Have you recently asked someone to pass you the salt? If you’re like a majority of Americans, then it’s highly likely that you consume about double the standard amount of sodium you should in a day. Much of the excess sodium we consume comes from our dependence on processed foods – it is these meals that put us well above the suggested daily intake. While you probably are aware of the protein, sugar, or fat in the foods you consume, have you really thought about the amount of sodium you’ve consumed lately?

So let us talk about salt. What is it? Why do you need it? And how can you make sure that your overall sodium intake is enough to support your system without harming it or putting it at risk?

Salt or sodium chloride, irrespective of whether you grab a rocky sea salt or refined table salt, is all derived from the sea. The table salt we use is mined from salt deposits that were left behind when an older body of seawater dried up while sea salt is collected directly from the source – the sea. Both options are, first of all, processed to remove any impurities. While there aren’t very big differences between the taste of table and sea salt, there are people, especially culinary-minded persons, that can pick up on the taste difference between the two. If you are consuming salt, make an effort to use sea salts like Himalayan because it provides a variety of beneficial minerals that table salt has been striped of.

Why is iodine added to salt?

Since 1924, salt has had iodine supplemented into it. And for a good reason too. Iodine is an essential micronutrient that aids thyroid function. Sadly, our bodies cannot produce it on their own. Since salt is a major source of iodine, it is one of our main sources of the nutrient. While iodine is found in the soil vegetables are grown, it is usually not rich enough and isn’t always absorbed by plants. This is why most of the salt used in North America has iodine supplemented into it to ensure that we get enough of the nutrient in our diets.

Our bodies need very small quantities of salt.

Most people do not know this, but your body only needs a very small amount of salt for it to function properly. Sodium helps the body balance fluids, influences the relaxation and contraction of muscles, improves transmission of nerve impulses, and is beneficial to people with low BP (blood pressure). Salt is excreted from our bodies in the form of sweat; as such, people who engage in high-intensity activities or live very active lives tend to require it more than those who do not.

When is salt too much to be beneficial?

Your kidney’s main responsibility is to ensure that your body maintains the right amount of sodium since excess sodium will only build up in your blood. Since sodium attracts and retains water; as such, when in excess, blood volume increases, forcing heart muscles to work harder. That is why a high intake of sodium is generally associated with increased risks of high blood pressure, cancer, stroke, and cardiovascular diseases. Excessive amounts of sodium in the body are also known to worsen asthma symptoms and also have an effect on bone metabolism and calcium.

Here’s how to ensure that you get the right amount of sodium

People who follow a diet consisting of whole foods that are prepared at home are generally within the standard limit of the recommended sodium intake. Where most of us get off track is when we start relying on processed foods. While these foods are convenient and can provide us the nourishment we need fast, they are often heavily salted for flavoring and preservation purposes. The truth is, it’s hard to know the amount of salt your favorite packed food contains, but the good thing is that it’s quite easy to control the amount of sodium you consume – but only if you start making small changes in the way you eat.

Consider minimizing consumption of processed or convenience foods and start making snacks and meals right from scratch. Setting aside some time to prepare foods in advance and making a meal plan will make it easier for you to reduce the amount of salt you consume.

Also, start paying closer attention to food labels. Consider looking at foods that you even don’t think contain salt (you will be surprised) and as a general rule, avoid any foods that contain high sodium content.

Another great way to lower sodium intake is replacing table salt with other food seasonings. Try chili powder, oregano, or cumin to flavor your sauces and soups.

Want some broth? Consider making your own using leftover meat bones or veggies. This way, you can add other flavoring options instead of sodium, making it easier for you to control sodium levels. Broths bought at stores contain high levels of sodium, so even homemade soups made from this option will usually have high amounts of salt in them.

When looking to lower your intake of table salts, it is advisable that you do it gradually. After some time, your taste buds will adjust to the change and foods you used to enjoy will taste too salty.

Consider avoiding snack foods like crisps and chips. Apart from providing empty calories, such foods are usually high in salt. If you indulge in these, the consider trying low-sodium organic options and limit consumption to listed serving size.

When you can, go for fresh vegetables. Check the labels on all frozen to ensure that they were freshly packed and that no seasoning was added.

Always go for fresh meats. At the same, you can always make spice rubs on your own using salt alternatives. It is also advisable that you avoid sauces like BBQ sauce and ketchup since most of them tend to be high in sugar and sodium.

Consider investing in a couple of cookbooks or taking a cooking class. Having knowledge on how to combine different fresh flavors in the comfort of your home can help you avoid using packaged sauces to your meals.

Changing your diet over time is a good way to regulate the amount of sodium you take. Doing this will also reduce your risk of contracting life-threating diseases and conditions like high blood pressure – a change worth its bulk when it comes salt-alternatives.