It seems like there comes a time in every ingredient or nutrient’s life that it comes under fire, receives massive praise, or both. The back and forth of nutrition science is not only confusing, but it’s also incredibly frustrating for those of us who are out here just trying to eat our veggies & do our best. 🙋🏻
The Real Deal is a new blog series, written by our Lead Registered Dietitian (AKA the Realist Dietitian), Claire Siegel. In this series, she’ll be addressing hot topics in healthy eating, cutting through all the clutter to give you the real deal. If you’ve got a topic you want covered, leave a comment below!
We spend a lot of time at the office combing through your feedback and using it to shape our next moves. You want more Whole30 options? Say no more. You need a healthy lunch you can take on the go? Our Cranberry Pecan Chicken Salad Wrap is on the way this month! You’re craving a protein smoothie without any added sugar? You’ll never guess what we’ve got in the works. 😉
Lately, many of you have been asking for a way to easily find our lower sodium menu options. Look no further than the new “Sodium Conscious” filter on our website. To use this new filter, simply tap or click on the filter icon and select “Sodium Conscious.” This will display all of our menu items that contain 480 mg of sodium or less, which is derived from the FDA’s definition of “healthy.”
So now you can find the food you’re looking for, but you might still asking yourself, “Wait, what is the deal with salt & sodium? Is it a benign way to add flavor to food, or is there something scarier lurking in my salt shaker?” Today I hope to offer some clarity amid the confusion and empower you, as eater, to make your own healthy choice.
Let’s start with the basics of sodium. This mineral, which you might remember as “Na” from the periodic table of elements, does some pretty important stuff in your body. In conjunction with potassium, it regulates the amount of water in the body and is critical for proper functioning of the brain, nervous system, and muscles. The salt you eat is a combination of sodium & chloride, or NaCl. (Shoutout to my 11th grade chemistry teacher– it was all worth it!)
Most of today’s dietary guidelines advise us to consume 2,300 mg of sodium per day or less. For some context, that’s equivalent to the amount of sodium in 1 teaspoon of salt. The American Heart Association recommends even less– 1,500 mg for anyone who’s not losing lots of sodium via sweat. These conservative recommendations are based on the long-held idea that increased sodium intake → fluid retention → increased blood pressure → cardiovascular disease. Makes sense, right?
Sure, but a closer look at existing data paired with emerging research reveals a more complex relationship between sodium intake and heart health. In addition to individual physiology, physical activity levels (read: sweat), and inherent sodium sensitivity, one’s dietary pattern also matters. A diet full of fruits & veggies (and, therefore, electrolytes that work hand-in-hand with sodium) and other cardioprotective foods will confer far more benefits than a diet full of processed foods, even if the two diets share equal caloric and sodium content. For example, a Japanese study has shown that a traditional diet high in fish, vegetables, and sodium is associated with a lower risk of CVD. The aforementioned individual & lifestyle factors lead to inconsistent data and conflicting conclusions & recommendations between different studies. Emerging research (randomized controlled trials, prospective studies, and meta-analyses) seems to show a more “J-shaped relationship between sodium and cardiovascular disease,” meaning that those at the low (less than 3 grams/day) & high (over 5 grams/day) ends of the spectrum of sodium intake are at increased risk for CVD. Fortunately, many of us sit at the bottom of this risk curve, at a moderate intake of 4-5 grams per day.
It’s my job as Snap’s resident Realist Dietitian to extract a few key points from all the clutter. Rather than getting too caught up in the numbers, generally healthy individuals should think about their eating pattern as a whole. And, when it comes to the subject of sodium (and general health), a moderate diet grounded in real, unprocessed foods is the ticket. For the most part, real foods will be naturally low in sodium, allowing you room to sprinkle some salt on for flavor. If you’re especially physically active (again, read: sweaty), you may need to take your sodium intake up a notch or two. If you’re salt sensitive or at risk for CVD, work with your doctor to find the level of sodium that works for you. All in all, trust your adaptive, smart body to do its work, and listen when it tells you what it needs.