You visit a Chinese buffet restaurant and enjoy a heaping plate of food. The next morning, no surprise, you’ve put on a couple of pounds. You blame the salt. But does sodium cause weight gain? The answer may surprise you.
The short answer is no. True, if you eat a high sodium meal you’ll retain temporary fluid weight. In fact, it’s been estimated that some people can carry up five pounds of extra weight as the body holds onto water. But although the scale will reflect a higher body weight, it has nothing to do with how much fat you are gaining. So in the end, sodium does not contribute to or cause weight gain. However, there are certainly reasons to limit your sodium intake.
Keep in mind, sodium is essential in your diet. If a person were to eliminate all sodium from their diet, the consequences could be harmful and even fatal. How much sodium do you need? The minimum recommended amount is about 500 milligrams.
How much sodium is too much? The maximum recommended amount is 2400 milligrams a day. The problem is the average sodium intake of most Americans is closer to 4000 milligrams a day. As most people are aware, over time consuming large amounts of sodium can contribute to elevated blood pressure.
So where does most of our dietary sodium come from? Usually the problem is not salting your food too much. Some of the worse culprits in our diets are canned and frozen foods, along with lunchmeat like bologna or hot dogs. Start looking at food labels and you will quickly learn how much sodium is contained in food. Single servings can provide 500 to 1000 milligrams of sodium or more. Or if you want to be truly frightened, look up the sodium content of meals at fast food restaurants! One meal can easily put you up to the recommended 2400 milligrams before you include anything else you eat that day.
Some foods have a reputation of having a lot of sodium, but aren’t as bad as you think. A diet soda, for example, only averages about 25-50 milligrams, so quit worrying about the drink if you’re having it with a corn dog, which has more than 900 milligrams of sodium. Or forget about the 240 milligrams of sodium in your high fiber breakfast cereal, which is healthy for you, if you’re having an 800 milligram can of soup for lunch. You get my drift.
So how can you reduce your sodium intake? Here are a few ideas:
- Eat fresh, unprocessed foods.
- Use sodium-rich condiments and salad dressings sparingly.
- Stay away from fast food restaurants.
- Get in the habit of reading food labels for sodium content.
- Drink a lot of water to flush sodium out of your body.
- Beware of “healthy” or “low fat” foods which may actually be high in sodium.
By cutting out the sodium, you can expect to lose 1 or 2 pounds, but remember once you reintroduce sodium to your diet, some or all of the water weight will return. So although reducing your sodium intake is a good idea, reducing calories and exercising is still the best strategy for long term weight loss.