How much salt is healthy in pregnancy?
For so long, people have thought restricting sodium (which comes from salt) is important for heart-health, including during pregnancy. While rarely this may be necessary, many women don’t get enough salt. Especially in pregnancy, a low-salt diet can be dangerous. Your whole body, muscles (like your heart and uterus), and especially your kidneys need adequate sodium and other electrolytes.
The reason restricting salt has, sort of, worked for some health concerns is because sodium is used as a preservative and as a flavor enhancer in a lot of low-nutrient, junk food. Salt in canned or preserved food loses its flavor when its cooked down, so you often need a lot of salt when preserving these foods, and even more when you re-heat it because the flavor gets lost. If you have a diet high in these low-nutrient foods, and you start restricting these foods, you will likely start seeing positive results… but it likely isn’t the reduction in sodium.
Eating a whole, fresh food diet however, will mean that you need to be sure to salt your food adequately. Salt (which includes sodium and chloride) is imperative for balancing hydration, preventing swelling, and increasing blood volume necessary for a healthy full-term pregnancy and nourished baby. Without trace minerals and electrolytes, all the water you drink will just run right through you. You might also realize you’re feeling exceptionally thirsty when you’re low in electrolytes, too. Salt helps you to feel a bit more satisfied with food, and with hydration.
In pregnancy, you need approximately 3000-5000 mg of sodium daily. That looks like approximately 1½ to 2½ teaspoons of real, mineral-rich, salt (not “table” salt). If you’re using fresh whole foods, or salt-free canned foods, you can imagine how much salt you need to add to your foods daily to get enough.
While you can get some sodium from your food, most real whole foods don’t have nearly enough sodium to meet your minimal needs. However, preserved meats (like many forms of pork, sausages, and deli meats) are usually very high in sodium. So, if you’re eating these foods, or any processed foods where you or someone else has already added salt, you need to be careful of your salt intake.
WHOLE FOOD SODIUM AMOUNTS
- Mineral Salt, ¼ tsp. – 420 mg
- Cheese, 1 oz – 175 mg
- Celery, ½ C – 140 mg
- Egg, Boiled – 124 mg
- Turkey, 3 oz – 90 mg
- Chicken, 3 oz – 70 mg
- Pork, 3 oz – 70 mg
- Beef, 3 oz – 61 mg
- Roasted Seaweed – 55 mg
- Fish, 3 oz – 50 mg
- Milk, 8 oz – 44 mg
- Carrot, 1 Med. – 42 mg
- Broccoli, 1 C – 30 mg
- Spinach, 1 C – 24 mg
- Avocado – 11 mg
- Beans, 1 C Cooked – 2 mg
- Fruit – 0-10 mg
Processed and preserved foods are a little tricky because they don’t cause the same physiologic reactions in your body that freshly-prepared foods will have. When you are eating a mostly fresh diet, you’ll have a much better physiologic indicator of how much sodium you really need.
As you become more deficient in sodium, the taste buds on your tongue flatten out and cause your food to taste bland. Flat taste buds make your food taste bland and you begin craving salty foods and you’re more likely to reach for junk foods like chips and fried foods. Once your body has adequate sodium levels, though, your taste buds change to make tasting salt easier and adding more salt is no longer quite as appealing.
It is important to recognize that “table salt” is not the same thing as real, mineral-rich, salt. Table salt is mined underground and processed to remove all the nutritive minerals that support sodium’s function in your body. Whole foods, like real salt, work in balance with all the minerals naturally in those foods. Processed foods are always harder on the body’s systems and need to be eliminated or minimized. Additionally, iodine is often added to table salt, and most real salt does not have added iodine. (Without eating much seafood, this is important to know because it is also easy to be deficient in iodine which is imperative for thyroid function and fertility).
Where are you getting your sodium?