Beyond the salt you know you’re adding, lots of sodium is still sneaking its way onto your plate. "The general rule of thumb is that any processed or man-made food most likely contains salt—and high levels of it," says Mandy Enright, R.D.N., a nutritionist and fitness trainer in New Jersey.
"If it comes in a tin or is pre-made and frozen, there’s salt present." And although there remains debate over the more scary potential side effects of excess salt (like its connection with blood pressure), too much of it can, at the very least, cause bloating and water retention.
According to the most recent dietary guidelines, capping your salt intake at 2,300 milligrams of sodium (one teaspoon) per day is recommended, but many people are soaring past their salt limit.
Eat Yourself Healthy: An easy-to-digest guide to health and happiness from the inside out, Dhs85
The average daily consumption is closer to 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day (about one and one third teaspoons), Enright says. Next time you’re doing the weekly food shop, look at the nutrition labels and note the sodium percentage. "Anything with five per cent or less per serving is considered a low-sodium source, while 20 per cent or more is considered a high-sodium source," she explains.
Here are four signs you might be getting too much salt:
1. YOU’RE SERIOUSLY THIRSTY
Sodium plays a starring role in helping our bodies balance fluid. “We need some salt intake each day to help maintain water balance in the body,” says Enright. “The sodium found in salt helps to keep fluid inside our cells.” When you’re thirsty, Enright says, your body is telling you that there's not enough water to support how much sodium is in your system, so it sends a signal to your brain to drink up.
2. YOU’RE BATTLING A BAD CASE OF BLOAT
Salty meals tend to bring on the dreaded bloat. "When there is too much sodium floating around the blood, water leaves the cells, causing swelling," says Enright.
Extreme levels of sodium, followed by excess levels of fluid to balance it out can lead to bloating, particularly the belly area. You may also notice swelling in your fingers or toes after a particularly salty meal (we're looking at you, ramen). Blame the bloat-inducing fluid imbalance.
3. YOU HAVE A HEADACHE
Ever get a headache for seemingly no reason? Check your last meal. “Too much salt can cause blood vessels in the brain to expand, which can lead to painful headaches,” says Enright.
4. YOUR FOOD TASTES BLAND
"On top of all the health risks, consuming loads of salt can actually tweak your taste buds so your food tastes less delicious over time," says Enright. The more salt you eat, the more you need to get that same mouthwatering response.
"Many people may not realise how much excess sodium they are taking in as a result of changing or dulling taste buds from excess salt exposure," Enright says.
How to cut your salt intake
STAY AWAY FROM THE “SALTY SIX”
"The American Heart Association has dubbed the following foods the ‘Salty Six’: bread and rolls; cold cuts and cured meats; sandwiches and burgers (particularly those from fast food); pizza; tinned soups; and cooked chicken (like those frozen chicken nuggets)," Enright says.
CALL ON YOUR INNER CHEF
Eating out or getting a takeaway is a speedy way to make your sodium levels skyrocket—the menu is packed with sneaky salt. "Aim to cook more meals at home, and bring your own food to work so you have more control over how much salt is being added to your food," advises Enright.
FIND NEW FLAVOURS
When you cook, experiment with setting the salt shaker aside. “Aim to get flavours from herbs—both fresh and dried—spices, and acids like lemon juice and vinegar,” Enright says.
RINSE AND REPEAT
When you can’t avoid tinned goods, look for 'low-sodium' or 'no-salt-added' versions.
"Rinsing off your beans and legumes can also help remove some of the excess salt," says Enright. "Or consider making large batches of dried beans than contain no salt and add your own seasoning."
From Harper's BAZAAR U.K.