From tortilla chips to popcorn to pretzels, salty snacks are a crowd favorite. And I don’t blame you! Even if you’re a mainly sweets person, a salty snack can just hit the spot. Honestly, If you tell me that you don’t love a salty snack here and there, you’re lying. All that salt that we love so much, it can’t be healthy, right? Well, just like everything else in the health world, there’s good and bad to salt.
Excessive sodium in your diet can have numerous health consequences.
• Too much sodium can lead to elevated blood pressure, causing your heart to work harder than it needs to, and putting strain on your arteries as well. This added strain puts you at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke.
• Too much salt can also help lead to dehydration, as it throws off the balance of water and salt in your body (and your blood.)
You actually need sodium in your body, and in your diet.
• Sodium is important to your nervous system, helping to conduct impulses.
• Sodium is also one of the elements in your body that is in charge of muscle contraction, so too little sodium can affect how your muscles work (and set you up for cramps!)
• Sodium is an important electrolyte and helps to maintain the fluid balance in your body.
Sodium has its place in your body as an electrolyte, and is important to healthy function. However, as a society, we way, way, way overdo the sodium consumption. The bare minimum sodium we need to function is 500mg, which is actually routinely stored in healthy kidneys so you don’t run low. The upper limit of sodium that is recommended to consume in a day is 2300 mg, which is only about a teaspoon of salt, with people with high blood pressure recommended to consume about 1500mg of sodium per day.
Weirdly enough, salt is not our problem when it comes to sodium. Sodium is just an aspect of salt (chemical name sodium chloride), but sodium is in much more than just salt. According to the FDA, the majority of our sodium overconsumption comes from processed and prepackaged foods. This is because sodium is an excellent preservative, extending the shelf life of common foods, as well as a great flavor enhancer (hello, we all love salt). The biggest sodium offenders include foods such as bread, pizza, processed cheeses, processed meats, and then our beloved snacks.
To ensure you aren’t overdoing the sodium, while still being able to enjoy some salt here and there, there are a few steps we can take.
• Eat potassium. Potassium helps to counteract the blood pressure raising effects of sodium, so eating foods such as beans, bananas, and tomatoes can help offset the sodium effect.
• Prepare your own foods when you can. That way, you are in charge of the sodium amounts going into your foods, rather than something prepackaged with a long shelf life.
• Buy fresh foods when you can. Buying fresh fruits and vegetables can reduce your sodium intake, as these foods are no sodium added, unlike canned or sauced fruits and veggies.
• Enjoy low sodium foods. There are plenty of snacks that have lower sodium contents, including no salt chips or no salt pretzels. As well, there are lower sodium versions of sodium rich foods, such as low sodium soups and beans.
• Drink your water. To help with fluid balance after a salty indulgence, drink extra water. This helps to retain that balance of fluid and salt in your body, helping to counteract the dehydrating effects of sodium.
So no, sodium is not the best thing you can ingest. However, your body does need sodium tor in properly. As long as you do it with caution and moderation, and your doctor doesn’t tell you otherwise, you can still enjoy a salty snack here and there.