Have you ever experienced a muscle cramp while jogging or hiking, what did you do? You must have taken a sip out of the energy drink or mixed some salt in water and drank it up. Muscle cramps usually develop due to dehydration when the water and salt concentrations go out of balance.
Sodium is a common mineral found in the Earth and it plays a crucial role in keeping fluid-electrolyte balance in the body. The terms ‘common salt’ or ‘table salt’ are also used for sodium that is a combination of sodium and chloride. Apart from the electrolyte profile, sodium is critical to transmission and relay processes in the body and muscle contraction.
Despite its significant role in the body, many times we are reminded by health experts to limit the amount of salt in our meals. Why is that? Because our diet has more than enough amount of this mineral and sprinkling extra salt on your food invites a hoard of disease conditions like hypertension, fluid retention, heart troubles and even osteoporosis.
What is a low sodium diet and how to follow it? Here is some insight into the matter:
Definition of a low sodium diet
According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an average American consumes about 3400 mg of sodium every day, out of which processed food comprise the primary source of high sodium intake, while the American dietary guidelines for the year 2015-2020 recommend keeping your sodium intake well within the range of 2300 mg of sodium per day.
Similar to low carb and sugar-free diets, a diet is called low in sodium when it contains a restricted amount of the subject mineral in dietary sources. Such a diet may be an obligation in order to keep your blood pressure in check, maintain an optimal cardiac function in cases of heart failure or simply to adopt a healthier diet version.
The fast-paced life of the current millennium has brought in fast food dietary mode that includes processed food of all kinds, which is actually the primary source of surplus sodium in our life. Though fruits and vegetables are one of the best sources of low sodium foods, if processed, they are placed under the category of high salt food items.
Basic principles of a low sodium diet
If you bear in mind the basic guidelines of a low sodium diet, then selection of dietary items becomes an easier job. Here are ten rules to follow:
- Buy less of processed food
- Consume more fresh items
- Select appropriate protein portion
- Indulge in home-based cooking
- Find alternatives to salt as ginger, garlic, lemon zest and juice, pepper and apple cider vinegar
- Keep your salt shaker far out of reach
- Avoid canned food
- Avoid softened water as it contains added sodium
The low sodium protocol
If we could eat fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat every time, that would keep our sodium well within the limits. However, not every ones’ circumstances are the same so following is a list of low sodium food options for individual convenience.
- Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
- Dried fruit
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Unsalted almonds
- Unsalted air-popped popcorn
- Unsalted seeds as chia, flax seeds
- Fresh or frozen meat choices
- Low sodium cheese including cottage cheese
- Dried beans and peas
- Homemade soups with little salt
- Low sodium bread
All of these ingredients can be incorporated into the main meal or consumed as healthy snacks. While using the salt, a good choice remains the pink Himalayan salt, one of the purest source of sodium.
Some of the bad food choices regarding the sodium content are yeast bread, pasta recipes, pizza, cold cuts and chicken and prepared meals containing it. Out of these, some of the dishes may not taste too salty but in fact, they have a high content of sodium.
Milk contains natural sodium and so does celery and beetroot. If you are prescribed low sodium diet, it is better to identify food items with high sodium content. Remember, the water you drink has sodium added if it is soft so to know the source of water is also important.
Some of the worst food choices regarding high sodium are:
- Anything called fast food
- Any item named processed food, including vegetables and meat items
- Seasonings and sauces as soya sauce, teriyaki, Worcestershire, BBQ, and steak sauce
- Readymade chicken stock and cubes
- Canned food items and soups
- Processed cheese
- Meat tenderizers and mixes
- Canned gravies
Some precautions regarding low sodium diet
Do you know a diet low in sodium can be bad for your heart? Yes, just as high sodium is bad for you, a diet low in sodium, sodium-free or no salt or salt-free is equally bad if taken on a regular basis without any rationale.
Some studies have linked low sodium diet to insulin resistance, high LDL or bad cholesterol levels, and a rise in total triglyceride levels. Some of the signs and symptoms of sodium deficiency in the body are
- Nausea and vomiting
- A headache and confusion
- Fatigue with low energy levels
- Irritability and restlessness
- Muscle weakness, spasms, and cramping
- Seizures and coma in worst case scenario
Likewise, sodium alternatives should be taken with great caution because it is easy to overdo them as they contain sodium in addition to an alternative. The alternative is usually potassium, which can rise to enough levels in the body to cause kidney dysfunction and interrupt the medications for congestive heart failure or high blood pressure.
“The Cleveland Clinic advises not use a salt substitute unless you first check with your doctor or dietitian due to potential drug and/or nutrient interactions”
Take home message
A smart low sodium diet is suggested with the utilization of natural pink Himalayan salt. Instead of using artificial salt alternatives, opt for natural ones as spices. Staying away from processed food items and bringing back home-based meals is a smart approach to a low sodium diet, which can have its repercussions if left unchecked.