Like most people, I’ve struggled with food. Once you become an adult, and you can no longer blame your parents for the dinners they threw down in front of you after a busy day at work (hamburger helper, anyone?) it quickly becomes clear how difficult it is to fit a healthy diet into a busy lifestyle. I mean I’ve tried it all, Body For Life, Weight Watchers, Low Calorie/Low Fat, back to Weight Watchers and eventually the Keto diet.
Now, this blog isn’t going to be a discussion of all of those diets- you can easily do an internet search and see the literally millions of articles and opinions advocating for or against each one. The amount of information and misinformation out there is, quite frankly, overwhelming. The confusion people must feel who are simply trying to lose weight and be healthy has to be extremely frustrating. And of course, I need to put out the common disclaimers- I’m not a registered dietician, no diet results for me will necessarily be the same for you, everybody is different, blah blah blah.
My Experience with Diets
Now that that’s out of the way, for me, I saw my most success on Weight Watchers and Keto. I lost a bunch of weight, leaned up, and felt really good about my ability to stick with the diets. However, that’s where things get sticky.
The thing to know about any diet- before starting- is each one has a different emphasis. By that I mean some diets count calories, some limit carbs, some limit fats, others value protein. And the reason why these diets that claim to be a one-size-fits-all solution for anyone seeking to be healthier are unrealistic is because what one person’s body needs to do to change is completely different from what another’s may need. The reason one person may be overweight may have nothing to do with carbs, (they may, in fact, be fine with their number of carbs but just overeating calories in general) which is why a low-carb diet’s claims of “all weight loss to all people” is just simply not true. But that’s an article for a different day.
The important thing to know is that the major thing in common in all of these diets is that although many will mention the overall theme of eating healthy, they all have a different definition of exactly what that is. Sure the buzzwords “healthy fats” have been thrown around a lot lately, as well as “root vegetables”, “complex carbohydrates”, the list goes on and on, but when it comes to most diets, there’s one word they never mention: sodium. And that can be pretty dangerous if you’re not thinking about it.
I did the Keto diet (almost no carb, high fat diet) pretty much religiously for the last two years. If you search Keto, inevitably you’ll find lots of pictures of bacon, steaks, cheese, bacon, avocados, bacon, eggs, burgers with no bun, (and did I say this already…bacon?). The diet is super strict. Luckily for me when I start something, whether it’s a diet or exercise program, I am meticulous about it. I’ve found that journaling, tracking, etc is really beneficial to staying on track by creating an honest system of accountability that doesn’t lend itself to excuses. That being said, while on Keto (and even now not on it) I have an app that tracks four main categories: Carbs, Protein, Fats, and Calories.
Using Sworkit app for two years, I ended up losing 15 pounds and have kept it off, have decreased my body fat percentage and feel pretty healthy overall. So it was quite the shock when I went into my annual physical the other day. When the doctor turned the computer monitor towards me to show my bloodwork numbers, to say I was surprised was an understatement.
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Borderline anemia
- Questionable kidney function
The culprit for some of this, the doctor believes? Sodium. Because what the Keto diet doesn’t account for or even make you think about- as it’s showing you recipes all of the wonderfully tasty meals you can have with steak, eggs, bacon, and cheese- is the amount of sodium found in all of these things. Excess sodium, if you didn’t know, can lead to a bevy of health problems.
According to the American Heart Association, this is just a partial list of the risks of too much sodium:
- Enlarged Heart Muscle
- Kidney Disease
- Heart Failure
- High Blood Pressure
- Kidney Stones
- Stomach Cancer
So from that appointment, the doctor put me on a low-sodium diet among other things. I didn’t think I’d been eating that much sodium because I only sprinkle salt on “a few of my meals”, but she seemed pretty sure that was the issue so I figured what the heck I’ll play along.
The Realization of how much Sodium was in my Diet
The first step meant I needed to start really looking at the nutrition labels and the salt in everyday foods to keep track of my sodium intake. (To be honest, I did it mostly so I could say “See, I knew there was no way I was eating too much sodium”). But once I did and realized the amount of sodium I’d been consuming the last two years, the results didn’t vindicate me, they mortified me.
