Salt can be both helpful and hurtful to chronic pain, depending on how it’s used.
Consuming too much salt makes cells attract water like a sponge. Water retention increases pressure on blood vessels and raises blood pressure. It can also cause cells to attract water in joints, leading to swelling and increased osteoarthritis symptoms. In this day and age of eating processed and prepackaged foods that contain high levels of salt, most of us are getting far more than we need, which may be an unwitting contributor to our pain.
Health experts agree, too much salt is a bad thing. But how much is too much? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people over 50 years old, African Americans, and those with high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease should get 1,500 mg – about ½ teaspoon – of sodium each day. Everyone else should limit salt to less than 2,300 mg a day. Yet, the average American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium a day. The Arthritis Foundation recommends keeping salt to less than 1,500 mg daily.
Even if you aren’t a “salt shaker,” you may get too much. Nearly all canned, ready-made convenience foods contain sodium to keep them from spoiling. Restaurant cooks add salt to make food tasty. If you find a low-sodium diet too bland, perk up the flavor with herbs and spices. At first, foods may not taste salty enough, but over time, your tastebuds will adapt.
You can also try using sea salt instead of table salt in your foods. Using sea salt is better for you and the environment. It is obtained from evaporating salt water a less harsh process than bow table salt is processed. Sea salt is not processed or manufactured, and is left with trace amounts of minerals that are beneficial to your heart, mind, and body. You can also try new recipes, replacing table salt with sea salt. Whole Foods offers their customers sea salt alternative recipes to try, which can really bring out the flavor of the foods you are cooking.
Easy Ways to Lower Your Salt Intake
- Read labels carefully: Salt by any other name is still salt. Look for salt’s alias – sodium. The higher up on the ingredients list it appears, the more salt is in the product. Look for products labeled sodium-free, salt-free, low-sodium, very low-sodium, reduced or less sodium, or light in sodium.
- Fake it: Try a salt substitute. Low-sodium (Morton Lite Salt Mixture, LoSalt) and no-sodium (AlsoSalt Original, Morton Salt Substitute) brands replace part or all of the sodium with potassium chloride for a similar salty taste. If you have kidney disease or you take heart or blood pressure medicines, talk to your doctor before using these salt substitutes, because they can raise your blood potassium levels. Sodium- and potassium-free products (Maine Coast Kelp Granules, Benson’s Table Tasty) contain dried seaweed or yeast. Because seaweed can interfere with thyroid function, use kelp granules in moderation.
- Wash it down: Give canned vegetables a good rinse. Washing thoroughly in cold water can reduce their salt content by almost half.
- Spice things up: Use herbs and spices instead of salt to season foods. Pepper, lemon juice and vinegar can all enhance flavor.
- Swap breakfast: Many prepared breakfast foods, such as bagels and cereal, are loaded with sodium. Look for low-salt or no-salt breads, yogurt, hash browns and other breakfast foods. Switch from packaged cereal or packets of instant oatmeal to quick-cut oats.
- Get fresh: Fresh meats, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains are naturally low in sodium. Canned meats and soups, soup mixes, frozen dinners and processed lunchmeats often have a high sodium content.
- Eat in: Restaurant sauces, soups, fries and burgers are known for their high salt content. Ask your server to have the chef go light on the salt. Better yet, eat meals you’ve cooked yourself.
- Limit condiments: Products such as ketchup, mustard, pickles, olives, sauerkraut, Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce are almost always high in sodium.
- Out of sight: Simply taking the saltshaker off the table and putting it behind the door of a closed kitchen cabinet may help you use less.
Whatever way you choose the results are in- too much salt hurts.