Feeling guilty about those saltines? Excess sodium can be harmful to your health and your waistline, but it's not very hard to expel extra stores through hydration and exercise. Don't go overboard, though -- low sodium levels lead to a condition called hyponatremia, which can be fatal. The ideal amount of sodium for most adults is 1,500 milligrams per day, and more than 2,300 milligrams a day is too much.
The easiest way to get rid of excess sodium stores is to down a couple of glasses of water -- your body will simply flush the mineral away with urine. If you're worried about water weight from extra salt -- an extra gram of table salt can make you gain 2 pounds temporarily -- drinking water will restore fluid levels to normal, banishing the bloat. But use caution; drinking too much water can cause hyponatremia, so stop if your urine is clear.
You may have known that athletes lose electrolytes with sweat. Well, sodium is one of these electrolytes, along with potassium, magnesium, calcium and chloride. Athletes need more sodium than inactive people, which is why sports drinks contain the salty stuff. If you're not normally active, you'll risk injury by bursting into heavy exercise to get rid of salt. However, it may help to engage in an activity that's safe for your fitness level. During exercise, you expel between 1/2 and 2 liters of sweat per hour, and each liter of sweat contains 460 to 1,840 milligrams of sodium. The amounts vary according to your exertion level, the ambient temperature and your physical makeup.
Potassium is your ally when it comes to flushing sodium -- the mineral allows you to expel water through urine, and sodium tags along for the ride. Sodium and potassium work together in your body to regulate fluids, and you should ideally get equal amounts of both. Eating too many salty foods without increasing potassium in your diet leads to an imbalance that may contribute to hypertension. Potassium is contained in dairy products, apricots, raisins, fish, spinach and squash.
Sodium in Diet
Learn how to manage salt in your diet -- that way, there's no need to get rid of sodium in the first place. Fruits, vegetables, grains and unsalted nuts and legumes are all healthy choices with very little sodium. Instant oatmeal has just 2 milligrams of sodium per cup, raw mushrooms have 3 milligrams per cup, and a cup of cooked, unsalted lentils has 4 milligrams of sodium. High-sodium foods include fast-food tacos with 1,233 milligrams per large taco, potatoes au gratin with 1,061 milligrams per cup and salted pretzels with 1,029 milligrams per serving. In general, restaurant and packaged meals are highest in sodium.
High-sodium levels cause high blood pressure, or hypertension, in certain individuals. In addition, sodium can lead to dangerously high fluid levels among people with heart, kidney or liver disease. Most Americans get too much sodium in their diet, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, may contribute to heart disease and stroke -- the leading killers of women and men in the United States.
- MayoClinic.com: Hyponatremia
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Americans Consume Too Much Sodium (Salt)
- American Council on Exercise: Electrolytes: Understanding Replacement Options
- The Wellness Corner: Salt, Sodium, and High Blood Pressure
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Agricultural Library: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 16
- MedlinePlus: Sodium in Diet
- American College of Sports Medicine: Roundtable on Hydration and Physical Activity -- Consensus Statements
- Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center: Chow Line -- Be Sure to Get Enough Potassium
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.