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Best Raw Vegan Sources of Sodium

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Sodium is a very important, but often misunderstood, nutrient. The misunderstanding is largely due to the ill health that can arise from its over-consumption. In the West, a large number of foods are processed with sodium, both for preservation and flavor enhancement. And since Western diets tend to contain a LOT of processed foods, sodium overload is a real concern. On the other hand, whole, unprocessed foods tend to contain relatively low amounts of sodium. So, it's important that those who consume a raw vegan diet, in particular, know which foods are the best sources of this key nutrient.

Best Sodium-Rich Raw Foods

  • Cardoons, 1 cup shredded, 303mg 
  • Artichokes, 1 medium, 120mg 
  • Celeriac, 1 cup, 156mg 
  • Beets, 1 cup, 106mg 
  • Turnips, 1 medium, 82mg 
  • Celery, 1 medium stalk (7-1/2” to 8” long), 32mg 
  • Chard, 1 cup, 77mg 
  • Sweet potatoes, 1 cup cubed, 73mg 
  • Spinach, 1 cup, 24mg

It may be surprising to some that there are plants that contain more than 100mg of sodium per standard serving, but there's more where these come from. The foods I've listed above are just easier to find. It wouldn't take many servings of some of these foods to hit one's daily sodium requirement. Even with the lower sodium items, like sweet potatoes, spinach and celery, one could get about a quarter of their daily calories from these foods and still hit their sodium target, simply because whole foods are less caloric and one needs more to achieve their calorie goals.

How Much Sodium Do We Need?

Exactly how much sodium one needs daily depends on who you ask. According to the American Heart Association, we need 1500mg of sodium per day, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Diabetes Association say 1500 to 2300mg per day. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says 2300mg is needed. I agree with the American Heart Association's number. Most people do not require more than 2000mg of sodium per day, and those who do are either athletes, people who workout vigorously and often or have a condition like hyperhidrosis, that causes one to sweat a lot for no apparent reason. Keep in mind that the bare minimum for the inactive is generally considered to be 500mg of sodium, 1000mg for the moderately active, but one should definitely aim for the 1500mg mark if their goal is optimal health and well-being.

Despite sodium's terrible reputation, it is one of the most important nutrients in the human body and crucial to our survival. Sodium is one of the essential electrolytes; it's required for conducting electrical impulses within cellular fluid and the bloodstream. The human body literally cannot function without sodium. Yes, too much sodium can definitely harm one's health by causing hypertension, aka high blood pressure. When one's blood pressure is elevated, the heart has to work harder to move blood throughout the body and there is an increased strain on the arteries and various organs. This is why hypertension often leads to heart attack and stroke. According to WHO (World Health Organization), ischemic cardiomyopathy is the number one cause of death worldwide, and one of its risk factors is high blood pressure; the same goes for the second leading cause of death – stroke. These two ailments have been the top two killers for a very long time now, and it's almost certain that this has led to sodium being vilified in the West, even while the food industry continues to load their processed products with the mineral.

The average Western meal, particularly in America, whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner, will usually include at least one highly processed food, because processed foods are considered quick, easy and convenient. Factory processed foods (most of them anyway) have sodium added to them to make them more palatable and keep longer on store shelves. So, simply by eliminating these highly processed foods from one's diet one can help prevent sodium overload and the health consequences it can bring. On the flip side, one of the criticisms leveled against the raw vegan diet is that it doesn't allow for enough sodium, which is patently untrue. However, if one is not eating the right foods or not enough food, they will have problems. And not just with sodium deficiency. Speaking of which...

Signs of Sodium Deficiency

The signs of sodium deficiency tend to make their appearances most promptly in three major areas of the body:

  • The Muscles 
  • The Brain 
  • The Gastrointestinal System

The muscles tend to be one of the first areas to experience easily detectable issues when one becomes sodium deficient. Muscle spasms and cramps are two common signs. During exercise, one's muscles may fatigue faster than normal. Sometimes, there is a general weakening of the muscles and muscle seizures may also occur. In the brain, sodium deficiency usually causes hyponatremia. Hyponatremia is a condition that occurs when the level of sodium in the blood becomes abnormally low and results in the body's water level rising and causing the cells to swell. Most of our body's tissues can handle this swelling, but our brains cannot compensate for the increase in the size of their cells, because they are trapped in a finite space – the skull. The resulting symptoms can range from headache, lethargy, fatigue and confusion to irritability and hallucinations. If not treated quickly enough, this swelling can lead to coma and even death. Gastrointestinal distress can also be caused by sodium deficiency. The symptoms usually include decreased appetite, nausea and vomiting. Obviously, some of these symptoms could have other causes, particularly the headaches and muscle cramps, but it's always good to know what to look for, just in case.

To summarize, sodium is very necessary to one's good health, but it's best to get it directly from nature. And, please, don't feel confined by my list; there are plenty of other foods that contain sodium. Fruits and vegetables like guavas, passion fruit, cranberries, apples, winter melon (aka white gourd), broccoli, most leafy greens and white potatoes all contain varying amounts of the mineral. By eating a varied diet you can get all of the sodium that your body needs to achieve and maintain optimal health and well-being, while easily avoiding the danger zone.  


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