What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Too Much Salt? | appencode.com

What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Too Much Salt?

Amidst all of the chatter about counting caloriesnet carbs, or macros, we tend to overlook some other important aspects of our food — like how much salt (AKA sodium chloride) we are eating. While most people tend not to consider salt intake all that often — unless they have a health condition that mandates it — eating a lot of sodium could impact your health.

Found in everything from bone broth and condiments to what you order in a restaurant or purchase in a package at the supermarket, salt is added to our food for a variety of reasons, says Lauren Manaker, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition Now Counseling in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Most often, salt is the key to helping food taste better, writes Samin Nosrat in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. It can also act as a preservative and reduce the risk of bacterial contamination. Beyond that, salt is vital to keep our bodies functioning, Manaker says. That’s because sodium is a mineral and one of the body’s MVP electrolytes. (As a reminder, an electrolyte is a mineral that carries an electric charge and affects how your body functions in multiple ways.)

Consuming too little salt can result in a condition known as hyponatremia, which causes nausea, headache, confusion, seizures, and, in extreme cases, coma or death, Manaker says. People who follow a raw food diet, sweat excessively, or are dehydrated are particularly at risk.

“Your body needs sodium to conduct normal muscle and nerve functions, and it also helps keep body fluids in balance,” says Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, a Miami-based board-certified sports dietitian. 

So yes, we need some salt. But just like with many things — including water — there can be too much of a good thing. Here’s what happens to your body when you eat too much salt.

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How Much Salt Is Too Much?

The average American consumes around 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This amount is well over the levels recommended by major health organizations. The best intake varies, though.

“If you’re super active, like an athlete training most days of the week, you will likely need a higher amount of sodium than the average American,” says Ehsani. “A lot of sodium is lost through sweat and needs to be replaced.”

The 2020 to 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. This is equal to about 1 teaspoon of salt per day. However, the American Heart Association (AHA) believes that an ideal limit for most adults — especially those who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure and/or type 2 diabetes —should be closer to 1,500 milligrams per day.

You might assume that the salt shaker is the primary culprit of our collective salt intake, but more than 70% of the sodium we consume comes from packaged, prepared, or restaurant foods. Meanwhile, about 15% of sodium is naturally occurring in foods. (A potato, for example, has 24 milligrams.) Only 11% of our sodium intake comes from the salt that we add as we cook or while at the table, the AHA says.

What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Too Much Salt

If you overshoot the amount of sodium your system needs on a regular basis, the ripple effect can be wide. Here are some potential impacts of eating too much salt.

Bloating and Water Retention

Bloating can occur after consuming a high-sodium meal or snack, say, a soft pretzel with a side of sausage at a brew pub. This excess sodium causes your body to retain more water. In the short-term, this can lead to bloating in the abdomen and swelling throughout the body.

No need to worry if this is an infrequent thing. Your body will bounce back within a matter of hours or a day or so. But if you are concerned, you can try adding lemon, celery, asparagus, or one of these other bloat-reducing foods to your menu for the rest of the day. You could also have an extra glass or two of water to help the salt flush out of your system.

High Blood Pressure

If you regularly consume too much salt, this can lead to chronic water retention and an increase in blood volume, Manaker says. “When we consume too much salt, our bodies hold onto extra water to dilute the excess sodium.”

When water retention increases blood volume, you heart has more blood to pump throughout the body, which in turn, spikes blood pressure. Think of this scenario like a hose with more water rushing through it than it was designed to hold. The walls of the hose will likely feel stretched and stressed. The same holds true for the walls of your arteries, which are the blood vessels that transport blood from your heart to the rest of your body.

“Over time, this can strain the heart and blood vessels, potentially leading to heart disease or stroke,” Manaker says.

Regular blood pressure is typically classified as 120/80 mm Hg. You’re deemed at-risk if you’re above that level but below the official categorization of hypertension, which is anything at or above 130/80 mm Hg, according to the 2017 guidelines from The American College of Cardiology and AHA.

Left untreated, hypertension is a key risk factor for several serious health conditions, including heart disease and stroke. These rank as number one and five, respectively, on the list of top causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


In the short term, a temporary rise in blood pressure — even among those without chronic hypertension — can trigger headaches, research suggests. But if you make a point to eat less sodium you will see a drop off in the number of headaches you experience. A study in the journal BMJ Open found that regardless of the diet plan people followed, consuming lower levels of sodium leads to a reduced risk for headaches.

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Kidney Disease

Our kidneys act as our body’s natural filtering system. In addition to other tasks, the kidneys play a vital role in regulating the body’s sodium level by adjusting the amount excreted in urine. 

“High sodium levels can make this balancing act more difficult,” Manaker says. “Over time, this can lead to decreased kidney function, and in severe cases, kidney disease.”

Sodium can also cause your kidneys to excrete more calcium. This mineral can build up over time to form masses called kidney stones.

Bone Loss

When you consume calcium in foods and drinks like dairy products, leafy greens, tofu, and some types of fish, this is absorbed through the intestines into the blood. The kidneys then get to work filtering the blood, and either direct that calcium to be stored in the bones, transport it to other tissues, or remove it from the body through urine.

But when you take in too much sodium, your kidneys may secrete too much much calcium in response. That additional elimination can cause a number of issues including a decrease in bone mass, which can put you at risk for a number of conditions. For instance, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases indicates that low bone density can affect posture, balance, walking stride, muscle strength, height, weight, and fracture risk.

How to Cut Back on Salt Intake

The CDC and AHA are terrific resources full of guidance about how to consume less salt. But, we couldn’t let Ehsani and Manaker go, though, without shaking out a few of their personal go-to strategies. Here are some tips on reducing salt intake.

  • Shop with salt in mind. Prioritize fresh, whole foods over processed ones, and be sure to read food labels to check the sodium content, Manaker says. “No salt added” is the key phrase to look for on canned goods, she says. If monitoring sodium intake is a priority for you, peek at the sodium level on the nutrition facts panel before adding an item to your cart.
  • Opt for herbs and spices. Boost the flavor of your recipes by sprinkling fresh or dried herbs and spices instead of salt, suggests Ehsani. “This will add tons of flavor to your food, plus offer some antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits.”
  • Just add acid. The juice and peels of lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, yuzu, and other citrus fruits layer on so much flavor to foods that you probably won’t even miss the salt, Ehsani says. Likewise, vinegars, such as balsamic, white wine, red wine, rice, and champagne, are low in calories and sodium and deliver a satisfying burst of acidity as well.
  • Dine in more often. Restaurant dining and takeout meals are tasty, but eating in gives you complete control over the amount of sodium in your meals, Manaker says. Even just one or two more home-cooked meals per week can move the needle.
  • Take it slow. As with many wellness shifts, gradual changes are far more sustainable than drastic ones. Aim to slowly cut back on your salt intake, which will allow your body and tastebuds to adjust, Manaker says.

Bottom Line

Regularly consuming too much sodium — which is typically defined as more than 2,300 milligrams per day — can lead to a host of symptoms. Headaches, bloating, swelling, high blood pressure, kidney conditions, and bone loss are among the many potential consequences of eating and drinking more sodium than your body needs. 

For personalized guidance about how much sodium is right for you, plus to score ideas on how to fine-tune your current diet and hit the sodium sweet spot, consider meeting with a registered dietitian. Here’s how to find the best RD for your needs.

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