6 Sneaky Signs You Might Be Eating Too Much Salt

Sodium is an essential nutrient for muscle function and fluid balance, but most of us consume significantly more than we need—which can have some negative consequences.

salt shaker and pile of salt
Photo: Kristin Lee/Getty Images

Contrary to what you might think, sodium is an essential nutrient for strong muscles, proper nerve function and fluid balance—and our bodies need a little bit every day. Sodium is naturally occurring in some healthy foods like chicken, dairy products and even beets! However, most of us are getting more than our fair share.

While there is currently no limit on the amount of sodium allowed in our food—the FDA considers salt as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS)—our nation's current dietary guidelines encourage us to consume no more than 2,300 mg per day. Unfortunately, since most Americans regularly eat processed food without limits on sodium content, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans reports that most are consuming closer to 3,400 mg per day. This increases the risk for heart disease, kidney disease, osteoporosis and even cancer.

Below, you'll find six signs you could be eating too much salt on a regular basis.

You Always Feel Bloated

Since sodium plays a crucial role in fluid balance, too much of it can cause your body to retain water. A study from Johns Hopkins University found that a high-sodium diet (consuming more than 2,300 mg per day) increased bloating by 27% in comparison to a low-sodium diet like the DASH Diet.

Additionally, high-sodium diets typically include more highly processed foods and fewer whole, fiber-rich foods (like whole grains, fruits and veggies). This study found reducing your sodium intake and upping the amount of fiber in your diet could do wonders for those experiencing frequent bloating.

You Can't Seem to "Get Regular"

With bloating often comes constipation, and eating too much salt may be the culprit. When you eat too much salt, the water content in our intestines and stool can move to other parts of the body to achieve fluid balance.

Filling up on hydrating, high-fiber foods like watermelon, beans and apples can help restore the body's water balance and get things moving. Reducing your intake of highly processed foods can make a huge difference too, foods high in fat and sugar also contribute to constipation and rarely have any fiber.

You Get Frequent Headaches

This whole fluid imbalance thing can really wreak havoc on your quality of life. A second study out of Johns Hopkins (in collaboration with Oxford University and the University of Sydney) found reducing sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg per day—and upping your intake of fruits, veggies and low-fat dairy—could significantly reduce the frequency of one's headaches.

Dehydration is a major sign of headaches, and even if you feel like you drink enough water, excessive sodium intake could be putting your fluid balance out of whack. Be sure to fill up on at least five fruits and veggies a day and opt for more whole foods in your diet to help keep headaches at bay.

You're Always Thirsty

If you consume a lot of sodium, your body is going to signal that it needs more water to help balance things out. This means you could feel thirsty. It's one thing if you feel like you can't quench your thirst after a day spent in the sun or eating stadium food at a game, but it could become a problem if this sensation continues for longer periods of time.

Hypernatremia occurs when there is excess sodium in the blood. It's can be caused by not drinking enough water on a regular basis, which leads to dehydration. Symptoms include confusion, muscle twitches and even seizures. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms or feel very dehydrated, you should contact your doctor ASAP.

You Have High Blood Pressure

Most of us may know that excessive sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure, and it might be worth watching your consumption if you have elevated blood pressure levels. Sodium acts like a magnet for water in our bodies and can pull excess fluid into our bloodstream if there's any imbalance. This can damage our blood vessel linings over time, which creates blood clots and can put us at a higher risk for stroke or a heart attack.

Foods that are high in sodium are also often high in saturated fat—and both put you at risk for worsened heart health. Step up that fiber game, try to cook more meals at home and eat those fruits and veggies to keep that sodium intake at a healthier level.

You're Experiencing Stomach Ulcers

A 2017 study from the University of Arkanasas found a link between following a high-salt diet and stomach inflammation, which could increase one's risk for stomach cancer. While this study was done on gerbils and more research is needed to support these findings, it does support the idea that excess salt intake could lead to stomach ulcers and put one at risk for stomach cancer.

If you're experiencing any of these sneaky symptoms on a regular basis, you might want to consider talking to your doctor. Check out our Low-Sodium Diet Center for recipes, meal plans and further education to help you keep your sodium intake at a healthy level—while still enjoying your food!

Up next: 6 Sneaky Signs You Might Not Be Eating Enough Fat

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