Nope and nope. Both sodium and phosphorus are essential for survival. Just a teensy glimpse into sodium’s pretty important jobs includes maintaining your body’s fluid balance and transporting nutrients across cell membranes. Just a couple of the things phosphorus is best known for include producing energy and building bones. Are we getting too much of these nutrients? There is more to the story than what you might think.
Sodium, which you may know from its most famous role, table salt, has become a word to be feared by us, especially with regard to blood pressure (BP). The thing to know is that while too much salt can be detrimental to our health, so can too little salt. Yeah, yeah…most would argue that too little salt is unheard of in our Standard American Diet. However, the BP-raising amounts determined by many studies to be “excessive” are also far outside what the average person consumes. Furthermore, not much (if any) evidence exists to support the stringent recommendations for the masses to restrict sodium to 1500 mg/day or less.
Furthermore, is sodium guilty by association? When we take a look at observational data, we see that those who consume too much sodium tend to have high BP. But just as often, those who eat too much sodium are doing so by way of heavily processed, packaged foods and/or fast foods; AND they aren’t eating much in the way of vegetables or fruits. Many processed, packaged, and fast foods contain high amounts of phosphorus in various forms because it can be a useful preservative. Many types of soda, especially cola, are also a huge source of phosphorus in the diet.
Therefore, in what could be considered a “poor diet” consisting of very few (if any) fruits or vegetables and lots of packaged/pre-prepared/fast foods and soda, sodium and phosphorus are almost always consumed in excess of recommended amounts. Additionally, excessive phosphorus intake has begun to enter the spotlight as a contributor to heart disease. Eating or drinking too much phosphorus tricks your body into deteriorating your bones, which is NOT GOOD. So is it the sodium that’s harming us, or is it the phosphorus? Is it both? Is there more to the story? Yes.
Many of the most famous “diets” such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean eating style have proven to help people reduce BP and improve many other risk factors for heart disease. The thing is, they seem to do so independently of sodium or phosphorus counts. Why/how do diets like DASH or the Mediterranean eating style improve BP and heart disease risk? Among the many attributes of the DASH diet or the Mediterranean Eating style, both of these ways of eating largely emphasize a significant increase in whole vegetables and fruits.
When we shift focus toward increasing nutrients and antioxidants via whole vegetables and fruits (rather than ordering salt-free French fries), a number of risk factors will naturally improve:
- BP often goes down thanks (in part) to increases in potassium aiding in the fluid regulation mechanisms in our body and also from antioxidants in the fruits/veggies helping to soften and widen our arteries.
- Weight improves because we are eating less (despite a potentially larger volume of food thanks to veggies!). A loss of weight also can improve BP by decreasing the work the heart has to do to pump all that blood through the body.
- Cholesterol is often improved because of a decrease in omega-6 fats (often prevalent in processed/packaged/fast foods), coupled with an increase in fiber from all that produce.
- Physiological processes can begin to work more efficiently. Without adequate magnesium, for example, insulin cannot be used properly in our bodies. Guess what has magnesium? Vegetables.
- Energy levels. The top contenders for the factors most likely to promote jubilance instead of fatigue are:
- Sufficient hydration
- An adequate amount of good-quality sleep
- A regular, consistent meal pattern
- Balanced meals
- Getting enough vitamins/minerals from WHOLE FOOD SOURCES, not supplements
Here’s the deal: eating all the same crappy foods in “salt-free” versions WILL NOT IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH. Salt-free French fries are not suddenly a salad, and low-sodium soy sauce is not suddenly “healthy.” However, please don’t lose sleep over counting anything, including sodium or phosphorus.
IF you eat a Mediterranean style diet rich in fatty fish, lean meats, lots and lots and lots of vegetables, healthy fat, some fruits, whole grains, and calcium-rich foods, you will most likely be consuming the proper amount of sodium and phosphorus. You will also likely improve about a million aspects of your health and well-being. Don’t forget to drink lots of water, limit sugary stuff, and be as active as you possibly can no matter what that entails for you.
Love ya, mean it.
xoxo – Casey