You can certainly expect a sodium overload when you head out for a pizza night or order that extra-large bucket of popcorn at the movies. But salt has a way of sneaking into your diet from sources you might not expect. In fact, some sodium-rich foods, such as bread or cereal, don’t seem salty at all.
Salt isn’t always the villain it’s sometimes made out to be. Sodium is necessary for nerve health and healthy blood pressure, and it helps the body absorb certain nutrients. You need a small amount of salt daily to remain healthy.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a maximum intake of 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, and notes that 1,500 milligrams per day would be ideal for most adults. However, the AHA says on average, Americans consume over 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, with 70 percent of it coming from packaged foods. If you go overboard on the sodium, here are some symptoms you can expect.
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Ever notice that your fingers swell up occasionally? These episodes could have something to do with something you ate. Eating sodium-rich foods releases excess sodium to your bloodstream. Your body likes to keep a balance of sodium and fluid in your bloodstream, but when there’s too much salt in your blood, the resulting fluid imbalance draws water out of your cells and into your bloodstream. This can cause swelling and fluid retention, which is most apparent in your fingers and other extremities. But don’t worry — your body is capable of balancing back out, and the swelling will go down over time.
In addition to your swollen fingers, your stomach may balloon out when you overdo it on salt. A study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology showed that bloating, which is characterized by a buildup of gas and discomfort in the stomach, was more common in those who ate a high-sodium diet. A low-sodium diet, on the other hand, resulted in fewer complaints of bloat. If you do find yourself bloated and in need of relief, it may help to drink more water and eat foods that could help reduce bloat.
You’ve probably experienced this symptom. You may have found yourself chugging water after eating a bunch of fries or parched at the movie theater with your bucket of salty popcorn. You get thirsty after eating salt because sodium helps to balance fluid inside the body’s cells. When you consume salty foods, water is drawn out of your cells, triggering thirst. Thirst is your body’s way of telling you it needs more water to keep the whole system balanced.
Excess salt can also negatively affect your quality of sleep. A study in Endocrine Abstracts showed that adding more salt to your diet could result in later bedtimes, an inability to sleep through the night and more frequent nightmares. Those who ate a saltier diet also reported feeling less rested after sleep. One theory as to why this happens is that excess water retention from salt can cause frequent urination that wakes people up during the night. Additionally, the fluid retention could make it uncomfortable to lie down at night, especially for those with sleep apnea. A study in the journal Trials suggests that this excess fluid may settle in the upper body and worsen conditions for those with sleep apnea.
Sodium contributes to dehydration. When you’re dehydrated, the cells in your body are not able to get enough water. This includes the cells on your skin and on your lips. Chapped lips, caused by a lack of moisture, can worsen the more dehydrated you become. Make sure to drink lots of water and avoid overly salty foods to avoid that dry, cracked feeling.
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Breakouts are tough to predict and impossible to avoid completely. But by avoiding certain diet habits, you can lower your chances of a breakout occurring. A study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology showed that people who reported more frequent bouts of acne tended to eat high-sodium diets, whereas those with low-sodium diets had less acne. Acne is often linked to inflammation, as is excess sodium consumption — this link may play a role.
Your gut health is, in large part, determined by the balance of good and bad bacteria in your stomach and intestines. According to a study in Cancer Research, eating more salt encourages the growth of bad gut bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. This particular bacteria has a tendency to attack the stomach lining and cause infection, according to research in Gastroenterology. These infections are usually harmless but can progress into a more serious condition.
Eating too much salt can play games with your taste buds. What seemed flavorful and delicious before may become bland and tasteless over time. When you eat salty foods, your taste buds adapt and need more salt to experience the same taste. Add flavor to your food without relying fully on salt by seasoning your food with fresh herbs, spices and citrus fruit.
Triggered by stomach acids bubbling up your esophagus, heartburn can cause severe discomfort for hours. There are a few foods that are known to trigger heartburn, but any food that’s loaded with salt could worsen this condition. A study published in the journal Gut showed that eating larger amounts of table salt causes heartburn to strike more often.
You know that feeling when you stand up too fast and suddenly lose your balance? That could happen more often if you’re eating way too much salt. Research in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension showed that higher sodium intake was associated with more frequent and severe bouts of lightheadedness. Only once sodium intake was reduced did participants feel steadier on their feet.
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The kidneys filter the body’s blood, removing waste and extra water to make urine. They help maintain a healthy balance of water, salts and minerals in the blood. As mentioned previously, when you consume excess sodium, water is drawn out from your cells and into your bloodstream. Your kidneys will then, in turn, need to remove more water from the blood to convert into urine, resulting in more frequent trips to the bathroom.
Eating foods high in sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which, according to the American Heart Association, can be bad news for your heart. Over time, high blood pressure can increase the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure. There are adjustments you can make to your diet to lower your blood pressure, however.
When you have high blood pressure, it puts extra strain on the walls of your arteries. As a result, the arteries leading to your heart may not be able to supply blood as efficiently. According to the Blood Pressure Association in the UK, this can cause chest pain known as angina. These sharp chest pains occur most often during physical activity, when the demand for blood from the heart is much higher.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, eating too much sodium increases your risk of developing kidney stones. Kidney stones are formed when chemicals in urine (such as calcium) become concentrated and form crystals. Those crystals grow larger, and as they pass through the urinary tract, they can get stuck and eventually block things up. Ouch.
Cognitive function can be negatively impacted by too much salt. A study published in Nature reported that dietary sodium intake has been linked to an increased risk of dementia and cerebrovascular diseases. Keep your brain healthy by limiting foods that are sodium-heavy and opting for more foods that are good for your brain health.
Over time, excessive salt consumption tears away at the stomach’s mucous lining. This is called metaplasia, and means there’s been an abnormal change in otherwise healthy tissue. A study in the journal Gut showed that salty diets were strongly linked with an increased risk of both stomach and duodenal ulcers.
According to the national nonprofit American Bone Health, excess sodium intake could put you at risk for weaker bones and, as a result, osteoporosis. Your kidneys are responsible for getting rid of the chloride in salt (sodium chloride). According to a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, sodium chloride elevates urinary calcium excretion in your urine. Calcium may be taken from your bones in order to keep up. Osteoporosis is more of a threat to Americans’ health than many realize — especially for women. Knowing to eat more calcium to protect your skeletal system is one of the many things women over 50 need to know about their health.
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