Everyone knows that people with diabetes need to be aware of the number of carbohydrates they eat in a day, but not everyone knows that people with diabetes need to also watch their salt intake as well.
According to the Food & Drug Administration, the average American eats way too much sodium, upwards of 3,400 mg of sodium per day!
So, how much salt should you be eating? This article will outline how much salt people with diabetes need to have in their diets, the risks of eating too much salt, and how to help lower your daily salt intake to improve your health.
What’s so bad about salt?
A moderate amount of salt (and the accompanying iodine that is added to most table salt in the United States) is crucial for the body to function properly.
Humans need a minimum of 500 mg of sodium daily for normal bodily functions, including the balancing of electrolytes, maintaining high enough blood pressure, and ensuring normal nerve and muscle function.
However, excess salt intake can be dangerous for one’s health. Eating too much salt not only increases one’s blood pressure, but diets higher in sodium content can put you at higher risk for heart disease and stroke, the exact two conditions that people with diabetes are already at increased risk for.
Sodium naturally absorbs water, and when ingested through a high-sodium diet, it draws water into the bloodstream, pumping up one’s blood volume and thus increasing one’s blood pressure.
High blood pressure can become the health condition known as hypertension if it becomes chronic. When someone lives with hypertension, their heart has to work extra hard to pump blood around their body, which can cause damage to vital organs including the brain, eyes, kidneys, and, of course, the heart.
Over time, people with hypertension are at increased risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease and failure, and blindness. When combined with a diabetes diagnosis, it can become a potentially fatal combination.
If people with diabetes do not suffer from hypertension, excess salt in the diet can lead to dehydration, leading to more difficult to manage blood sugars, insulin resistance, and the increased potential for diabetic ketoacidosis over time.
What are the main sources of excess sodium?
Contrary to popular belief, excess sodium in most peoples’ diets isn’t due to the table salt at the center of the dinner table.
70% of dietary sodium comes from fast-food restaurants and packaged foods. This can vary widely between types of packaged foods, serving sizes, etc., but it is something to look out for when not cooking at home. Common sources of excess sodium include:
- Pasta dishes
- Potato chips
- Tortilla chips
- Deli meats
- Pork rinds
- Fried chicken
- French fries
- Anything with savory sauces added
How much salt should you eat in a day?
The FDA suggests that most Americans consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (that’s about 1 teaspoon), while the American Heart Association suggests that ideally, people should eat no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
Additionally, the American Heart Association recommends that people who suffer from health conditions such as hypertension or heart disease should limit their sodium intake to 1,000 mg per day.
People with diabetes need to pay extra close attention to make sure they’re not eating an excess of salt, whether or not they have existing heart disease and/or hypertension, as they are already at an increased risk of those complications by having diabetes.
However, everyone’s goals may vary, and some people may need to consume more sodium on occasion.
Athletes and people who are consuming large amounts of water may require extra salt (especially during physical activity on very hot days), and people who suffer from excessive sweating may need extra salt to balance out their electrolytes.
People who are taking diuretics under their doctor’s guidance may require extra sodium in their diets, as well as people who eat mostly unprocessed, whole foods (where salt is not an added ingredient).
Always work with your doctor regarding your lifestyle and health goals to determine the appropriate amount of daily sodium that you require.
Easy ways to reduce sodium consumption
If you’re consuming more sodium than what is recommended by your health team, there are some easy ways to reduce your daily sodium consumption.
Prepare your own meals and snacks at home
Batch cooking and packing your own breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks will greatly reduce the number of meals you eat out at restaurants and fast-food establishments, greatly reducing your sodium intake, since you have total control over the amount of added sodium you put in home-cooked food.
Focus on whole, unprocessed foods including plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins and watch your sodium intake plummet!
Add herbs and spices in lieu of salt
Simply adding salt and pepper to your cooking is out and leaning on more flavorful herbs and spices such as garlic, onion, cumin, turmeric, curry, cilantro, parsley, and paprika is in!
Add a burst of brightness to your meals without adding sodium and you won’t even miss it.
Read nutrition labels
Spend more time studying nutrition labels on any packaged foods you eat, and try to stay within a total of the 2,300 mg limit for a day, or just notice how much above or below you land.
Just being cognizant of your sodium intake throughout the day can help you limit or eliminate foods that simply have too much.
Opt for salt-free or reduced-sodium foods
Choosing salt-free or reduced-sodium versions of your favorite foods like nuts, chips, canned beans, canned vegetables, breads, tomato sauces, and soups can help you greatly reduce the amount of sodium in your diet without completely saying goodbye to the types of foods you love.
More and more grocery stores are carrying these options for consumers, so keep an eye out for sodium-free or low-sodium versions of your favorite foods.
Limit your portion sizes
Less food equals less sodium – sometimes it’s as simple as that! If you’re going out to lunch, cut your sandwich in half, and by definition, you’ve also halved your sodium intake for that meal.
Choose smaller portions of things like pizza and pasta (or opt for an appetizer as your entree when out to dinner at a restaurant), and you’ll likely decrease the amount of sodium you’re eating by hundreds of milligrams per day.
Popular condiments like soy sauce, fish and prawn sauce, salsa, hot sauce, and prepackaged salad dressings have loads of unnecessary sodium.
Make your own salad dressing at home with lemon or lime juice, black pepper, and olive oil, for a sodium-free addition, or add fresh herbs and spices to your dishes with a hint of extra virgin olive oil for a zing without the salt!
Get the support you need
Getting support from family and friends can help you immensely when trying to reduce your sodium intake.
Work together to come up with fun, low-sodium recipes, or have a potluck dinner where everyone brings a new, sodium-free dish to share.
Opt out of daily trips to grab fast-food and weekly dinner dates out at restaurants and instead enjoy more meals with your loved ones at home, where you can work on meeting your health goals together. Sodium is not required!