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How Much Sodium Does a Water Softener Add to Your Diet?

When you think of drinking a glass of water, you probably don’t worry about drinking a bunch of sodium. However, depending on where you live and your local water supply, you could be drinking saltier water than you have to. Many households use water softeners that contain sodium to get rid of hard water. Understanding how water softeners work and your options for softening your water will help you make the best decision for your home.

What Is the Difference Between Hard & Soft Water?

As water moves through pipes to reach your house, it can pick up minerals from the pipes and the ground. Depending on the amount of minerals in the water, chemists classify water as hard or soft. Hard water has lots of magnesium and calcium ions. Soft water has less magnesium and calcium ions but may have sodium or potassium ions instead. These ions in your water can affect everything from the water’s taste to how well your detergent works to build up in your plumbing.

The minerals in hard water can combine with detergent to produce a sticky scum that will end up anywhere you use soap. Hard water can also leave water stains on glasses washed in a dishwasher. Because of these issues, most people use water softeners to remove some of the minerals from hard water and have better-washed clothes and dishes. Soft water may feel more slippery and sometimes has a slightly salty taste.

How Do Water Softeners Work?

Water softeners are systems that contain a resin through which your drinking water passes. As the water moves through the resin, the resin pulls the calcium and magnesium ions out and puts in either sodium or potassium ions instead. These sodium and potassium ions work better with your detergent to help remove dirt and oil, to the point that you can use less soap to get everything just as clean.

Water softeners typically treat your drinking water and not water used in irrigation. You need to backwash the resin in the water softener system to remove any dirt and make sure that the correct balance of sodium or potassium ions is present to remove the magnesium and calcium. Sometimes water softening systems need more salt added to recharge the resin with sodium ions.

How Much Sodium Is Added to the Water?

The amount of sodium added from a water softening system varies based on the manufacturer and specifications of the system. Untreated tap water already has a small amount of sodium in it. If you live in an area with very hard water, you will need to add more sodium to make your water soft. Typically water softening systems add between 10 to 40 milligrams of sodium per eight ounce glass of water. While this may not seem like a lot of sodium, it presents a source of sodium that most people don’t consider when they think of dietary sodium in their daily intake.

Why Should You Avoid Salt-Based Water Softener Systems?

If you are on a sodium-restricted diet, you should avoid using salt-based water softener systems. These systems will introduce more sodium into your diet. Even if you are not concerned about the sodium, these systems use extra water during the backwashing phase. Salt-based water softener systems waste water because water is used to flush the system. Salt-based water softener systems are not environmentally friendly due the excess sodium pumped back into the sewer system.

There are options for non-sodium based water softeners to suit your needs. Saltless water softener systems do not use chemicals or salts of any kind. No added salt means that your water is not slippery or salty tasting. Because there is no salt, the salt-free water softener systems do not waste water or add sodium to the sewer system.

When dealing with hard water in your home, you have options to keep your plumbing free of buildup and your dishes and clothes as clean as possible without using excess detergent. Understanding the differences between the various water softening systems can direct you towards the system that will work best for your home. Which system would you prefer for your home?

Magnesium to the Rescue

After I recently ran out of my daily magnesium (plus calcium) supplement, I was quickly reminded why I take it. A couple of restless nights and episodes of muscle cramps were enough for me to get the hint. According to Dr. Alan Gaby, a pioneer in the alternative medicine movement, "Magnesium deficiency is one of the most common nutritional problems in the industrialized world today…” Not surprisingly, there is evidence to support magnesium’s role in improving such health conditions as anxiety and panic attacks, asthma, constipation, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, migraines, muscle cramps, and osteoporosis.

Part of the reason we may not be getting enough magnesium today can be attributed to poor soil quality and the poor diet of most Americans — one that is full of overly refined and processed foods. Some foods that are especially high in magnesium include seaweed, halibut, cooked spinach, pumpkin and squash seeds, black beans, okra, and unsweetened dark chocolate. Magnesium supplements are available in many forms such as chelated (glycinate) and non-chelated (chloride, gluconate, and oxide). In chelated forms, the magnesium is usually attached to an amino acid to improve the absorption and decrease irritation to your intestinal tract compared to the non-chelated forms.

While severe magnesium deficiency is uncommon, many people do have symptoms resulting from low magnesium intake. I can personally attest to the benefits I have experienced since increasing my intake through a combination of food and supplement. Keep in mind that magnesium can interact with certain medications, worsen heart disease or kidney problems, and high doses can cause diarrhea. Many experts also recommend that you aim for a calcium-to-magnesium intake ratio of about 2:1. I’d be interested in hearing any stories of improved health from increasing your magnesium intake…

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