When Can Sodium Become a Problem?

macaroni and cheese dinnerI noticed many of your recipes were relatively high in sodium. I work out almost 5 days a week at the gym and they said that when you look on the label, sodium should be less than 5%. What’s your take here?

Several readers expressed concern about higher sodium levels in some Virgin Diet Cookbook recipes, so I wanted to address the sodium issue here.

Sodium is an essential mineral, which (among other roles) helps your muscles contract and relax as well as maintain fluid balance.

Healthy kidneys do a great job ditching excess sodium when you have too much. And when you don’t have enough sodium, your kidneys hold on to what you do have.

Trouble begins when your kidneys can’t get rid of that excess sodium, which accumulates in your blood. That excess sodium pulls in water, increasing your blood volume and adding stress to your arteries.

Hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart problems are among the repercussions of chronically high blood pressure created by excess sodium.

Even if you have healthy functioning kidneys, you don’t want to over-do sodium. Recipes higher in sodium would understandably be a concern.

Here’s the deal. Naturally occurring sodium contributes very little to your body’s sodium intake. About 90% of sodium comes from 2 sources:

  • The salt shaker
  • Processed foods

When you focus on whole, unprocessed foods on The Virgin Diet, you automatically eliminate most processed foods, a major source of sodium.

I also encourage you to use sea salt and other mineral-rich salts sparingly. Many folks habitually grab the saltshaker at meals, whereas I want you to learn to appreciate the natural flavor of fresh vegetables and other foods.

Many foods in The Virgin Diet are also potassium-rich. Sodium and potassium make a great team to (among other roles) help maintain your body’s water balance. Studies show potassium can help excrete excess sodium, thereby explaining potassium’s role in reducing hypertension.

According to Dr. Jonny Bowden, author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, “in Western industrialized cultures, salt intake is about three times higher than potassium intake.”

In other words, excess sodium isn’t the only culprit for hypertension and other blood pressure problems. Inadequate amounts of potassium can also create or exacerbate these problems, and sufficient amounts of this mineral can help normalize sodium levels.

My Take Home:

  1. Most dietary sodium comes from processed foods and the saltshaker. Removing those 2 sources of sodium will greatly reduce sodium intake.
  2. Even if they are higher in sodium, whole unprocessed foods rarely create a problem.
  3. Focus on potassium-rich foods including avocado, legumes, leafy greens, wild-caught fish, and sweet potatoes.
  4. Sweating during exercise and drinking sufficient amounts of water will help your kidneys better excrete excess sodium.

How much of a concern is sodium for you? Do you check labels and factor in sodium amounts before you purchase a food? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook fan page.

© 2014 JJ Virgin & Associates, Inc. Celebrity Nutrition & Fitness Expert JJ Virgin helps clients lose weight fast by breaking free from food intolerances. She is author of New York Times Bestsellers The Virgin Diet: Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days and The Virgin Diet Cookbook: 150 Easy and Delicious Recipes to Lose Weight and Feel Better Fast. JJ is also bestselling author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy, a Huffington Post blogger, creator of the 4X4 Burst Training Workout, and co-star of TLC’s Freaky Eaters. Learn more at www.jjvirgin.com