Also known as sodium chloride, salt is commonly added to foods as a preservative and flavor enhancer. In addition to its taste benefits, your body needs the sodium found in salt to control your blood pressure and keep your muscles and nerves functioning at their best. While moderate amounts of sodium are beneficial to maintaining your health, excess sodium intake can have harmful short-term and long-term effects. The average healthy adult should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, according to MayoClinic.com. Talk to your doctor if you are uncertain how much sodium you should take in via your daily diet.
Sodium attracts water, which is beneficial in maintaining blood pressure and blood volume. However, excess amounts of sodium can cause your body to retain excess amounts of water -- also known as bloating. When you ingest too much sodium, you can experience bloating almost immediately. Mild bloating can lead to discomfort and a feeling of fullness. The extra fluid also can place a greater challenge on your heart because it must work harder to move the extra fluid through your body.
Contributes to Medical Conditions
Excess sodium intake in your diet can contribute to a number of harmful health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Increased sodium intake can contribute to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. It also may increase your risk of osteoporosis, according to Colorado State University Extension. When you consume excess sodium, your kidneys release the excess amount via your urine. Additional minerals and electrolytes, including calcium, also are released in your urine. Over time, this can lower your calcium levels and weaken your bones.
Medical Conditions Affected
Taking in too much salt can be dangerous to your health if you have certain medical conditions that affect your body’s ability to release fluids. Examples include congestive heart failure, cirrhosis or kidney disease, according to “The New York Times” Health Guide. If you have these conditions, your physician will likely recommend you closely monitor your sodium intake to prevent excess fluid buildup. Those with high blood pressure should typically take in no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium. This is about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt. However, your physician may recommend consuming less sodium depending upon your individual health condition or conditions.
The average American consumes between 3,100 and 4,700 milligrams of sodium per day, which is significantly higher than the recommended 2,300 milligrams of sodium for healthy individuals, according to Colorado State University Extension. To reduce your sodium intake, make healthy substitutions or choose foods that limit added sodium. For example, add herbs or spices to foods instead of salting them. By choosing foods labeled as “low-sodium” or “no sodium added," you can reduce sodium intake. Always taste your food before salting it to ensure you need additional salt. If you do choose to add salt, add it gradually instead of adding several shakes of salt at once. You also should avoid processed and prepared foods, which tend to contain large amounts of added sodium. Examples include pasta, pizza, cold cuts, bacon, fast foods and soups.
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.