While a certain amount of sodium is necessary for health, many people consume too much. Excess sodium makes the body retain water, which can cause bloating.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 90% of people in the United States consume too much sodium. Most processed foods contain sodium, so many people do not realize they are consuming so much.

It is important that people pay attention to the amount of sodium they consume because a high sodium diet has links to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

Consuming too much sodium can also cause water retention, which can make a person feel bloated. Although this is temporary, some research suggests a connection between weight gain and excess sodium consumption.

Read more to learn about the link between sodium and weight gain, as well as tips to reduce sodium consumption.

Learn more about how much salt to consume here.

Shakers of table salt, which contain sodium.Share on Pinterest
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Sodium is vital for many of the body’s natural processes, such as managing nerve impulses and muscle contractions but consuming too much can make the body retain water. This can make a person feel puffy and bloated.

One 2019 study looked at how increasing sodium intake affected bloating in the participants. Half of the participants ate a standard “Western” (low-fiber) diet, and the other half consumed the high-fiber DASH diet. Increasing sodium led to higher levels of bloating across both groups.

This shows that higher sodium diets can cause more bloating, regardless of what type of diet a person eats.

Learn how to reduce bloating here.

Although some research links higher sodium consumption to weight gain, it does not mean sodium causes weight gain. There are multiple reasons for this link.

Water weight

First, sodium can cause the body to retain water. This water weight is temporary, and if a person consumes less sodium, their body will shed the excess fluid.

The body contains a lot of water, which can cause weight to fluctuate daily. The menstrual cycle and certain medications can further affect how a person’s body retains water.

Read six tips to reduce water weight naturally.

Processed foods

Many processed foods have high sodium content, are low in fiber, and are high in calories. It is OK to eat these foods in moderation, but eating them regularly can cause weight gain.

An older 2014 Spanish study involving 418 participants explored the association between sodium and excess weight. The results showed links between elevated urinary sodium and high:

Participants with the highest sodium intake also consumed more calories, ate less healthy foods, and ate more snacks and other foods.

Although the weight gain may not directly result from sodium intake, the study concluded that because many less nutritious and processed foods contain high sodium levels, consuming them has associations with weight gain.

Learn how processed foods affect health here.

Possible causation

Other research has investigated whether sodium plays a role in weight gain independent of the foods that contain it.

A 2015 study analyzed the sodium and calorie intake of 458 children and 785 adults. The results suggested a link between elevated sodium intake and higher weight, despite calorie intake. However, the researchers noted that the children who consumed more sodium did less physical exercise, which likely played a role.

The study concluded that excess sodium plays a role in weight gain but could not precisely identify how sodium causes weight gain or obesity.

A 2018 study found that people who consumed diets containing the same number of calories did not change their body fat, regardless of whether they had low sodium or high sodium diets.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. This equates to about 1 teaspoon of salt. However, they add that a daily limit of 1,500 mg is ideal for most adults.

Despite this, the average sodium intake of individuals in the United States is 3,400 mg per day.

Approximately 70% of this sodium comes from packaged, processed, or restaurant foods, not the salt shaker. This is why many people do not realize how much sodium they are consuming. Although they may not be adding much salt to their food, there could already be a surprisingly high amount in it.

Learn more about high sodium foods here.

Excess sodium can be detrimental to a person’s health in several ways.

Consuming too much sodium results in high levels of sodium in the blood. This draws more water into the blood vessels, raising a person’s blood pressure.

Over time, high blood pressure stresses the walls of the blood vessels. It leads to an accumulation of plaque that can block blood flow.

High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.

Other health effects of excess sodium intake include:

  • heart failure
  • kidney disease
  • kidney stones
  • enlarged heart muscle
  • headaches
  • osteoporosis

Learn about excessive levels of salt here.

Understanding how much sodium is present in food can help people make small changes to their diet that will have a significant positive effect on their health. The CDC outlines several tips for reducing sodium, including:

Supermarket shopping

Since packaged foods are high in sodium, even food that does not taste salty can contain large amounts. It is important to take care when grocery shopping.

Tips for grocery shopping include:

  • choosing “no salt added” and “low sodium” canned foods
  • reading food labels before buying
  • comparing products, and selecting the lower sodium options
  • buying fresh or flash-frozen meat instead of deli meat

Cooking at home

Although cooking at home takes some time and practice, home-cooked food is almost always lower in sodium and price. Low-sodium cooking tips include:

  • reducing salt for flavoring by using spices, lemon juice, garlic, and salt-free seasonings
  • adding more fruits and vegetables to meals
  • using “plain” ingredients where possible (for example. plain couscous instead of flavored, plain frozen broccoli instead of broccoli with added flavor)
  • avoiding sauces and packaged mixes for flavoring
  • making salad dressing at home

Eating at restaurants

Restaurant food often contains more sodium than people use when cooking at home. While eating out is an integral part of a person’s social life, following some simple guidelines can help them keep their sodium intake in check when choosing meals at a restaurant.

Dining out tips include:

  • asking for nutritional information before ordering
  • asking the waiter or chef to put less salt in your food
  • avoiding using the salt shaker on the table
  • splitting a meal with a partner or friend
  • eating out as a special treat, not a regular habit

Making small changes

Changing dietary habits is hard and adjusting to new eating patterns takes time. Try to make changes gradually, and do not be discouraged by slip-ups. Anyone who finds these changes particularly difficult might benefit from contacting a doctor or dietitian.

While these tips are a starting point, they are not comprehensive, and some people, including those who live in food deserts, may find them restrictive.

This basic meal plan may provide helpful guidance for people limited by budget, access, and time.

Although sodium can cause water retention, research has not proven that it causes weight gain. Processed, packaged, and restaurant foods often contain high sodium levels foods and eating too much of this type of food can cause weight gain.

However, most people in the U.S. consume too much sodium, which can be detrimental to health.

High sodium in the diet can cause bloating and increase the risk of several health conditions, such as stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease.

People can reduce the sodium content in their diet by cooking at home, reading food labels, consuming less processed and packaged foods, and checking the sodium content in the meals they eat in restaurants.