Photo: Getty Images / Liudmyla Chuhunova
If you're sprinkling salt on everything from mashed potatoes and steak to your morning omelet or happy hour cocktail rim, it's pretty obvious you might be taking in excess sodium in the day. However, it's actually really easy to overdo it on the sodium even if you never (and I repeat, never), add extra salt to your meals.
Why? Well, if you're regularly dining out, eating canned or packaged foods (think: soup, canned veggies and beans, and frozen meals), or drinking sports drinks and other beverages that have electrolytes, you could be consuming way more sodium than is best for your lifestyle. You could be getting a full day's worth of sodium from packaged foods without ever picking up a salt shaker.
Most people take in about 3,400mg of sodium a day, or more, which is not good for the heart and raises risk of heart disease and hypertension. You're better off keeping your sodium intake at or below 2,300 mg daily. The American Heart Association recommends going even lower and capping your intake at 1,500mg.
However, it can be hard to figure out how much you're eating based on numbers alone (who really wants to track every bite and salt shake?). Instead, consider these common signs that you might be having too much sodium in the day. And if you are, work on cutting back. That means, eat more fresh foods, ditch the salt shaker and limit eating meals outside the home during the week.
You're Swollen and Puffy
"Too much salt will cause your body to retain water and due to the excess liquid in the body's tissues it leads to swelling, bloating, and puffiness," says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD. This can make you feel uncomfortable in your clothes, and you just won't feel or look as refreshed as you might be without all that sodium. (Hello puffy, under-eye circles, fingers, and ankles.)
What's more, it might have an effect on your fitness, too. "While excess salt doesn't directly impact your workout, some athletes have noted that the heaviness they feel from bloating after eating too much salt hinders their performance," she says. While it's good to take in a bit of salt and other electrolytes after that sweat session to replenish lost stores, you'll want to go into that workout with lower sodium overall.
You're Getting Headaches Often
"Excess sodium messes with the fluid ratio in your body, which can result in the sodium leaching off of your body's supply of water and leave you with a dehydration headache. And when the body loses too much water the brain contracts from the loss," says Michalczyk. Consuming too much salt can also come with nausea, dizziness, and vomiting (in extreme cases), she adds, which make that pounding headache that much worse. If you do get a headache, drink a lot of plain water to help flush out the sodium and see if it dissipates.
You're Super Thirsty
Are you always craving something to drink and have dry mouth? It could be from too high of sodium levels. "Because salt causes your body to retain water and it pulls from your stored fluids, excess salt in the body causes a deficit of fluid thus resulting in thirst as your body's way of signaling to you that its fluid balance is out of whack and it needs help getting back to equilibrium," says Michalczyk. The fix? Drink water to satisfy that thirst, but also take note of what salty foods you're eating and read labels from store-bought items. Excessive thirst could also be a sign of diabetes, so if you cut back on salt and that doesn't help quench your thirst, you might want to talk to your doctor.
You're Always Running to the Bathroom
If you feel like you're dating the toilet, it could be a sodium issue. "Since salt impacts the levels of fluids in the body resulting in extreme thirst, once the thirst is satisfied then the body responds with an increase in bathroom breaks to help filter out the excess salt that caused the thirst in the first place," she explains.
So, if you're peeing a lot throughout the day, and you're drinking a ton of water because you're so thirsty, salt could be the culprit. According to Michalczyk, "Salt significantly impacts the kidneys, your body's filter, by making them less efficient and too much over time can even lead to kidney failure." It's important to reduce stress on your kidneys and work on lowering salt intake per day instead.
You're Craving Salty Foods
Can't stop thinking about that bag of chips or salty french fries? Once you're used to eating salty foods, you tend to want more and more. "When your body gets used to the taste of salty foods it adjusts and adapts to the flavor and you then find yourself craving more of that same satisfying flavor," she says. And unfortunately, it becomes a cycle that is hard to break. Cut back gradually by adding less and less salt (up the flavor with herbs and spices instead) or modifying dishes when you go out to eat. Michalczyk's advice? "Buy no-salt-added seasonings or ask your waiter to make the dish with less salt—restaurant dishes are notorious for being very heavy in sodium."