Sodium: what happens if you eat too much salt?

Mar
01

Sodium: what happens if you eat too much salt?

If you have high blood pressure, chances are you’ve heard of the American Heart Association (AHA) and their guidelines recommending less than 2300 mg per day of sodium (equal to about 1 tsp of salt). Recent guidelines from the AHA are moving towards an ideal limit of less than 1500 mg per day for most adults. However, Americans are eating on average about 3400 mg per day – double the amount of the recommendations. This might make you wonder, what happens if you eat too much salt?

This post was written by Kristine Wong, Dietetic Intern while she was completing her outpatient rotation. This post was reviewed and edited by Edith Yang, RD, CSR, CLT, FAND.

What actually happens if you eat too much salt?

Eating too much salt can cause water retention in our body, specifically in our bloodstream. This increased volume of fluids in your blood can eventually stress and stiffen blood vessels, which increases your blood pressure, puts more work on your heart to keep pumping blood throughout your body, and can lead to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. 

The kidneys are also responsible for filtering blood and removing waste from the body, and persistent high blood pressure can eventually weaken their blood vessels and impact kidney function.

The Mediterranean Diet and DASH: how to apply it to an Asian palette

The Mediterranean diet and DASH diet are two of the most researched eating patterns with benefits to lower blood pressure and prevent heart conditions. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, and healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, fish, and nuts and limiting red meats and saturated fatty acids. The DASH diet is very similar with an extra component to decrease the amount of sodium and include high potassium foods. 

Although many of the foods you often see in these eating patterns, such as extra virgin olive oil or beans, are not typically found in Asian households, you can still follow these guidelines using foods traditionally found in an Asian diet! 

You can include green leafy vegetables such as bok choy, gai lan, watercress or colorful vegetables such as eggplant or bell peppers. We can include fruits such as dragonfruit, papaya, mango, cuties, apples, pears, or oranges. An emphasis on healthy fats includes using peanut oil, sesame oil, or vegetable oil, nuts like roasted peanuts, and fish such as salmon, shrimp, tilapia, or more. We also eat soybeans like tofu or soy milk and beans in desserts, such as red bean pudding (while limiting the amount of sugar).

Scroll to the end of the article to see our handout on adapting the Mediterranean diet to an Asian plate!

How to make a dish less salty 

Many Asian sauces tend to be higher in sodium, such as soy sauce or braising sauces. Choosing herbs and spices over higher sodium choices to flavor meals can help reduce your overall sodium intake!

Examples of herbs and spices in Asian cuisine include:

  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Chilies
  • Green onions
  • Cilantro
  • Szechuan peppercorn
  • Star anise
  • Black pepper
  • White pepper
  • Sesame seeds
  • Five spice

If you do still need to use a sauce that has higher sodium content, remember to read the label and reduce the amount to make it fit your needs. If you’re not sure how much sodium you should include in your doctor, be sure to ask your doctor or dietitian

What To Do If You Ate Too Much Salt

So what should you do if you ate too much salt? Although we try to limit our sodium to 1500-2300 mg per day, there may be occasions where we have more sodium than we should. Eating out at restaurants, eating processed foods such as frozen meals, or adding too much sodium from sauces when cooking may be unexpected sources of salt. 

The most common symptoms of eating too much salt may be 

  • bloating of your stomach
  • swelling and puffiness in your face, hands or ankles
  • increased feelings of thirst
  • Weight gain

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, here are a couple of tips to manage the extra salt:

  1. Drink enough water throughout the day to help your body flush out the salt. If you have heart disease or kidney disease, you may need to monitor the amount of fluids you drink.
  2. Eat foods rich in potassium – potassium helps maintain your body’s fluid balance and get rid of extra sodium. Foods rich in potassium include fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  3. Reduce the amount of sodium in your diet – avoid added salt, eating out, or eating processed foods that contain high amounts of sodium
  4. Get in gentle movement throughout your day such as going for a walk, stretching, or light yoga

Summary

Although it seems difficult to balance sodium and our cultural dishes, it is possible to include any cultural food to benefit our health through the right tools and knowledge! Working with a Registered Dietitian is the best way to learn how to navigate eating for both your health and your food preferences. Contact us today to set up your first meeting! 

References

[1] https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/how-much-sodium-should-i-eat-per-day

[2] https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/shaking-the-salt-habit-to-lower-high-blood-pressure

[3] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/low-sodium-diet-and-lifestyle-changes-for-high-blood-pressure#:~:text=If you have high blood pressure%2C Stathos says reducing sodium,about 1 teaspoon of salt.

[4] https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/sodium-your-diet#:~:text=However%2C most Americans eat too,1 teaspoon of table salt!

[5] https://www.heart.org/en/news/2021/02/15/lower-your-sodium-and-blood-pressure-will-follow

[6] https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/high-blood-pressure#:~:text=urinary tract system.-,How does high blood pressure affect the kidneys,may no longer work properly.

[7] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-happens-if-you-eat-too-much-salt#solutions

[8] https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-too-much-salt

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