Have you ever heard the saying, “You can have too much of a good thing”? Sodium is a great example. While a little is good — even essential — for normal body function, too much sodium can have dire consequences for your health and your organs, including your kidneys.
The problem with sodium is that it tends to be sneaky, showing up in all sorts of foods, including foods you may not expect. That means it can be very easy to wind up consuming too much, which can put your health at risk without you even realizing it.
Houston Kidney Specialists Center, which has multiple locations in Houston and Cypress, Texas, focuses on a patient-centered approach to kidney care. This includes helping patients learn how to manage their sodium intake. Here’s what our team wants you to know about sodium and how to avoid consuming too much.
The important role of sodium
Sodium is a type of electrolyte, a chemical that plays several vital roles in your body. Specifically, sodium helps your body transmit nerve signals and control your muscle movements.
Sodium also helps balance your body’s fluids, acting as a “gatekeeper” for your cells and the fluids that surround them. It also helps balance the liquid part of your blood and your blood volume.
Typically, we get all the sodium we need (and then some) through the foods and drinks we consume. Sodium is excreted through urine and sweat. Ideally, this cycle maintains an optimal amount of sodium to keep us healthy.
The problem is this: While we need about a quarter teaspoon (500 mg) of sodium per day to support these functions, most of us consume far more. In fact, the average American consumes about seven times that amount every day.
The dangers of high sodium
While a little bit of sodium is necessary to support good health, too much sodium can increase your risk of developing many serious medical conditions.
For example, consuming too much sodium increases blood pressure. This, in turn, can increase your risk of suffering heart attack and stroke. It can also increase your risk of developing vision problems and cognitive issues, such as dementia.
Excess sodium can also put a lot of strain on your kidneys as they struggle to filter out the added salts. Over time, excess sodium can impair kidney function, which can increase blood pressure even more and eventually cause kidney failure.
Lower your sodium intake
Table salt is a common source of sodium for many of us, and in fact, when it comes to sodium in our diets, that little shaker of tastiness is probably what most of us think of. But, table salt is just one source of sodium. Lots of foods and even some drinks contain the mineral, too.
Sometimes, it’s easy to identify foods high in sodium. It’s no surprise that salted nuts and crackers contain extra sodium, since the added salt is visible.
But there are lots of foods that contain a surprisingly high amount of sodium, such as pizza, cold cuts, and many kinds of bread. In fact, sodium is in so many foods, it can be difficult to keep your intake under control unless you take certain steps to watch your diet.
Reading food labels is an important way to monitor your sodium intake. Look for the sodium content, and also look for words like “cured” and “brined,” which can indicate salt was used during processing.
Get back to the basics
Opt for fresh fruits and vegetables when possible, and cook from scratch using whole ingredients. Avoid prepackaged foods whenever you can.
Avoid fast food
Burgers, fries, and other fast foods are major sources of sodium. But it’s not just the entrees you need to worry about. Plenty of sauces and condiments can be high in sodium, too, such as soy sauce, mustard, and ketchup.
Protect your kidneys
Managing your sodium intake is a simple but very powerful way to help your kidneys stay healthy. To learn what else you can do to protect your kidneys — and how we can help —
call 281-429-8780 or book an appointment online with Houston Kidney Specialists Center today.