay attention to your salt intake this week and look for ways to cut back. Your health is important to us!