It's not the salt -- it's where you get it
The problem we’re left with isn’t how much sodium you can eat, but where that sodium’s coming from (and what’s with it). It’s estimated that 75% of the sodium in your diet comes from processed foods. While the verdict may be out on sodium limits, the health community is pretty unanimous in their opinion about the dangers of processed foods. Sodium-sensitive or not, you can’t escape the hazards of empty calories and refined carbs.
Eating bacon, America’s true pastime, isn’t doing you any favors either. Cured meats, including bacon, are typically preserved with sodium nitrites (not sodium chloride). Over time, these nitrites break down into N-nitroso compounds, which several studies have now found to be seriously carcinogenic. It's extremely depressing, but true.
Cutting back on Cheetos and bacon would definitely decrease your sodium intake, and maybe that would have some positive outcomes for you (maybe not). But more important than the sodium reduction is the decrease in all the other crap that pulls sodium along for the ride. Based on current science, going for the “reduced-sodium” option doesn’t necessarily make it healthier if it’s still filled with chemicals, trans fats, and nutritional black holes.
The balancing act you should be pulling
While the consumption of sodium has increased with processed foods and cured meats, potassium has been kicked to the curb. Potassium, which is found in most natural foods, acts as the yin to sodium’s yang. Together, these little electrolytes bring balance to your whole body. Without one or the other, the entire system goes to shit.
Unfortunately, more than 98% of American adults consume too little potassium, and this imbalance could be a major contributing factor to all those fun Western diseases for which salt was blamed. While sodium once bore the brunt of nutrition researchers' accusations, it now seems ridiculous to lay all the responsibility on one nutrient. So find yourself some sweet potatoes, and get those potassium levels straightened out.
If you were hoping for a specific sodium recommendation, then stop holding your breath. If your doctor has been specific, then by all means, listen! Otherwise, the science of sodium isn’t so exact after all. It may not be the sodium to blame, but everything that comes with it, and a few things that don’t. Having said that, the sodium jury is still out, so take everything we just said with a grain of salt.
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Nicholas Knock is a freelance writer for Thrillist who desperately misses bacon and Cheetos. You can follow him on Twitter @nickaknock.