No matter who you chat to, there's no arguing with the fact that what we eat is interminably intertwined with our health. Just take a look at any newsstand or online media site and you’ll see headline after headline about healthy lifestyles and food choices and how those factors affect your personal well-being. We’re constantly bombarded with weight loss products, new diet fads, and social media trends such as the ‘thigh gap challenge,’ the ‘collarbone challenge,’ 'the belly button challenge' and more. Everywhere we look, it seems that what we eat and how we look is front-and-centre.
The Impact of Salt
Not so front-and-centre, however, is the subtle connection between your diet and certain foods that can sabotage your efforts to be healthier. While we’ve long heard about how too much fat or too much sugar is bad for us, limited attention has been given to salt and how it may impact our weight, with the exception of how bad it is for individuals dealing with cardiovascular problems.
Salt (aka sodium chloride) is largely cited as a factor when it comes to heart health and heart disease but less so when it comes to acting as an impediment to weight loss or stomach fat burning.
Sure, people who are dealing with cardiovascular disease are often told to eat a diet that is low in sodium, but those fortunate enough to be void of cardiovascular complaints typically don’t hear anything about reducing sodium intake as part of their daily diet.
Too Much Sodium
Your body needs sodium to maintain the balance of fluid in your body, to transmit neural impulses and to influence muscle contraction. But too much sodium can be detrimental to your health. In this scenario your body retains excess fluid. The greater the amount of water in your body, the harder your heart has to work to pump blood, which increases your blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure can cause damage to your heart, your arteries, your kidneys, and even your brain, and puts you at an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, heart or kidney disease, and more.
While water retention and elevated blood pressure are some of the more commonly known side effects of consuming high amounts of sodium, salt is doing things that will thwart your weight loss plans as well.
There are three specific areas where salt can impact your weight loss..
- Salty foods tend to enhance your thirst. Unfortunately, to quench a nagging thirst many individuals reach for a sugar sweetened beverage packed with additional calories.
- Salt is often used to enhance the taste of your meal. Often this cooking method encourages overeating.
- And finally, some recent research has suggested a high sodium diet may impact the activity of fat cells... making them increase in size.
Salt and Processed Foods
Salt is one of the three “pillars of processed food”— along with sugar and fat. The typical American diet is loaded with processed foods, being more the norm than the exception. Consuming large amounts of processed foods can make your body crave even more of them, which can lead to overeating. This, in turn, can lead to weight gain.
If you’re concerned with stomach fat burning, avoid processed and pre-packaged foods, which are usually high in salt.
While it’s not the actual salt itself that makes you gain or hold on to weight, it’s often that salt is partnered with sugar and/or fat (or both) in a processed mix that’s typically just not healthy for you. Add to that the fact that salty foods cause an increase in water weight, leaving you feeling bloated, and its no surprise you are watching the numbers increase on your bathroom scale.
While salt does play a vital role in your body and its natural functions, too much salt doesn’t do your digestive system any favours either. Not only does it ‘dry you up’ from the inside, it also slows down the digestive process. That’s because copious amounts of water are necessary in order to move waste products through the body. Too much sodium and that process slows down or can even grind to a halt completely — and dealing with those consequences isn’t any fun at all. Constipation, bloating, and indigestion definitely aren’t anyone’s cup of tea.
How Much Sodium Should You Consume?
The Food and Drug Administration’s recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sodium is 2,300 milligrams (about the amount in a teaspoon of salt) for healthy adults and less for those with cardiovascular issues. Despite this recommendation, it is believed that Americans regularly consume amounts far greater than the RDA.
Reducing salt in your diet isn’t as difficult as you might think. It’s estimated that approximately 70 percent of the sodium in our daily diet comes from processed foods. By eating more fresh and whole foods, you can automatically and easily slash your daily sodium intake to the recommended level and lower. By doing so, medical experts believe that we would have 11 million fewer cases of high blood pressure diagnosed annually.
Of course, many natural foods have a small amount of sodium in them. It’s estimated that we get about ten percent of our daily salt intake in this form. Salt added in cooking or at the table amounts to another five to ten percent of our consumption while the rest comes from processed foods and the foods we eat in restaurants. With this in mind, cutting these out of your diet can go a long way toward improving the state of your health, along with reducing scale weight!
So the next time you’re reaching for the salt shaker, stop and ask yourself if you really need that extra sodium. Consider using pepper instead, or try spices and herbs for a bit of extra flavour. You can also use a salt-free blend like those available in grocery stores and supermarkets. Eat more potassium-rich foods, like leafy green or vine-grown vegetables, which can help negate some of sodium’s effects on the body.
Read Your Food Labels
Another way to keep an eye on your sodium intake is to buy unsalted snacks and pay close attention to the sodium content listed on nutrition labels; those that show five percent or less sodium values are considered ‘low’ in sodium. In that same respect, anything above 20% is considered ‘high’ in sodium. Taking care to reduce your daily sodium intake by implementing all or some of these steps can not only have a positive effect on your health, but also on your stomach fat burning efforts.
How much salt do you consume on a daily basis?