Sodium intake and its impact: What to watch out for during pregnancy
The difference of a pinch of salt or sodium can make or break a savoury dish, and all cooks know that. While salt is a necessity whether you are cooking meats, fishes or veggies, how much you consume determines your overall wellbeing. The iodine content in salt is a major reason why it is consumed so widely, as iodine is required for the proper functioning of the thyroid hormone. However, excess salt intake can lead to fluid retention, increase in blood pressure, kidney ailments and even heart diseases. So, a pregnant woman needs to be extra careful while consuming salty foods, as her nutritional status affects the foetus’s development closely.
Also, note that sedentary lifestyles have hampered the body’s ability to eliminate excess sodium in recent years. And apart from foods naturally high in sodium, you now have easy access to a variety of processed foods, in which salt is used as a preservative.
Salt’s impact on pregnancy
Many studies reveal how increased intake of sodium or a high sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and kidney problems. In addition, during pregnancy, excessive salt is known to tamper with the normal development and functioning of the placenta. As placenta is the only channel, connecting the expectant mommy to the foetus, to facilitate nutrition, respiration, and excretion, a high-sodium diet during pregnancy can cause negative consequences.
Both extremely high and extremely low dietary salt consumption can cause inappropriate kidney development in the foetus. Hence, it isn’t just about excess salt, but rather about striking the right sodium balance in the body. For an average healthy Indian adult, the recommended salt intake is just a teaspoon a day, which translates to 2.5g of sodium a day.
Now, sodium in your body helps maintain fluid balance, blood volume, and blood pressure. Since all of these parameters are intricately linked to larger consequences, especially during pregnancy, the right intake of sodium is necessary. During gestation, the most significant physiological change is the massive blood volume alteration, to support foetal development and transportation of all essential nutrients and respiratory gases. So, you need to watch how much sodium you consume during your pregnancy.
Here are some of the common foods high in sodium:
- Savoury snacks like namkeens, chips
- Convenience foods (ready-to-cook/ready-to-eat/etc.)
- Salted butter, cheese and buttermilk
- Ready-to-eat cereals and yeast breads
- Salad dressings and readymade toppings/fillings
- Canned foods
- Fast foods and junk foods
This is the reason why you should read food labels wisely. While some foods might be obviously high in salt, owing to their taste, others might contain hidden salt or sodium. Being aware of the ingredients, preservatives used and the method of preparation is hence a skill you should develop, to keep an eye on the sodium content. Apart from the ingredients, try looking out for these terms on packaged food labels, to be on guard:
Apart from reading food labels, you can also do the following:
- Use minimal salt while cooking. Keep a track of your daily salt intake.
- Home-cooked meals are better than store-bought meals during pregnancy, as you can control the use of salt. Restaurant foods have no labels for instance, and so, you won’t be able to get a sodium count.
- Try salt substitutes or low-sodium salts. However, since potassium replaces sodium in most cases, you have to keep a watch on potassium intake too.
- Avoid foods that include preservatives, as they tend to have more sodium.
- Get creative with seasonings and taste enhancers. Squeezing some lemon or adding a dash of pepper to a dish can be helpful instead of just loading up on salt. Try other spices like cumin, coriander, cloves, cinnamon etc.
- Some medications are also high in sodium. So, have a word with your medical advisor to help maintain the right balance.
- Stay hydrated. Water is going to set the fluid balance straight and help flush out excess sodium.
- Last, but clearly not the least, sweat it out! Burning fat involves the elimination of excessive sodium too.
All in all, when you are pregnant, shop for food items carefully and eat mindfully. Remember the list of sodium rich foods mentioned in this article, and don’t let excess salt sneak into your diet without your permission!