Does Sodium Affect Weight Loss?


Many popular diets these days advise that in addition to reducing calories and increasing exercise you should reduce or even eliminate sodium from your diet. Excess sodium causes fluid retention, which manifests itself in the form is excess weight.  While reducing calories and exercising will ultimately result in fat loss, eliminating or significantly reducing your sodium or salt intake will result in a temporary loss of water weight.

Why Do We Need Sodium?

To function properly, your body needs some sodium, at least 500 mg per day. Sodium is necessary for: 

  • Maintaining the proper balance of fluids in the tissues
  • Balancing calcium and potassium to maintain a healthy heart and equilibrium
  • Aiding in the transmission of nerve impulses
  • Helping muscle function
  • Maintaining proper blood function  

How Much Sodium Do We Need?

For adults and children over four years of age the FDA recommends no less than 500 mg per day, far less than what the average adult consumes. Two thousand four-hundred mg of sodium per day is optimal. However, if you are African-American, over the age of  50 or if you have a health condition such as chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, you may be more sensitive to sodium’s effects. Therefore, you should follow your doctor’s recommendations.

3 Main Sources of Sodium

  • The table salt we add to our food (there are 2300 mg sodium in 1 tsp of salt)
  • The sodium naturally occurring in foods like meat, dairy products and vegetables
  • The sodium added in commercial food processing. Most of the sodium we consume comes from commercially processed food, which can include canned foods, lunch meats, sodas and condiments such as soy sauce. A fast food meal can contain over 1,000 mg of sodium. 

Ways to Reduce Your Sodium Intake 

  • Relax!  Stress causes you to crave salty, fat-laden foods.
  • Read food labels for sodium content.  Sodium can hide in processed foods in the form of monosodium glutamate, baking powder, baking soda, disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite.
  • Eat fresh, unprocessed foods.
  • Put away the salt shaker or fill it with a salt-free seasoning.
  • Use sodium-rich condiments sparingly.
  • Leave out the salt in your cooking and use fresh herbs or chicken broth.
  • Keep a steady flow of fluids in and out of the body to keep your metabolism moving.
  • Stay away from fast foods!
  • So-called diet foods touted as “healthy” may actually be very high in sodium.

Excess Sodium and Your Kidneys

Another factor to consider when discussing the effects of sodium as it relates to dieting, is that the kidneys have to work harder to filter high amounts of salt, and the liver, which normally functions to convert fat into energy, has to work to back up the kidneys. If your liver is busy helping your kidneys, your metabolism may slow down; therefore, you will not burn as much fat as you would otherwise.

Does Sodium Affect Weight Loss?

By cutting out the sodium you can initially expect to lose 1 to 2 pounds, depending on your body size. But once you reintroduce the sodium, some or all of the water weight will return. While reducing your sodium intake is a major factor in maintaining metabolism and eliminating water weight, reducing calories, exercising, and drinking plenty of water will still be your best strategy for long-term weight loss.  


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