Reducing the sodium in your body may be accomplished with some dietary changes. Increasing your consumption of foods high in potassium and decreasing your salt intake can flush out sodium. It also can help lower your blood pressure, which lessens your risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure.
How Does Sodium Affect Health?
Sodium is often referred to as salt. It not only makes food taste good, but your body needs some sodium for the proper contraction and relaxing of muscles and to conduct nerve impulses, says Harvard Medical School. Furthermore, sodium is necessary for the regulation of fluid in your kidneys so you don't become dehydrated.
The majority of sodium in the modern diet comes from processed and restaurant foods, and not from your salt shaker, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 90 percent of Americans, especially men, eat more salt than recommended, according to the Dietary Guidelines, which have listed the limit as 2,300 milligrams per day for adults.
Excess sodium in your diet increases the volume of blood inside your blood vessels. The increased blood flow puts more pressure on the vessel walls, possibly stretching and injuring them or inducing plaque buildup, warns the American Heart Association (AHA). Your heart needs to work harder to pump blood, which may result in high blood pressure. The extra water in your body may lead to weight gain and bloating.
Harvard Medical School states that eating too much salt can damage the heart, aorta and kidneys, even without increasing blood pressure. Excess sodium may also cause calcium to be excreted from the body, resulting in bone thinning and eventually osteoporosis.
Where’s the Sodium Coming From?
Sodium naturally occurs in most of the foods you eat, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, meat and dairy. But its levels in whole foods are minimal compared to processed and commercially prepared food, according to the CDC.
The most effective way to reduce the sodium in your body is to limit foods that contain excess salt. The AHA Sodium Reduction Initiative Team published "The Salty Six" list in December 2016. These are foods that contribute the most sodium to the American diet:
- Cold cuts and cured meats can have more than 1 gram of sodium per serving.
- Pizza may have up to 760 milligrams of sodium per slice.
- Soup can contribute up to 940 milligrams of sodium per cup.
- Bread and rolls boast about 230 milligrams of sodium per slice.
- Chicken nuggets have nearly 600 milligrams of sodium per 3-ounce serving.
Balancing Sodium With Potassium
Potassium has an important association with sodium in maintaining fluid balance, according to Harvard Health Publishing. The sodium-potassium pump activity maintains intracellular fluid levels by transferring these minerals from inside the cells to outside the cells and vice versa, according to a March 2014 report in Advances in Nutrition.
Deficiencies in potassium may cause salt sensitivity, meaning that the changes in sodium intake affect blood pressure to a large extent, states the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Dietary Guidelines recommend a daily potassium intake of 4.7 milligrams.
According to a review published in Current Opinion in Lipidology in February 2014, lowering sodium and increasing potassium intake may help reduce blood pressure, hypertension and mortality from cardiovascular disease. The current intake of dietary sodium and potassium in the general population fails to meet guideline recommendations, as the researchers note.
Foods High in Potassium
Potassium is found in many plant and animal foods. If you're trying to flush excess sodium out of your body, you need to choose foods that have a high potassium-to-sodium ratio. According to Harvard Health Publishing, some good examples of these foods are:
- A medium banana: 422 milligrams of potassium to 1 milligram of sodium (ratio 422:1)
- 1/2 cup of cooked black beans: 305 milligrams of potassium to 1 milligram of sodium (ratio 305:1)
- One medium orange: 232 milligrams of potassium to 1 milligram of sodium (ratio 232:1)
- 3/4 cup of orange juice: 357 milligrams of potassium to 2 milligrams of sodium (ratio 126:1)
- Dry roasted peanuts, 1 1/2 ounces: 280 milligrams of potassium to 3 milligrams of sodium (ratio 93:1)
Always consult your doctor before increasing your potassium intake because doing so can be harmful to people with certain medical conditions and those taking diuretics and other medicines.
Read more: 5 Drinks That Pack a Potassium Punch
Other Ways to Cut Sodium
In addition to increasing your potassium intake, you may use home remedies to reduce salt in the body.
Drinking more water can help you flush sodium, so make sure you stay hydrated. A February 2016 study featured in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics examined the food and drink intake of more than 18,300 adults. Subjects who increased their consumption of plain water lowered their sodium intake.
Taking diuretics or teas that flush sodium from your body may help your kidneys release it into your urine, says the Mayo Clinic. However, certain types of diuretics, teas or herbal detox regimens may decrease potassium or sodium levels to critical levels (hyponatremia) and affect overall health, according to a case study published in Cureus in December 2018.
Go easy with the salt shaker when preparing or eating foods. Better yet, replace table salt with potassium chloride or use herbs and spices to season your food.
Limit the amount of packaged and processed foods you eat. Check the labels for excess sodium. Buy low-sodium or salt-free versions of your favorite snacks. Replace chips, pretzels and microwave popcorn with healthier options like veggie sticks and homemade hummus.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Sodium: The Facts"
- American Heart Association: "Get the Scoop on Sodium and Salt"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Most Americans Should Consume Less Sodium"
- Harvard T.H. Chan: "Salt and Sodium"
- Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020: "Shifts Needed To Align With Healthy Eating Patterns - Sodium"
- American Heart Association:Sodium Reduction Initiative Team: "A Closer Look at the Salty Six"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Potassium and Sodium Out of Balance"
- Advances in Nutrition: "Sodium"
- National Institutes of Health: "Potassium"
- Dietary Guidelines: 2015-2020: "Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations"
- Current Opinion in Lipidology: "Health Effects of Sodium and Potassium in Humans"
- Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: "Plain Water Consumption in Relation to Energy Intake and Diet Quality Among US Adults"
- Mayo Clinic: "Diuretics"
- Cureus: "Acute Severe Hyponatremia as a Serious Health Implication of Herbal Detox Regimens"