From take-out pizza to homemade soup, sodium appears in a wide range of common foods, both as an additive and as a naturally occurring mineral -- making it easy to consume more than the 1,500 milligram daily limit recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. Although excess sodium is implicated in health problems, such as high blood pressure and kidney disease, it is a non-caloric nutrient and cannot make you gain fat.
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Sodium is a mineral essential for maintaining a number of body functions including nutrient absorption, blood pressure regulation, blood volume maintenance, cardiovascular function and muscle contraction, the Linus Pauling Institute explains. In food, sodium often appears as a chemical compound called sodium chloride, more commonly known as table salt. Although some foods, such as fruits and vegetables, contain naturally occurring sodium, the majority of sodium in the American diet comes from salt added to processed foods like ready-made dinners, processed snacks, pizza, bacon, cheese and fast foods.
Because sodium contains no carbohydrates, fat or protein, it does not contribute any calories to your diet and cannot make you gain weight in the form of fat. The only way to gain fat is to consume a surplus of calories from food, which your body then stores in fat cells for future energy. However, sodium attracts water at the chemical level, and consuming it in excess may cause your body to retain more fluids than normal. Although this can cause the numbers on the scale to rise and your clothes to fit tighter, weight gain from sodium is only from water, not actual fat gain, and should subside when you reduce your sodium intake.
Along with causing water retention in some people, consuming excess sodium can have a number of negative consequences on your health. The water-attracting properties of sodium cause it to increase your blood volume, leading to higher blood pressure and more stress on your heart as it pumps blood through your system. Over time, increased blood pressure can lead to congestive heart failure, kidney disease, cirrhosis, heart disease and stroke.
Although excess sodium can be dangerous, this mineral is still an essential nutrient, and consuming too little of it can result in health problems -- particularly if you have high sodium requirements due to endurance athletics, certain medications or low blood pressure. Consult your physician before attempting to eliminate or drastically reduce salt from your diet or if you seem to be retaining water.