This is yet another post in my recent series of posts how my cholinergic urticaria went from being very severe to tremendously better (basically gone now). If you have not yet read my previous posts, then I strongly urge you to read them first so you can know exactly how this has progressed:
- My brief history of hives
- What is visceral fat?
- and My Hypothesis of visceral fat making cholinergic urticaria worse
- How to lose visceral fat
- Use Diet to eliminate visceral fat
- High Calorie Foods to Watch
- My Joyce Chen Steamer Review (My secret cookware weapon to reduce calories)
- Low Calorie Snack Ideas–some snacks to help you curb your cravings without adding too many calories.
Note: please keep in mind that you should always talk to a doctor before changing your diet or exercise habits. These posts are only relating general information and experiences only.
Sodium: A Hidden Killer and An Abused Chemical
In my story of diet so far, I have talked about the importance of monitoring your calorie intake. When I first realized my daily calorie “maintenance” needs (the level at which I won’t gain nor lose weight), then I checked my own calorie intake. What I found was that I was definitely eating too many calories, which had caused me to store fat in my visceral region.
If you are eating any calories above your “maintenance level,” then you are going to gain weight. The question is how much and how long it takes (which will depend on the amount of calories you are consuming in excess of your maintenance levels, and also your own genetics of where this fat will start to be distributed).
By changing my diet to eat lower calorie foods, and cutting out excessive calories, I started getting my diet on the right track so that I could lose weight and get healthy. But in all of this research of diet, I stumbled upon a huge mistake I had been making…I was poisoning my body with too much sodium.
The Problem With Excess Sodium
Sodium is actually a metal (although it is commonly found in its compound state “sodium chloride”, better known as table salt). Your body actually needs sodium to regulate your cell’s fluid level, blood pressure, nervous system, etc.
The problem though is that your body doesn’t need a whole lot of it. You get almost all you need if you just ate nothing but pure veggies. In fact, here is some basic information from about.com regarding sodium intake and requirements:
There is no RDA (recommended daily amount) for sodium because the human diet has never lacked it. An adequate amount of sodium for adults is between 250 and 500 mg/day. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for healthy adults is 2300 mg/day. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends an upper limit of 1500 mg/day for people over 50 and 1200 mg/day for those over 70. The average American adult consumes 4000 mg/day. (emphasis mine)
Problems Associated with Excess Sodium in the Diet
- Heart disease & High blood pressure
- Fluid retention (water weight)
- Dry Mouth/Thirst
- Increased risk of stomach/colon cancer
You can also get to a point where your body can be in a state called “hypernatremia.” This is where your blood sodium levels are too high, which can be caused by dehydration combined with salt intake. If you get to a state called hypernatremia, then you may begin to experience symptoms like:
- Reduced Kidney function, etc.
- Weakened bones
What I find interesting is that people often comment on the forum how “drinking more water has helped.” It makes sense that if we are all eating way too much sodium, adding more water can help stabilize this somewhat. So I find it interesting that water seems to help, and what we know is that your water intake definitely interacts with your sodium levels to help balance electrolytes and so forth.
Word of Caution:
Again, let me stress that your body does need sodium (of around 500-1500 mg per day), but according to most sources (like the American Heart Association), you really don’t need any more than this. This is especially true if you are older.
So don’t eliminate all of your sodium, and then drink loads of water. If you do, you could end up with a sodium deficiency, and that can cause all sorts of problems too. So you want to be careful and balance your sodium vs water intake carefully.
Sodium Intake From Foods: The Big Shocker
As I began reading all of this information on Sodium, I started to ponder my own diet. I went into my kitchen and began reading the labels. I was STUNNED. First of all, consider this: Remember that most diet guidelines say that healthy adults only really require 500 mg or so of sodium per day. But, they have an “upper limit,” and recommend that you eat no more than about 2,200-2400 mg per day.
The American Heart Association is really trying hard to get that number closer to 1,500 per day for adults. So let’s stick with the number 1,500 mg for healthy adults. Okay, are you ready for this…take a seat…
1 itty bitty teaspoon of table salt (that is a really small amount) has 2,300 mg of sodium in it. That’s right. If you put a pinch or two of salt on your food, congratulations, you are probably already over the 1,500 mg recommended by the American Heart Association.
It doesn’t stop there.
As I looked at nearly every meal I was making, I was shocked to learn the sodium content in each item. Here is a sample of things:
- 1 can of Swanson’s Chicken broth–1,720 mg of sodium
- 1 can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup–2,175 mg of sodium
- Canned Salmon (Prelate Brand)–1,890 mg of sodium
- Mcdonald’s hamburger–about 500 mg of sodium
- 1/4 cup of baking flour–350 mg of sodium
And on and on it goes. You an also expect to rack up sodium from soft drinks, canned veggies, beef jerkey and processed meats, packaged foods, snacks, candy bars, breakfast cereals, etc. etc. Don’t forget that even raw veggies and meat will have some sodium in it. And don’t even get started on fast food restaurants—you don’t want to know how much sodium you have been consuming from even the most simple items…
Audit Your Diet Today
I have now written several posts on calorie intake, sodium intake, etc. If you haven’t done so already, please consider creating a simple spreadsheet to help you keep track of your calories, sodium, and other content. It takes only a few seconds after each meal to record these numbers.
If you do nothing else, then at least do these 3 things:
- Use a free calorie calculator from the web. Enter all your details to get the number for your “maintenance level” of daily calories. This is the level at which you will maintain your current weight (roughly).
- Print out the calorie/nutrition counting spreadsheet I have available.
- Record (for at least 1 day) your calories and sodium. If you record nothing else, at least record these 2 things. Then, compare your calorie intake and your sodium with your daily recommended intake (remember about 1,500 mg of sodium for most healthy adults according to the American Heart Association, and your recommended calories for your age/weight/height/activity level).
What did you find? Are you eating too many calories? What about sodium. Again, if you eat over your calorie maintenance level, you are going to start storing fat (in most cases). Also, if you are eating above your sodium, you want to get that in check too (always check with a doctor first before changing anything).
Example of Excess Sodium Over Time
When I checked my sodium levels, I found I was eating far over my recommended daily amount. Sometimes I estimate I was eating between 4,000 mg- 6,500 mg per day! Just consider for a moment the effects this has on your body over time.
Let’s assume a 1,500 mg recommended daily sodium intake. Then, let’s choose about 3,500 mg of sodium that the average person is probably eating (this is a very conservative amount). That is about 2,000 mg of sodium in excess of what is recommended by the American Heart Association.
Now look at how this number builds over time. In 1 year, 2,000 X 365= 730,000 mg of sodium over your recommended upper amount.
In 2 years it is 1,460,000 mg of sodium. In 10 years it is 7,300,000 mg of sodium over your recommended daily amount I have probably been consuming (at least). Whoa! Almost 10 million mg of sodium in a decade. Wow.
Reducing Sodium From Your Diet
Let’s be honest, sodium (salt) tastes pretty good, right? Plus its dirt cheap to buy and use. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy some salty fries or potato chips, etc. That’s why restaurants, food companies, and others load down foods in the stuff. The only problem is that you get bombed with sodium during nearly every meal if you aren’t careful. In just 1 meal you are probably eating over your recommended sodium intake for the day. Then you keep adding onto it for each snack, meal, and beverage you consume.
So how can we reduce sodium, while still making foods taste good? In my next post, I will reveal a few tips I have found to reduce the sodium from your diet, without sacrificing taste. I think that in addition to losing visceral fat, cleaning up my diet is also helping (especially with my overall health). Stay tuned…
NEXT UP: Low Sodium Diet tips