Why so salty? A look at sodium consumption

Sodium, a main ingredient in what’s commonly known as table salt or just plain salt, is a seasoning present in high quantities in many foods. But just how high is that sodium content in the foods you love?

In the past two editions of the Sheaf, I have looked at sugar consumption in my own diet, as well as providing tips for those looking to decrease their own sugar consumption. From this point, I decided it was also important to look into just how much sodium I was consuming, as it is another common ingredient that can be detrimental in large quantities.

According to Health Canada, the recommended daily sodium intake for individuals aged 14 to 50 years old is 1500 milligrams per day. While they state that keepingtrackingsalt your sodium below this amount is the best way to maintain a healthy diet, most of the harmful effects occur once you surpass their prescribed upper limit of 2300 milligrams per day.

Similar to when I tracked my sugar intake, I purposely kept this information out of my mind when I tracked how much sodium I was eating — the goal being to record the most accurate results possible. 

To start my day, I had a complete and balanced breakfast that consisted of one can of Red Bull and the general sense that I should really start getting more sleep. This was the smallest can of Red Bull available, so it contained 105 milligrams of sodium.

My first real meal of the day included curried rice and chicken with 610 milligrams of sodium, tortilla chips with 172 milligrams and hummus, which brought in 230 milligrams of sodium. Interestingly, the hummus was a fair bit higher in sodium than the chips. This added up to 1,012 milligrams of sodium for my lunch, bringing my running total to 1,117 milligrams.

Following lunch, I drank yet another Red Bull in order to satisfy my caffeine dependency and so that I could start studying for some of my looming midterms. This added another 105 milligram dose of sodium to my diet.

Supper is where my downfall came in terms of sodium consumption. I ate three chicken drumsticks that contained 291 milligrams of sodium in total and dipped them in three tablespoons of ranch dressing, which contained 405 milligrams worth of sodium. Additionally, I ate three slices of roast beef containing 355 milligrams of sodium and then finished the meal with two cookies, each with 53 milligrams of sodium.

My daily total ended up amounting to 2,379 milligrams worth of sodium – 879 milligrams over the recommended lower limit and 79 milligrams over the upper limit set by Health Canada. Reflecting upon my meals, I realized that if I had simply removed the dipping sauces I used, along with the Red Bulls, I would have lowered my sodium intake by 845 milligrams and would have pretty much made the recommended intake for sodium.

While I felt that my diet was not too far off from the average student’s, my sodium consumption was significantly lower than what Health Canada deems to be the average intake for Canadians in general. The average Canadian consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, which is well over what I consumed. It’s the small victories, I guess.

Looking at the list of risks associated with a high sodium intake, it certainly seems that it is something everyone should be considering when making meal choices.

According to Health Canada, a high sodium intake causes a significant increase in the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. In addition to this already fairly scary implication, a high sodium intake is also associated with high blood pressure, other vascular and cardiac damage independent of high blood pressure, detrimental effects on calcium and bone metabolism, an increased risk of stomach cancer and can even influence the severity of asthma for those with the condition. Overall these risks are certainly grounds for scrutinizing your own diet to see just how much sodium you take in.

Image: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor