Salt has become a major nutritional villain.
Salt is everywhere: dumped into cans of soup, packed into meats, and swimming in salad dressing and salsa. From our packaged snacks to the food we order in restaurants, the modern American diet is saltier than Amy Schumer’s pillow talk. Exactly how bad for you are all those tiny crystals? When it comes to dietary sodium, less is certainly best, yet Americans today consume 50% more than the recommended daily quantities of sodium.
Salt vs. Weight Loss
Let’s get something clear first. Sodium only affects the amount of water our bodies retain. This means that while it can increase your body weight, it does not affect your body fat levels. This is another reason why the number on the scale can be misleading as far as actual (body fat) weight loss is concerned.
Salt, which made of sodium (just in a granulated form) retains water. It can often be the main culprit when it comes to weight gain, and can cause serious levels of dehydration. When your sodium levels are high and you’re working hard to lessen your waistline, salt will stop water from doing its job effectively. So, instead of working with your metabolism to burn calories and fat effectively, it actually will work against it – and all your hard work at the gym will act like a pointless waste of time and energy.
In fact, a new study has linked obesity and sodium intake so closely that cutting down on salt might be the absolute best way to shed belly fat, fast. For every extra gram of salt you eat in a day–that’s a mere ⅕ of a teaspoon, or about what you’ll find in one of those tiny salt packets from the soup shop–your risk of obesity climbs by 25 percent. Researchers speculate that sodium alters our metabolism, changing the way in which we absorb fat.
Now that we know we are only talking water weight, how much of extra water can sodium make you retain?
If your body retains an extra 400 mg of sodium, roughly the amount in a gram of salt, you could carry two added pounds of water (or more depending on exactly how excessive your salt intake is).
A study has been done that compared how weight is lost on a calorie-restrictive diet with or without the addition of salt. Without the salt, weight loss was pretty much linear (people lost roughly the same amount every day). But when salt was added the weight refused to go down in the first few days of dieting (10 days or so).
Salty Health Effects
Fluid is attracted to sodium like a magnet, so when you take in too much, you retain more water. Short-term, this means bloating and puffiness and long-term, extra fluid creates stress on the heart, which has to work harder to pump the fluid through your body. The added work load on the heart and pressure on the artery walls can damage the cardiovascular system and raise blood pressure. Developing high blood pressure puts you at greater risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and other series health problems. Experts estimate that reducing our sodium intakes in the US to the recommended levels could result in 11 million fewer cases of high blood pressure each year.
New research shows that a high-salt diet may have a negative effect on our bodies’ levels of vitamin D — a vitamin considered important to many aspects of health. There is also some evidence that a high-sodium intake increases calcium losses in the urine — which is bad news for bone density. Too much sodium may also contribute to the development of kidney stones.
This not only means that most people are holding on to more water weight than they needed to, but they are also risking their own health in the process. While sodium is a vital mineral for our survival, too much of it can lead to health issues like high blood pressure, kidney stones, osteoporosis, etc. Packing on a few extra pounds of water weight should probably be the least of your concerns.
How much salt do you need?
Since sodium is widely used as a food additive for preservation or taste improvement, most of our diets are too high in sodium even if we are not adding salt to food.
American men eat 4,243 mg of sodium a day, about double what experts recommend, while women average about 3,000 mg daily. And most of the salt we eat comes not from our own salt shaker, but from restaurants and packaged foods.
In the United States, the maximum daily sodium recommendation is 1,500 – 2,300 mg (the lower limit if you have high blood pressure or heart disease risks, the higher limit if you’re healthy), but according to a recent study, the average American consumes about 3,400 mg per day, and other estimates peg our daily intake at a much higher level – as much as 10,000 mg.
Change Your Salty Ways
Help your body, and make your workouts and good eating habits pay off! If you just had an epiphany that your eating habits of chock full of salt – and way too much of it – rest easy, rewind and renew your body with these helpful hints for a sodium-healthy diet:
Toss the processed food.
Processed foods are always full of sodium. After all, how else could they stay fresh without artificial ingredients, and salt? It may take some getting used to, but once you toss processed foods for fresh, natural ones, you’ll realize that you never felt better – in both body and mind.
Use fresh, rather than packaged, meats.
Fresh cuts of beef, chicken or pork contain natural sodium, but the content is still much less than the hidden extra sodium added during processing in products like bacon or ham. If a food item keeps well in the fridge for days or weeks, that’s a tip off that the sodium content is too high.
Choose fresh fruit and vegetables, as well, since they are very low in sodium.
When buying frozen vegetables, choose those that are labeled “fresh frozen” and do not contain added seasoning or sauces.
Be sodium conscious when grocery shopping
Begin reading food labels as a matter of course. Sodium content is always listed on the label. Sometimes the high sugar content in a product like apple pie can mask the high sodium content so it’s important to check every label for sodium content. Compare various brands of the same food item until you find the one that has the lowest sodium content, since this will vary from brand to brand. Select spices or seasonings that do not list sodium on their labels, i.e. choose garlic powder over garlic salt.
Choose lower sodium options
When you do opt for packaged foods, choose products that are sodium free or low in sodium. Look for canned soups and vegetables with “low sodium” or “reduced sodium” on the label. Salted nuts that are prepackaged are not good for you – at all. Instead, keep raw almonds or unsalted peanuts at home to snack on.
Adjust your seasonings.
Adding flavors or seasoning to your food could be doubling your daily sodium intake, especially if you learned how to cook in Louisiana. But reducing sodium intake doesn’t mean you have to lose flavor! Choose pepper or herbs instead of salt, and try using salt free seasonings such as Mrs. Dash or salt free Tony Chachere’s, or split your seasoning with 1/2 salt free and 1/2 regular seasoning mix.
If you’re addicted to salt, ease off of it slowly.
Excessive salt can be addictive. If you’re used to sprinkling it on top of salads, scrambled eggs or pasta, try switching to a light salt, or adding your favorite spice in substitute of salt.Salt preference is an acquired taste that can be unlearned. It takes about 6-8 weeks to get used to eating food with much lower quantities of salt, but once it’s done, it’s actually difficult to eat foods like potato chips because they taste way too salty.
Salt. It can be a blessing, or a curse for your weight loss. Start by being mindful of how much salt you’re digesting daily, ease off slowly and develop some creative solutions for your eating habits. As a result, you’ll lose the water weight and boost your weight loss!