The Recommended Daily Allowance(RDA) of sodium is between 1500mg and 2300mg.
In my low-sodium diet the doctor wants to keep me on the lower end of that range. Knowing that and doing the research on the level of sodium in my current foods, I found that my daily omelette, with bacon, cheeses, eggs and sausage, while Keto and low-carb friendly, was nearly 1700mg of sodium! For ONE MEAL. Already putting me above the lower limit. And that’s not taking into consideration the salt I’d sprinkle on the omelette as well, or if I had a piece of toast and butter (an extra 200mg sodium) to go with it.
Table salt alone is around 2300mg of sodium in one little teaspoon, in case you didn’t know. So after doing the math for the entire day- when I would add a seasoned steak or other meats for dinner and the salty nuts and pork rinds as snacks (all Keto/low carb friendly by the way) I was pushing 6000mg of sodium per day. 3-4 times the amount we are supposed to be ingesting. And the blood test results clearly echoed that way of eating.
My New Low-Sodium Diet
So now, along with the low-sodium, more plant-based diet, I’m going to have to be on cholesterol medication, and if my other numbers don’t improve, the doctor says I may have to get an earlier colonoscopy. All of this when on the outside, I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. It’s a humbling experience to be sure. It’s also frustrating, honestly, that for all the research I did about Keto before trying it, and all of the articles I read, not one mentioned to keep an eye on sodium. And so I didn’t.
But don’t think this whole “high sodium thing” doesn’t apply and you don’t have to pay attention because you’re on a low calorie/low-fat diet, Weight Watchers, Slim-Fast or something other than Keto. The first week I was modifying my diet, I thought I was making the right choices and was stunned to see that even the foods we look at as healthy can have an insane amount of sodium in them. Just a few that caught me off guard.
Salt content in everyday foods
- Turkey Kielbasa: 2 oz. – 90 calories. 510mg sodium. In just TWO OUNCES! I thought everything about turkey was healthy?
- One Carb Balance tortilla: 120 calories but 310mg sodium! Low in carbs, high in fiber, but whoa!
- Low Fat Cottage cheese: 1/2 cup, 90 calories, 450mg of sodium.
- Frozen shrimp: 3 oz. -100 calories, 550mg sodium.
Now all of that being said, genetically I am more than likely predisposed to high cholesterol and high blood pressure, as my parents both have those ailments. So remember the way this diet affected me may not affect you the same way, and that goes for any diet. However, had I thought about the sodium intake in the foods I ate on Keto, hindsight being 20/20 I would have either not chosen that diet, or modified it to reduce the amount of sodium intake.
Also, let’s remember that moderation is also important. Alone, these foods can be healthy. But overdo it and then you find yourself cursing at a teaspoon of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce for having zero calories but 180mg of sodium.
And that’s the bottom line. Before starting any diet or exercise program, don’t just look at the before-and-after victory photos without thinking about all of the possible outcomes. Specifically look at your own life, your own family history, genetics, etc., and think about all of these variables outside of just calories, fat, carbs and protein(Is it providing enough vitamins? Too much sodium?) that this program is advocating, and whether or not it applies to you, is doable without any health risks, and finally is sustainable.
Keep up with your Blood Work
So when you go online and research that next diet, remember this: Regardless of whatever diet you choose, even if you achieve positive results on the scale and in the mirror, it is extremely important that you make sure to keep up with your bloodwork and how you’re feeling in general. If you’re feeling down, sluggish, not sleeping well, etc., this could mean you’re not getting enough nutrients out of whatever diet you’re on, or overdoing some, as I was sodium, even though I wasn’t feeling poorly at all. These are things you won’t know unless you’re proactive and really listening to your body. Be healthy, be safe!
SworkTeam Guest Blogger: Shaun Broyls
Along with being a Sworkit Ambassador, Shaun Broyls is an actor, author and stand-up comedian in Los Angeles, CA. He is an avid fitness enthusiast and coach who is currently studying towards his Personal Trainer Certification.