If your go-to cheat foods include pizza, tacos, or deli sandwiches, you may have cause for concern. These popular meals are just three of the items on the American Heart Association’s “Salty Six,” foods that can add high levels of sodium to your diet. (Breads, chicken, and soup are the other culprits.) So, what’s the matter with a sodium-rich binge? When you over consume salt (found in many packaged foods), your body is likely to show both short- and long-term effects, especially if you exercise. Recent research published in the European Journal of Urology found that too much salt in the diet could be the reason men and women have trouble sleeping through the night. Excess sodium leads to nighttime bathroom visits, according to the research results. Here are seven more obvious signs you’re eating too much salt.
“If you consume too much dietary salt, your skin and parts of your body may appear puffy due to water retention,” says Angie Murad, RDN, LD from the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. Sonya Angelone, M.S., R.D.N., CLT, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agrees, adding that the puffiness is likely to show around the eyes as well as swelling in the fingers and ankles.
Increased salt intake leads to dehydration. As a result, exercisers may notice that they need to drink more often especially when training, says Murad. Some heavy exercisers may even notice a salty, sweaty film around their lips during workouts, says Angelone. “This is because your body is trying to lose the excess salt in your body,” she says.
Not only are you likely to head to the bathroom more often when you eat too much salt, but your urine is likely to be darker and thicker. While this might not seem like it’s serious, you lose calcium when you urinate. “If there isn’t enough calcium in the blood, then the body will take calcium from bones,” says Murad. As a result, people who consume more salt over time may be at higher risk for osteoporosis.
If you eat too much salt, you may lose interest in more healthy foods. People who overconsume salt are not likely to taste the flavors of healthy, unadulterated food, says Angelone. “To them,” she says, “natural food tastes funny.” Heavy salt consumers may develop a preference for saltier foods as a result. “You may not become a salt addict, but you can definitely have a taste preference for salty foods like processed foods; lunch meat, bacon, sausage, ham, and soups,” says Murad.
Exercisers may notice tighter muscles more often if they overuse the saltshaker or overconsume salty foods. Sodium and calcium are responsible for muscle contraction, explains Angelone. Potassium on the other hand, helps muscles to relax. If you upset the sodium-potassium balance, you may notice more muscle soreness.
You won’t get overly tired as a direct result of eating salty foods, but dehydration that often occurs as a result of overeating sodium may cause fatigue. This may hit you especially hard if you train regularly. “You’re not going to train at your best if you are experiencing fatigue,” says Angelone.
There are also less obvious problems that arise when you overconsume salt. “The most common short-term side effect of consuming too much salt is that the kidneys are unable to keep up with the excretion of the sodium,” explains Murad. “As sodium builds up, water is retained to dilute the sodium within the body. This increases the fluid around cells as well as the volume of blood. Increased blood volume means that your heart has to work harder to pump the blood and puts more pressure on the blood vessels.”
“Over time, the heart and blood vessels work much harder which can lead to damage to the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys. This damage can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke,” says Murad.
Current guidelines for salt state that adults consume no more than 2,400 milligrams per day. That’s about six grams or one teaspoon of table salt. Keep in mind, however, that most of the salt we consume is hidden in processed foods. “The easiest way to cut back on sodium is to eat more fresh foods,” says Murad.