The difference between sodium and salt.

The difference between sodium and salt can be difficult to discern, even for those knowledgeable about food.  Many mistakenly believe the terms can be used interchangeably, but sodium and salt are truly two distinct things.

Sodium occurs naturally in food. It’s either chemically present or it’s not, and most foods contain at least a scant trace of it.  Unlike salt, you can’t increase or decrease the amount of sodium in a food. Sodium simply IS. Some foods (for instance, shellfish) may contain large quantities of sodium, whereas others (like fruits) contain very, very little. Foods with a naturally salty taste do NOT contain salt; they contain high levels of sodium. You can reduce the amount of sodium in your diet, but you can never eliminate it altogether. Humans require roughly 500 mg of sodium daily to maintain normal body processes. Sodium helps regulate things like neurological and muscular function, as well as meet cellular needs. This daily requirement is easily gleaned from a healthy, balanced diet without the need of salt.

Salt is NOT SODIUM. Salt is a naturally-occurring compound which is harvested and used to enhance the taste of food. It contains sodium, yes, but it also contains chloride. Salt can be added to food, but once added, it cannot be subtracted. You’ve seen this in practice if you’ve ever over-salted something, rendering it unpalatable. Many people believe you must have salt to live, but you can eliminate salt from your diet. You do not need salt to survive. Before humans began harvesting salt, they weren’t dropping dead from the lack of it. Salt is a luxury, not a necessity.

A good way to illustrate the distinction between the two is to think of a traditionally salted food, like french fries. French fries are not naturally salty; salt is added to them after cooking. Salt-free french fries are much lower in sodium than salted fries, but they still contain sodium, because potatoes contain sodium. Salt-free french fries = possible. Sodium-free french fries = impossible. It’s a very important distinction, one many misunderstand.

People on a low-sodium diet must avoid not only salt, but also the naturally occurring sodium in many foods. It’s crucial to remember that even when you’ve stopped adding salt to your food, sodium is still present in most things.

In sum:

Sodium = Sodium

Salt = (40%) Sodium + (60%) Chloride

Sodium ≠ Salt

For a list of easy ways to reduce sodium in your diet, click HERE.

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