Getting enough sodium isn't a problem for most people. Just about everything contains some sodium. It shows up in unexpected places; for example, a large dill pickle has more than half your recommended daily limit of sodium, and a 3-ounce serving of smoked salmon has nearly one-third. If you don't pay attention to the amount of sodium you're consuming, you'll easily get too much of it. How much sodium you need, however, depends on your age and other factors.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the average person take in no more than 2.3 grams of sodium per day. To put this into perspective, this is about a teaspoon of salt. It may seem easy to eat less than a teaspoon of salt per day, but many foods contain an astounding amount of sodium that will easily put you over that mark. In fact, the average American over age 2 takes in 3.4 grams of sodium a day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Recommendations May Be Too High
African-Americans, middle-aged adults, the elderly and people who already have high blood pressure are particularly prone to developing heart problems from eating too much salty food. Because people in these groups now make up the majority of the United States population, the American Heart Association considers the 2.3-gram limit too high for the general population. In 2009, it asked the Institute of Medicine to lower the recommended intake to 1.5 grams per day.
Some People Need More Salt
Although it's rare, some people suffer from low blood sodium, or hyponatremia, a dangerous condition that causes water to fill your cells. Causes of hyponatremia include severe burns, heart failure, diarrhea or vomiting, kidney malfunction and liver disease, according to Medline Plus. Endurance athletes and people who participate in strenuous outdoor activities in hot climates may also lose blood sodium due to excessive sweating and develop this electrolyte condition. People with hyponatremia require a doctor's attention and may actually need to increase their sodium above the recommended levels to correct it.
Reducing Your Intake
If you, like most people, get too much sodium, reducing your salt intake just takes a little planning and discipline. Buy fresh fruit, vegetables and meat, rather than canned or packaged products that contain sodium-based preservatives. Replace salt with other herbs and spices to flavor your food. Opt for low-salt versions of the foods you eat. Take the salt shaker off the table and simply get used to a less-salty diet. Doing so can help keep your blood pressure down and your heart health intact.
Maia Appleby is a NASM-certified personal trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the fitness industry. Her articles have been published in a wide variety of print magazines and online publications, including the Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health, New Moon Network and Bodybuilding.com.