Salty Ponderings

by Joanne on February 8, 2013

My post regarding Lean Cuisine caused quite a discussion regarding sodium in the diet. What a great opportunity to expand on some findings throughout the years as my husband and I began researching nutritional requirements for endurance training. I learned how vital sodium can be for a healthy body and we do need a small amount whether you are active or sedentary.

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When the American Dietetic Association (ADA) regards modifications in the sodium levels of foods bearing the term "healthy", those claims should be made on the basis of the food industries ability to produce safe and acceptable products. In the current definition of a healthy food, it should be low in fat and saturated fat and contain limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium, in addition to the minimal level (10%) of vitamins A or C, iron, calcium, protein, or fiber.

What is the best "limited" amount of sodium for YOU?  There are some people who are more sensitive to sodium so the recommended guidelines of 2300 mg per day (equal to about 1 teaspoon) or 1500 mg per day if you are 51 or older may not apply. Sensitivities occur in people with particular demographic factors, racial and social factors, as well as those who suffer from some abnormalities in adrenal glands, thyroid, and hormonal factors. *For more on salt sensitivity, MEDSCAPE

Typically, when you check a package label, you want to look for the following based on a 100g/ml serving size:

A lot of salt = 1.25 g or .5g sodium

From 1.24g to .26g is moderate.

A little salt = .25g or .1g sodium

As I said above, we do need some salt in our diet and salt occurs naturally in whole foods. However, what is added to pre-packaged and processed items account for 75% of the sodium in our diets. The amount is only 5% – 6% from the salt shaker. That’s why healthy food advocates promote eating fruits, vegetables and other whole foods, anything without an ingredient list.



Why is it so tough for companies to reduce the salt in their product? Because consumers expect particular taste, texture, and quality. If it falls short of those expectations, we won’t buy it. Right now there exists some question whether a consumer would in fact forgo healthy options in favor of the foods with higher fat levels, saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium. There is a large majority of people who know what it takes to eat healthy but the question is, do they? Think about it. Most of our social gatherings revolve around food. The people organizing and the food providers would get pretty bad feedback if the food was not to the liking of the majority.

Breaking it Down

-Three quarters PLUS of our salt intake comes from processed or prepackaged food items, 12% – 15 % from natural sources and approximately 10% – 11% is added during cooking (5% in preparation and 5-6% during eating). 1% is in our tap water.

-Breakfast cereals, bread, cakes add to about 1/3 of the salt in our diet.

-Meat and meat products are responsible for about 1/4 of the salt.

-Table salt, or sodium chloride, is only part of it. There are many other forms of sodium in our diets which add to flavor, texture, or preservation. For more information see SOURCE

Covering all bases and Those Who Shouldn’t Shun Salt


Salt has a function in our bodies. It helps balance fluids (sodium and chloride ions in salt are major electrolytes which dissolve extracellular fluid), helps with nerve impulse conduction, muscular contraction and relaxation.

"Salt speeds the rate at which fluid and carbohydrate empty the stomach and absorb out of the intestinal tract – good news for working muscles and your brain, which needs a steady supply of glucose to keep functioning. " From "Endurance Sports Nutrition" by Suzanne Girard Eberle MS, RD.

Sodium Balance for Athletes


When talking to someone about salt intake don’t make assumptions which typically include a GASP, an "OMG!", or a "You’re ADDING WHAT?!" Get some background. You might be talking to the next winner of the Kona Ironman.

From "Core Performance Endurance" by Mark Verstogen, you should think of hydration in either "everyday" or "performance". Since we just reviewed some of the "everyday" requirements, lets focus on performance.

There IS such a thing as Sodium Deficiency. This is when sodium levels become low due to dehydration or excessive sweating which may occur during hot temperatures and can affect endurance athletes such as marathon runners, ultra marathon runners, triathletes AS WELL AS people with certain forms of adrenal disorders.

Hyponatremia is characterized by too little sodium in the blood. We can bring this on our selves by drinking too much water without electrolytes, diluting the blood of proper sodium levels, or diuretic drugs. Symptoms: confusion, nausea, seizures, lethargy and it can cause death.

Some athletes restrict sodium levels in fear of hypertension but most require liberal salt intake to balance blood volume. Remember we talked about the 2300 mg per day limit or 1 teaspoon? Many athletes will lose between 1000 to 1500 mg of sodium per hour or 1/2 teaspoon per hour. That can be A HUGE AMOUNT! Sweat rates (take the test below) fluid loss, and being a salty sweater vary among athletes so it’s important to be aware of your own body’s requirements.

Take a salt test

Example:  125 lb runner (weight before going on a run) is training for a marathon and goes on a 2 hour run. She drinks 20 oz of water during this run and afterwards jumps on the scale to find she now weighs 123 lbs.

The math: 125 lb(before run)- 123 lbs (post run) = 2 lbs fluid lost (32 oz) PLUS 20 oz consumed during the run. 52 oz divided by 2 hours of running equals 26 oz per hour. The result is that THIS runner has a sweat rate of 26 oz per hour. That is how much she should drink per hour. But don’t stop there.

Is the runner a "salty sweater"? A salty sweater needs more electrolytes during exercise than average. The salty sweater will suffer frequent cramping, sweat stinging the eyes, sweat that tastes salty, caked on sweat to clothing, gritty skin, white salt streaks on face.

Remember this acronym: SALT = Sodium Advances the Level of Training.

Sports drinks are seen all the time at events nowadays. They are great for electrolyte replacement but they shouldn’t be consumed throughout the day while engaging in sedentary activity such as watching T.V. They are loaded with high glycemic carbs which will elevate the blood sugar quickly and have the same effect as any other sugary snack: fat/weight gain. However, they ARE critical for prolonged, intense training. *If you have high blood pressure, you must check with your physician even if you’re an endurance athlete before ingesting high sodium foods/drinks during prolonged competition.

In summation: If you don’t engage in high intensity activity, the general guidelines for sodium intake most likely apply to you.


If you are salt sensitive in any way (see earlier in this post), you should abide by the lower levels of salt intake. If you are an endurance athlete or salty sweater, you need to take the "salt test" to determine your proper fluid balance for healthy and prolonged training. In all instances, you should visit your doctor to discuss your plans before making drastic changes in your diet.

Now it’s your turn. What have you learned about salt? Do you use it when you cook, bake?

Do you try to reduce it in your diet? What are the ways you make food still taste good with less salt?

Have you ever done a salt test before engaging in strenuous exercise?

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1 Comment

  • At 2013.02.09 19:46, Mary @ Fit and Fed said:

    Canned soups and canned beans– those are probably the biggest sources of added salt in our diet. The organic beans tend to have a lot less salt, that helps. And just cooking from scratch as much as possible. I exercise plenty but I have no special need for extra salt because my sport is figure skating. I like working out in a cold environment where you don’t sweat!

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