But even though I’m packing in all the good stuff into my diet—like fruits and veggies and lean proteins—I’m probably eating way too much salt. Most people are. Ninety per cent of us eat more sodium than we should, per the Heart Association (AHA). The recommended intake is 1,500 mg per day, but most people are consuming more than double that amount.
After a salty binge, you might feel—and look—like you went overboard on the stuff. Here’s what’s happening and how to fix it.
What are the signs you've eaten way too much salt?
One of sodium's important roles in the body is to help balance fluids—but consume too much and you set yourself up for water retention. You know that "why-are-my-pants-suddenly-tighter?" feeling.
“One of the biggest short-term consequences of eating a lot of sodium is bloating and puffiness,” says registered dietician Amy Gorin, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition. She points out that your weight may even jump up a few kgs the night after a sushi meal spent dunking your rolls in (super-salty) soy sauce.
What are some hints that your diet regularly features too much sodium?
It’s all about the longer-term consequences here. “Excess sodium intake can put you at risk for a plethora of health problems,” says Gorin. Frequent headaches or kidney stones are just a few examples. Over time, though, high blood pressure can be the most pronounced symptom—and it’s one that you should pay attention to, even if you consider yourself healthy. “High blood pressure is the leading cause of death for women in the United States,” warns Gorin.
What can you do if you've eaten too much salt?
To bring your bod back in balance, hydrate with water. And eat foods that are good sources of potassium, a strategy that will help in the long-run when it comes to maintaining healthy blood pressure levels, says the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Potassium acts as an opposing force to sodium and lowers your blood pressure.
That doesn’t mean plying yourself with bananas or watermelon—though both offer stellar sources of the mineral—but simply planning to eat more produce (of whatever variety you’re feeling that day). And commit to cooking your next meal at home. As Gorin points out, just 11 per cent of the sodium you eat in the day comes from the salt shaker. Now’s the time to make that healthy recipe you’ve been wanting to try from your fave IG-er.
What are some smart ways to cut back on salt?
The good news here is that you’re not going to have to stress about counting every milligram of sodium—or eat bland food. The truth is that sodium is something that your body needs for proper muscle and nerve function and it’s also a seasoning that boosts the flavour of foods. (It’s what makes those Brussels sprouts to-die-for, after all.)
But it’s not the only way to make meals tasty. When cooking, Gorin recommends turning to other high-flavour seasonings, like garlic and onion powder, and bringing the heat with cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes if you like things spicy. Lemon juice and vinegars will add brightness to foods without salt.
When you’re at a restaurant, you’re probably going to have a meal higher in salt—even if you order well. “If you order the fish and fresh veggies at a restaurant, you can bet the chef is adding more salt than you’d add if you were cooking at home,” Gorin says. When you’re out, she recommends asking that the chef go light on the added salt and ask for sauces on the side, which you can then use to taste.
Finally, eat fresh food when you can. The CDC points out that more than 40 per cent of the sodium consumed each day comes from 10 types of food, including bread, pizza, soups, bagged snacks (like pretzels or crackers), and cheese. (Heck, a single sandwich can easily exceed 1,500 mg of sodium, they point out.) Many of these foods are of the ultra-processed variety that nutrition experts advise limiting anyway.
Convenience foods are also awesome when you come home from work and want to practically gnaw your arm off. But even organic frozen meals can pack in more than 700 mg of sodium. She advises looking for the low-sodium varieties, which are just as tasty and satisfying.
And no matter what foods you buy, read the labels to understand how much you’re getting, says Gorin. Your heart (and jeans) will thank you tomorrow.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.