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The kidneys’ primary purpose is to remove waste products and excess water from the blood to make urine. In order to adequately function, the kidneys require the body to have a balance of sodium and potassium. When you consume too much salt, you can alter the sodium-potassium balance, which decreases your kidney function. With reduced function, your kidneys can become significantly strained, and you may eventually develop kidney disease. 

Kidney Function: An Overview

Healthy kidneys are able to filter about half a cup of blood every minute, regulating the body’s fluid balance. When your kidney function decreases due to elevated levels of sodium, waste can accumulate in the bloodstream, leading to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid around the heart or lungs
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Irregular heartbeat 
  • Confusion 
  • Pain 
  • Swollen ankles

These symptoms often affect the patient’s ability to perform their normal, daily activities.

Increased salt intake has also been shown to contribute to the deterioration of already declining kidney function, meaning that it is essential for people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) to monitor their salt intake. Over 37 million Americans suffer from CKD, and when it reaches advanced stages, the only treatment is dialysis. Unfortunately, once a patient starts dialysis, they are unable to stop treatment unless they receive a kidney transplant. 

Who is at Risk for CKD?

One in three adults are at risk for kidney disease, and several conditions increase your chances of developing CKD: 

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Family history 
  • Tobacco use
  • Age (60+)

Additionally, people of African and South Asian descent are 3-5 times more likely to develop CKD than Caucasians. Hispanics and Native Americans are also more likely to have kidney disease, potentially because diabetes and hypertension are more prevalent in these ethnic groups. 

People who consume large amounts of salt and sodium are also placing themselves at a higher risk of suffering from CKD. 

How to Limit Salt Intake

Limiting your salt intake can play a huge role in maintaining kidney health. Here are some ways to reduce your daily salt intake: 

  • Read food labels and compare sodium levels to different products.
  • Avoid cured, salted, smoked, and other processed meats, such as ham, bacon, and cold cuts.
  • Select whole, unprocessed foods. 
  • Choose packaged foods labeled low sodium, reduced sodium, or no salt added.
  • Use alternatives to salt when cooking, such as fresh herbs and spices like basil, cilantro, cardamom, caraway, curry, ginger, rosemary, thyme, dill, sage, and tarragon.
  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Limit your consumption of sauces, mixes, and “instant” products. 
  • Check the serving size on food labels.

Remember, a healthy diet should include no more than 2300 mg of sodium every day, but reading food labels and selecting the right foods can be confusing. Here are some tips to help you understand what different food labels mean: 

  • Sodium free: a trivial amount of sodium per serving
  • Very low sodium: 35 mg or less per serving
  • Low sodium: 140 mg or less per serving
  • Reduced sodium: products where the level of sodium has been reduced by 25%
  • Light or lite sodium: products where the level of sodium has been reduced by at least 50%

In general, if salt is listed as one of the first five ingredients, then that product is likely too high in sodium to be healthy. 

Contact the Kidney and Hypertension Center

At the Kidney and Hypertension Center, our team specializes in a wide variety of kidney diseases and treatments. With our expertise, we can help you monitor your salt intake so that you can prioritize your kidney health. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

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