Sodium and Your Health Sodium, commonly known as salt, is an alkaline element that occurs naturally in most foods and plays an essential role in maintaining the optimal health and functioning of your body. Adult women should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Most women, however, consume more than the daily recommendation, with negative consequences to their health
Sodium and Health
Sodium is a necessary part of your daily diet, and your body needs at least 1,500 milligrams per day to function normally, according to the Institutes of Medicine. Sodium helps your body maintain a proper balance of liquids and regulates both blood pressure and blood volume. The mineral aids your nervous system in transmitting nerve impulses and affects the contraction and relaxation of muscles.
Your kidneys process and store an optimal balance of sodium. They retain sodium when your dietary levels are too low, and they excrete sodium through urine when levels are too high.
Excessive Sodium Consumption
American women take in far more than the recommended amount of sodium per day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American over 2 years of age consumes 3436 mg daily. When you eat too much sodium, it strains the proper functioning of the kidneys, which can lead to elevated blood pressure, a condition known as hypertension. Because sodium retains water, excessive consumption leads to elevated blood volume that increases pressure on your heart to pump blood through the arteries. Hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, which research from the American Heart Association indicates as the leading causes of death for American women.
Sources of Sodium
Dietary sodium typically comes from three main sources. Processed foods, such as prepared dinners, soups, cold cuts and fast food contain large amounts of added salt. Sodium also occurs naturally in vegetables, dairy products, meat and shellfish. While these foods contain lower levels of sodium than processed foods, eating too much natural sodium can still be harmful to your health. The third primary source of sodium is the salt in your kitchen cabinet or on your dining table.
Finding a Healthy Balance
Reduce your sodium intake by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat potassium-rich foods to counteract the negative effects of sodium on your body, recommends the American Heart Association. Foods high in potassium include spinach, bananas, dairy products and sweet potatoes. Season your food with salt-free herbs, spices and lemon instead of reaching for the salt shaker.
A Note of Caution
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are intended as general recommendations. If you have hypertension or another medical condition, consult your doctor for the daily sodium allowance appropriate to your health needs.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- Institute of Medicine; Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States; April 2010
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Americans Consume Too Much Sodium (Salt); February 2011
- American Heart Association: Women, Heart Disease and Stroke
- American Heart Association: Striking a Balance: Less Sodium (Salt), More Potassium