A common topic in health today is sodium and what exactly it does. Sodium doesn’t have the best reputation because we tend to associate it with hypertension. This is not an incorrect association (it’s actually accurate).
The recommended daily amount of sodium is 2,000 mg per day. The average American consumes more than double this. As our food system has evolved, so has the amount of added sodium. Sodium is used as a stabilizer and a preservative in many prepared and pre-packaged foods. Most canned foods (like soups or even veggies) and frozen foods (like a pizza or lasagna) are high in sodium. Fast food is also high in sodium. Adding sodium to foods increases the shelf-life and therefore makes it cheaper.
Sodium is an electrolyte (like potassium, magnesium, etc.) and we need it. But just like everything else too much is a bad thing. The main thing the sodium is involved in is the sodium-potassium pump. In short, this pumps potassium into the cell and brings sodium outside of the cell and releases energy. This pump brings in two potassium ions for every three sodium ions. For this process to be as efficient as possible, we don’t want to overload it with excess sodium. Excess sodium goes to the kidneys to be excreted (which is why you need to go to the bathroom after eating lots of salty foods). This puts an extra strain on the kidneys and increases blood pressure (in other words, it causes hypertension).
When we sweat, we lose sodium (which is why sweat tastes salty). If you’re exercising for an extended period (>1 hour) or if you’re out in the Texas heat for several hours, you may need some extra sodium. This is the reason Gatorade is a great option for two-a-day football practices or a long run outside. A general rule of thumb is to consume 230-2,200 mg of sodium per liter of sweat lost (Spano, 2017). But who measures their sweat? A better rule is to re-hydrate with a Gatorade or Powerade, but only if you’re exercising for longer than an hour or are in the sun (sweating excessively).
Keeping an eye out for excess sodium is always a great idea. Next time you go to the grocery store and reach for a frozen lasagna or even a pre-made bottle of salad dressing, take a quick glance at the nutrition label. You might be surprised! The best way to avoid excess sodium (and any other additives) is to cook for yourself!
Written by Anna Marie Oglesbee. B.S. in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Texas at Austin, ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor, Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT).
Marie Spano, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., C.S.S.D. (n.d.). Could High-sodium Sports Drinks Be Doing More Harm than Good? Retrieved August 21, 2017, from https://goo.gl/Cbntsn