Sodium: What’s in a Nutrition Label?

nutrition label with cold cuts and bread


foods and their sodium values
Source: CDC

I always knew that too much sodium, like too much of anything, was bad for you. Did that ever stop me from eating a week’s worth of ramen in one sitting? Not at all. Other than needing water afterwards, I never understood what sodium could do to my body – and it can do a lot.

Salt specifically affects the circulatory system. If you remember anything from high school biology (other than that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell), you might remember that water travels across membranes, and it tends to travel to where there are more solutes. Sodium is a solute, and it causes an increase of water in blood vessels. A minor result of this is bloating, but it has a much bigger consequence than just making you uncomfortable. Salt leads to higher blood pressure and a buildup of plaque, therefore increasing your chances of a stroke or a heart attack. A high sodium diet is a huge risk factor of heart disease – which begs the question, how much is too much?

What Has Sodium?

The CDC recommends a daily value of 2,300 milligrams of sodium if you’re healthy, but most people tend to double that amount. That’s mainly because 2,300 mg is not much at all – a measly teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 mg, which is your entire daily value. Salt is also hidden in a lot of processed foods, and really, a college student’s diet is full of it. The table provided showcases a few examples of common snacks and meals that sneak high levels of salt by you. According to the CDC, “more than 40%” of our intake comes from just 10 food items. 60% of this nutrient’s intake come from the foods we buy at grocery stores.

How to Combat Sodium

Many high sodium foods normally have a replacement that boasts a lower percentage, such as low sodium ground meat. However, even with these “better” options, it’s still likely that there’s simply way too much salt in them to be good for you. It’s best to either lower your consumption of them, or find alternatives so you can cut the foods out of your diet. Don’t worry: if you’re like me, and this sounds too hard, the American Heart Association suggests that a potassium rich diet may combat sodium’s negative effects. Not only can potassium lower blood pressure (which sodium increases), it also causes more salt to be passed through via urine.

In total, a lot of our daily food choices contain high amounts of salt. While it’s hard to be picky on a college student’s budget, it’s also important to remember that the foods we eat now affects us later in our life and can greatly impact our health. Sodium’s consequences of high blood pressure and a greater risk of stroke are definitely worth being wary of.