We humans may have acquired a taste for “salty” in the first place so we would seek out foods that contain sodium. Researchers from the University of California, Davis, believe that the brain regulates sodium appetite so that people consume a set optimal daily level of it. They’ve published research from more than 30 countries showing that sodium intake is about the same throughout, despite wide differences in diet and culture. Research shows that even though most Americans are eating more food today — and more processed food, at that — they still consume about the same amount of sodium as they have in previous decades.
BODY WORKS | Levels of sodium and water in your body are closely related and carefully regulated because sodium draws water to it. So wherever sodium is, water follows. It works something like this:
- If your body is holding too much fluid, your kidneys pull it out of your bloodstream and excrete it as urine.
- If your body has too little fluid, your kidneys will pull less fluid out and you won’t pee as much.
- If you ingest large amounts of sodium, fluid is pulled out of the body’s tissues and into the bloodstream to dilute sodium levels. This fluid increases blood volume, which leads to a rise in blood pressure. However, if your kidneys are functioning properly, they’ll react to an increase in bloodstream fluid and bump up urine output (excreting both sodium and water) to reduce blood volume fluid levels.
- Only if your kidneys aren’t working well will you maintain that increased blood volume longer and therefore experience higher blood pressure. This can put greater demand on your heart, since the more fluid the heart has to move around your body, the harder it has to work. Chronically elevated blood pressure can eventually lead to organ damage, heart attacks, strokes, kidney problems, memory loss and erectile dysfunction. This is why the IOM and the AHA recommend that everyone drop their sodium intake to extremely low levels. Although a low-sodium diet may be essential for those who have kidney problems or a history of high blood pressure, it can actually be unhealthy for others.
4. SO WHAT'S NORMAL?
The UC Davis researchers reported that the typical daily intake of sodium is about 3,700 mg, with the lowest intakes at around 2,700 mg. And they believe it would be impossible to get people to eat less sodium, as their bodies would seek it out. In fact, this theory has been supported by another study that put adults on a restricted sodium diet of about 1,800 mg per day for three years. Despite specific instructions on how to keep sodium at this reduced level, the lowest daily intake they were able to maintain was 2,700 mg, with the average being around 3,200 mg.
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