I’ve often wondered if the government is right in telling me I need to cut back on sodium, so in this article I am going to discover how much sodium per day is healthy, as well as how much is too much.
We all know that a lot of the old advice we’ve gotten from “the experts” is false, such as with saturated fat and cholesterol in food. It seems that with sodium, however, they are partly correct.
What does sodium do in the body?
Sodium is an essential mineral, and we can not live without it. It is required to transmit nerve impulses, and helps to maintain fluid balance in the body.
Another mineral that has to be mentioned too is potassium, but these two minerals maintain the electrical activity in all of the body’s cells. Therefore it might be a good idea not to focus on sodium per se, but the ratio of sodium to potassium in the diet.
The problem is that the modern diet simply has too much sodium, and sodium can contribute to hypertension (high blood pressure) in excessive amounts. It has never been proven though that there is any reason whatsoever for otherwise healthy people to reduce sodium or salt intake.
Where do we get sodium?
A lot of foods contain natural amounts of sodium, but these are not the ones to worry about in my opinion.
The source that we need to be concerned with is processed food, but these may contribute to up to 75% of the sodium in our diet (1).
We also get a lot of sodium when we add salt to our meals, but table salt consists of both sodium (40% of weight) and chloride (60% of weight). I’m definitely not saying that you can’t salt your meals, but moderation is the key here.
How much sodium per day is healthy?
I really hate giving out specific percentages or numbers on diet and health. I hold the opinion that people shouldn’t have to use calculators or math formulas to be healthy.
That being said, these are the Dietary Reference Intakes for sodium for a healthy 25 year old male (2):
- RDA/AI: 1500mg. Enough to support all physical functions.
- UL: 2400mg. Tolerable upper intake level.
Apparently the average American consumes about 3.500 milligrams of sodium per day.
The upper level recommended (2400mg sodium) equals about 6 grams of salt per day. This is approximately one level teaspoon per day.
Too much sodium
The main problem with excessive sodium in the diet is the fact that it can increase water retention and elevate blood pressure, one of those things that tends to happen with age and increase our chances of cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke.
One analysis of two large trials showed that reducing sodium intake can cut chances of cardiovascular disease by 25% (3), while another analysis showed that neither potassium nor sodium could predict outcomes, that only the ratio of sodium to potassium was correlated with cardiovascular disease (4).
Please note that these trials were done in patients who already had symptoms of high blood pressure, there may be no need for healthy people to reduce salt intake in any way.
I do NOT recommend that you go out of your way to weigh all the salt you eat. That is too complicated and unlikely to be sustainable in the long run and the exact number on how much sodium per day you consume is not important.
I recommend following these three simple rules to make sure you don’t harm yourself by eating too much sodium (if you’re a healthy person with normal blood pressure then you can ignore this):
- Eat as little processed foods as you can.
- If you want, put some salt on your meals, just make sure not to overdo it.
- Eat a variety of high-potassium plant foods such as fruit and vegetables.
Eating healthy and exercising probably have a much bigger effect than sodium on your blood pressure. Getting plenty of quality sleep and avoiding major causes of stress is important too.