Holistic Health

Sodium intake: Why you should care

Sodium. You’re probably eating too much of it, and chances are, you don’t really give it much thought. Maybe you’ve heard that sodium can cause high blood pressure and heart disease, but you don’t really consider yourself at risk for these conditions, and you skip over “low sodium” options at the supermarket because you think they won’t have any flavor.

The truth is, everyone should be concerned about sodium intake. Things like heart disease and hypertension don’t just suddenly appear once you reach a certain age — they are the results of decades of a poor diet. And sodium (a.k.a. salt) may be linked to a lot more health problems than you think.

According to Dr. Max Gerson, the physician who created the Gerson diet therapy for cancer (read my review of The Gerson Therapy here), sodium is at the root of all degenerative disease. Sodium is the antithesis of potassium, an important mineral needed for your cells to function properly. Potassium enters your cells and acts a catalyst, stimulating your cells to produce enzymes. But sodium is a bully. When you eat too much, it steals potassium’s place inside the cells, inhibiting enzyme function and normal tissue activity. Over time, health problems start to appear from cellular damage.

Restoring the sodium/potassium balance is one of the key principles of Dr. Gerson’s diet therapy, which has effectively cured cancer, arthritis, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disorders, and other serious health problems. The Gerson diet is virtually saltless and includes a variety of high-potassium foods, in addition to potassium supplementation.

Cutting down on salt and increasing your potassium intake now can help you avoid a serious illness later in life. The recommended daily intake for sodium is 1,500 mg per day, with an upper intake level — the absolute maximum you should consume — of 2,300 mg, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These figures are way too high when it comes to preventing disease. And most Americans consume much more than this — the average daily intake is 3,400 mg.

Because high levels of sodium are present in processed, packaged foods, the standard American diet is dangerously high in sodium. You do need some sodium, but consuming a plant-based diet low in processed foods will provide plenty of dietary sodium to meet your daily needs.

Tips for cutting down sodium intake

  • Avoid processed foods, including cold cuts, bacon, and condiments. Instead of buying a can of soup or a frozen meal, get in the habit of making a salad for lunch.  If you must buy packaged foods, read the nutrition label and choose options that are lower in sodium.
  • When cooking at home, refrain from seasoning your food with salt. It may taste bland at first, but your taste buds will eventually reset and you’ll be able to appreciate the natural flavor in your foods.
  • When dining out, order low-sodium options or ask that salt not be added to your food.
  • Snack on fresh fruits and vegetables or unsalted nuts instead of chips or crackers.
  • Eat foods that are high in potassium, such as bananas, kale, sweet potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and spinach.
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