See chapter 7, "Sodium and Potassium: A Salty Subject."

What it does:

  • Helps regulate the movement of body fluids in and out of your body cells.
  • Helps muscles, including your heart, relax.
  • Helps transmit nerve impulses, or signals.
  • Helps regulate your blood pressure.

If you don't get enough: Unless you have prolonged diarrhea or vomiting, or have kidney problems, a sodium deficiency isn't likely. If it happens, symptoms might include nausea, dizziness, and muscle cramps.

If you consume an excess amount: For healthy people, excess sodium is excreted, but some kidney diseases interfere with sodium excretion, causing fluid retention and swelling. For people with sodium sensitivity, a high-sodium diet can increase blood pressure.

The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) is 2,200 milligrams daily for kids ages nine to thirteen; after that, the UL is 2,300 milligrams daily for teens and adults, including pregnant or breast-feeding women. This advice is set for people who don't have high blood pressure; the UL may be too high for those who already have it.

How much you need: The Adequate Intake (AI) for males and females ages nine to fifty is 1,500 milligrams a day. The level stays the same during pregnancy and breast-feeding. For ages fifty to seventy, it goes down to 1,300 milligrams a day; after age seventy, it's 1,200 milligrams daily.

Where it's mostly found: Processed foods account for about 77 percent of the sodium in food. The rest comes from table salt and the small amount that occurs naturally in food. As a point of reference, Va teaspoon of salt contains about 500 milligrams of sodium.

Food Sodium (mg)

Beef bologna (1 oz.) 310

Cheddar cheese (1 oz.) 175

Whole-wheat bread (1 slice) 150

The Nutrition Facts on food labels tell how much sodium comes from a single label serving of food. See

"Get All the Facts!" in chapter 11 on food labeling.

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