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Sodium and Salt

Sodium is an electrolyte, one of several minerals required by the body to regulate fluids. It also plays a role in maintaining the acid-base balance of blood, and helps nutrients cross cell membranes. During pregnancy and lactation, a woman's sodium metabolism (utilization) is altered by hormone activity. As a result, sodium needs are slightly higher for women at this time in their lives. Still, most women get plenty of sodium naturally in a typical diet and there is rarely a need for additional salt use.

Americans typically consume 4,000-8,000 mg each day, well above their daily needs. A goal for moderation for all adults, including pregnancy and lactation is approximately 2,400 mg of sodium per day.

Sodium Sources
Sodium is found in most foods naturally in small amounts. Salt as a seasoning or additive in foods, however, is our major dietary source of sodium. Salt is 40% sodium. One teaspoon of table salt contains 2,400 mg of sodium
. To moderate your sodium intake, decreasing use of processed foods such as soups, processed meats, and canned vegetables and limiting added salt can help. If you are unsure of the Sodium content of a food, read the food label! The label will indicate the total mg of Sodium per serving contained in the product. Generally, consuming products that contain less than 400 mg of Sodium per serving should help you moderate your sodium intake but not restrict it.

Interpreting Sodium Content of Foods
Sodium Rating
Sodium Per Serving
Very Low Sodium
< 35 mg
Product contains very small amounts of Sodium and can be consumed as desired.
Low Sodium
< 70 mg
Still contains minimal amounts of Sodium and should not significantly affect total sodium intake.
High Sodium
> 400 mg
Several servings of foods high in sodium can be taken each day and still meet the goal of an approximate 2,400 to 3,000 mg sodium diet.
Very High Sodium
> 800 mg
Products contains large amounts of sodium and should be noted and limited.

Sodium Restriction
Many women are casually advised by friends or family to restrict their salt intake to prevent 'swelling' of feet and ankles. This is not a current medical recommendation. While it is prudent to avoid 'excess' salt use, sodium restriction should not be casually undertaken. Edema (accumulation of fluid) in the feet and legs often occurs during pregnancy. This is a result of increased estrogen production and greater blood volume. Estrogen increases a mother's ability to absorb water into connective tissue, thus fluid retention is naturally higher. At the same time, progesterone increases the sodium content of urine, so more sodium than usual is lost by women during pregnancy. Therefore, despite the presence of edema, sodium needs still increase for pregnant women.

Although the increase in sodium requirement is not dramatic, it is important. Restricting sodium during pregnancy can cause problems for mother and her fetus, by disrupting this delicate fluid balance. Edema that occurs during pregnancy is not considered harmful, unless high blood pressure or protein loss in urine is also occurring. If your obstetrician advises a low sodium diet, clarify with the doctor the extent of sodium restriction and any fluid recommendation being made to you.

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