The body uses sodium to regulate the amount of bodily fluid and to help the nervous and muscular systems function properly. Eating salt, either as a manufacturing additive in processed foods or through the standard salt shaker on most dining tables, is one of the primary ways we get essential sodium in our diets. However, problems can arise when the human body takes into too much salt.
Most people consuming too much sodium will find they are more thirsty than usual. The body needs extra fluids to help flush out the excess amount of sodium and restore its natural balance. As more salt is consumed, the thirstier you will become until the excess sodium is washed out of your body.
If excess salt makes you thirsty, it should come as no surprise that you'll likely spend more time in the bathroom, urinating. Sodium makes the body retain water, which causes the kidneys to become more active in trying to eliminate the excess to keep the body's fluids in balance. As kidney function increases, the bladder fills up with urine and causes frequent urges to run to the toilet.
Excess sodium interferes with the kidneys' ability to function. As a result, they cannot flush the fluid out of the body as efficiently as before. Some of the excess fluid gets squeezed into the spaces between cells when it cannot be discharged from the body. This is edema and has side effects such as large bags under the eyes and swelling in the feet.
Some people build up a tolerance to the taste-related effects of sodium, and over time, foods start to taste bland not only when they have no salt, but even after a few sprinkles of the salt shaker. This blandness causes people to increase their use of salt when dining, which compounds the problem.
Too much salt leads to dehydration in the body and this can lead to headaches. The problem is that dehydration can shrink the brain and cause it to shift away from the skull. This can induce pain until the brain swells back up to normal size once you drink enough fluids to rehydrate.
Salt cravings are typically the result of a calcium shortage in the blood. Eating salt reduces the shortage because it draws calcium out of the bones and the body sees this as correcting the deficiency. However, when the bones lose calcium, the body reacts to this shortage, instead and will begin to crave salt in addition to a host of calcium deficiency symptoms.
Two key health issues can arise from consuming too much salt:
Yes, the human body needs a certain amount of salt to function properly. The exact amount is up for debate since consumption varies in different areas of the world. The rule of thumb in the United States is under 2,300 milligrams per day. This is equal to about a half teaspoon and includes salt from all the sources in your diet.
Most people know processed food manufacturing and commercial kitchens use a lot of salt. Because we do not see how much the makers add to these foods, it's easy to forget how much is there and consume excessive amounts. Almost 80% of the sodium in an American diet comes from foods such as deli meats, baked goods, cheese, condiments, sodas, and frozen meals.
Reading food labels carefully enables you to keep track of how much salt a product contains and either factor that into consumption or find an alternative. Making food from scratch, from fresh or natural ingredients with no added salt, lets you control exactly how much salt you're consuming. Many nutrition professionals recommend increasing fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats in the diet in order to reduce salt intake. Adding other seasonings, such as herbs and acid-based dressings (homemade, not storebought, which contain added salt) can bring out the tastes in foods in a healthier manner.
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