Sodium is a nutrient that’s often villainized, but the truth is, the body needs sodium. In fact, it plays a key role in normal muscle and nerve function and also keeps body fluids in balance, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Nine in 10 Americans get too much sodium, with pre-packaged foods and eating out making up the majority of their sodium intake. On the flip side, however, there are some people who come up short on their salt intake, which can lead to pesky symptoms like headaches and fatigue, according to dietitian Kristin Gillespie, M.S., R.D., L.D., C.N.S.C., of Exercise with Style,
Is it possible that you aren’t getting enough sodium? Here’s some more information about the role sodium plays in our health, common signs you’re not getting enough, and specific groups of people who may need to up their intake.
Sodium And Your Health
Too much sodium can raise blood pressure and high blood pressure is a risk factor for serious health issues and events, such as heart disease and stroke. But your body can experience some problems if don’t get enough salt.
You see, sodium is an important electrolyte that your body needs to perform a variety of physiological functions, says dietitian Danielle Gaffen, M.S., R.D.N., L.D. It helps your muscles contract and relax, and helps your nerves conduct impulses. Sodium is also important for maintaining a normal fluid balance (a.k.a. hydration), she says.
Read More: Are You Dehydrated Without Even Knowing It?
Too little salt, Gaffen says, has been linked to higher risk of hyponatremia, which is a condition that occurs when the sodium in your blood falls below the normal range (135 to 145 mEq/L). Severe cases can lead to muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Not getting enough sodium could also lead to increased insulin resistance and higher LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, Gaffen says.
Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Salt
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends limiting sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day, which is about one teaspoon of table salt. About 70 percent of the sodium Americans consume comes from processed or restaurant foods, and only a small portion of sodium or salt is used in cooking or added at the table, according to the CDC. People with high blood pressure may be advised to take in a lower amount of sodium, Gaffen says.
According to Gillespie, there are a few telltale signs you’re short on sodium, including:
- Salt cravings
- Muscle cramps
Some other signs of fluid-electrolyte imbalance that could mean you need to up your salt intake include dry mouth, not peeing enough (and dark concentrated urine when you do go to the bathroom), feelings of dizziness upon standing, and abdominal cramping, Gaffen notes. All of these symptoms are serious and warrant prompt medical treatment.
5 Groups Of People Who May Need to Increase Their Salt Intake
1. People on Keto Diets
The keto diet eliminates sugar, which causes insulin levels to drop and your body to flush out more sodium in your urine, according to The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N. So, when you go on a keto diet and your body releases a lot of water, you lose electrolytes (minerals that include sodium, potassium, and magnesium), too. When your store of electrolytes gets too low, you might experience fatigue that’s known as ‘keto flu’, which is about as fun as it sounds.
Given all of this, those on keto diets may need to up sodium intake to 4,000 milligrams per day (or more if you also work out a lot).
Athletes, people who exercise often, excessive sweaters, and those who work outdoors in hot environments need more sodium intake, says dietitian Jesse Feder, R.D.N., C.P.T., of Strength Warehouse. “All of these groups sweat a lot and when you sweat, you lose water and electrolytes,” Feder says. As a result, people in these categories need to take in more sodium to replace what they lose in their sweat.
3. People Experiencing Diarrhea
When stool passes through the digestive tract too quickly, the body can lose too much fluid and electrolytes like sodium, Gaffen says. This can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, which is why all sorts of health professionals recommend sipping on electrolytes when you’ve got diarrhea.
4. People Who’ve Had Colectomies
Colectomies are surgeries that remove all or part of your colon, and are used in the cases of certain diseases or conditions, including colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, and bowel obstructions. Because the colon is responsible for absorbing sodium, those who do not have colons or who have had part of their colon removed will need to consult with their doctor to make sure they’re getting enough sodium and other nutrients, Gaffen notes.
5. People With Cystic Fibrosis
Those with cystic fibrosis tend to sweat more than most and experience excessive sodium loss in their perspiration, according to Gaffen. Because of this, many patients need sodium chloride supplementation.
How To Safely Increase The Salt In Your Diet
To increase your sodium intake, you don’t need to start dousing your meals in table salt. In addition to eggs, shrimp, and chicken, celery, beets, and milk naturally contain sodium, according to the American Heart Association. Some additional healthy foods that often contain added sodium and can help you safely up your intake? Nuts (and nut butter), cottage cheese, canned beans, and canned veggies, Gillespie says.
Oral hydration solutions (electrolyte drinks and drink mixes) can also help you improve electrolyte balance, adds Gaffen.