What do you think about when you hear the word “sodium?”
Just like fat and carbohydrates, sodium is probably something you’ve been told to cut back on for a healthy diet. But just like fat and carbohydrates, the controversy and rumors around sodium might be leading you astray.
Like any other nutrient, sodium plays an important role in your daily life. Here’s what you need to know about this important element, as well as how to balance it in your diet to make sure you’re at your best health.
Fact #1 – You Need Sodium In Your Diet: Your body needs sodium to carry out many important tasks. You may have heard that you need adequate sodium to maintain blood pressure and fluid balance. Did you know that even things like proper nerve and muscle function also depend on having enough sodium?
Have you ever heard the word “electrolyte? This term is a classification applied to many essential minerals, including calcium, potassium, chlorine, phosphate, magnesium, and (you guessed it) sodium. Through a process called osmosis, these electrolytes work with your kidneys to help regulate fluid balance in your bloodstream. When your electrolytes are in balance and working well with each other, the conditions are right for your muscles to work at their best. If you’re not getting enough sodium, your strength and endurance during workouts will be dramatically decreased.
Do you have days when your limbs feel heavy and you’re struggling more than usual to perform at 100%? Well, chances are your sodium consumption isn’t as high as it should be.
Fact #2 – How Much Sodium You Need is NOT Set in Stone: The table salt you keep in a shaker is a mineral made out of sodium. That same salt is added to many foods, with or without your knowledge. To find out if what you’re eating has added salt, take a look at the nutrition label. Salt will appear on the ingredients list if it has been added to the food.
Look higher up on the label and you’ll see how much sodium you receive per serving of food, along with an estimate of what percentage of your daily value for sodium you’ll consume. The FDA has set an “Upper Safe Limit” of 2300 milligrams of sodium per day for those following a 2,000 calorie diet. But this number is NOT set in stone! Many people have had explicit instructions from their doctors against any extra sodium consumption. If your doctor has warned against excess salt, be diligent about checking labels in the foods you eat.
Fact #3 – Sodium Can Have a Big Impact on the Scale: Depending on your current condition, sodium may or may not be something you need to cut back on. But whatever your situation, it’s important to remember that excess sodium DOES have an impact on the scale.
Sodium doesn’t have any caloric value. However, if you consume a large amount for days on end it can lead to fluid retention. That retention will keep the scale from moving in the direction you want. While you may still be losing fat, it will be difficult to see as you track your progress. It can be incredibly frustrating to see the scale stay the same (or even go up) due to excess sodium. To combat this, make sure to keep up with your exercise routine and drink more water to help balance the fluid and sodium around your cells.
Your Next Steps
Now that you know the basics, we encourage you to think more about how much sodium you eat every day. If your doctor has given you specific guidelines on sodium consumption, continue to follow those. If you don’t have guidelines to follow, take some time to think about how sodium could be skewing the number on the scale or affecting your performance.
Try tracking your sodium consumption each day by checking nutrition labels. Do you perform better on days after you eat more or less sodium? Does the scale go down more consistently when your sodium consumption stays in a certain range? Stay mindful about what you eat and you’ll continue to progress towards your goals.