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Sodium Facts

What is sodium?
How is sodium used by the body?
How much sodium do I need in my diet?
Which foods contain large amounts of sodium?
How can I reduce my sodium intake?
What is sodium deficiency?
What is sodium toxicity?
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What is sodium?

Sodium, unlike other minerals, has a distinct and appealing taste.  It is commonly found in table salt, which is 40% sodium.  The other portion of table salt is made of chloride.

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How is sodium used by the body?

Sodium is needed for muscle contractions, nerve transmissions, maintaining pH balance, and hydration.  Sodium regulates the fluid outside of the cells and is needed to pump fluid into the cells as potassium carries by-products out.

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How much sodium do I need in my diet?

Most adults should not consume more than 2300mg of sodium per day.  This is comparable to 1 tsp of table salt.

Some individuals, such as endurance athletes who compete for more than 2 hours at a time, may have a higher need for sodium, because it is lost in the sweat.  Others may need to consume fewer than the recommended 2300mg per day due to hypertension or sodium sensitivity.

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Which foods contain large amounts of sodium?

Food items which have been highly processed usually contain a large amount of sodium.  Unprocessed, or fresh foods, will contain less.  Roughly 75% of the sodium in our diets is added by manufacturers.

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How can I reduce my sodium intake?

Reducing your sodium intake can be easily achieved by paying close attention to the following foods.

Foods made in brine (pickles, olives, sauerkraut)
Salty and Smoked Meats (bologna, corned beef, bacon, ham, sausage, lunch meats)
Salty and Smoke Fish (anchovies, caviar, dried fish, smoked salmon, sardines, herring)
Snack/Junk Food (potato chips, pretzels, popcorn, salted nuts, crackers)
Condiments (season salts, Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, ketchup, mustard, teriyaki, mustard)
Cheese
Salad Dressing
Soups (canned or instant)


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What is sodium deficiency?

Low sodium in the blood can lead to what is called hyponatremia.  Signs of hyponatremia are fatigue, seizures, muscle spasms, confusion and coma.  Sodium deficiency is usually caused by vomiting, diarrhea, drinking excessive fluid (especially water), and excessive sweating.  It is rarely caused by lack of sodium in the diet.

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What is sodium toxicity?

Signs of sodium toxicity include swelling in the extremities and high blood pressure.  Since sodium causes more calcium to be lost in the urine, high contents of sodium can also increase risks for osteoporosis.  However, this does not usually escalate to any further problems as long as adequate amounts of water are being consumed throughout the day.

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