Salt: Good or Bad?
Health organizations have been warning us about the dangers of salt for a long time. That’s because high salt intake has been claimed to cause a number of health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease. However, decades of research have failed to provide convincing evidence to support this. What’s more, many studies actually show that eating too little salt can be harmful. This article takes a detailed look at salt and its health effects.
What is salt?
Salt, also known as sodium chloride, is about 40% sodium and 60% chloride. It flavors food and is used as a binder and stabilizer. It is also a food preservative, as bacteria can’t thrive in the presence of a high amount of salt. The human body requires a small amount of sodium to conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals.
Salt and its health effects:
- Too little salt
Low sodium levels can result if there is too much fluid in the body, for example, because of fluid retention. Diuretics are given in this case, to reduce fluid retention.
Other causes of low sodium in the body include:
• Addison disease
• A blockage in the small intestine
• Diarrhea and vomiting
• An underactive thyroid
• Heart failure
• Drinking too much water
If sodium levels fall in the blood, this affects brain activity. The person may feel sluggish and lethargic. They may experience muscle twitches, followed by seizures, a loss of consciousness, coma, and death. If sodium levels fall quickly, this may happen very fast.
- Too much salt
Excess sodium intake has been linked to health problems, such as osteoporosis, kidney disease, and hypertension, or high blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular disease and stroke.
The American Heart Association (AHA) explain that when there is too much sodium in the blood, it “pulls more water into the bloodstream.” As the volume of blood increases, the heart has to work harder to pump it around the body. In time, this can stretch the walls of the blood vessels, making them more susceptible to damage.
High blood pressure also contributes to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, leading to a greater risk of stroke and heart disease, among other problems.
Sodium has also been shown to overstimulate the immune system, suggesting a link with autoimmune diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, allergies, and other conditions.
Researchers have found that children who consume salty foods are more likely to have a sugary drink with it. The combination could increase the risk of obesity.
Which Foods Are High in Salt/Sodium?
Most of the salt in the modern diet comes from restaurant foods or packaged, processed foods. Salted snack foods, canned and instant soups, processed meat, pickled foods and soy sauce are examples of high-salt foods.
There are also some seemingly un-salty foods that actually contain surprisingly high amounts of salt, including bread, cottage cheese and some breakfast cereals.
If you are trying to cut back, then food labels almost always list the sodium content.
How much salt do you consume every day?
Adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium) – that’s around 1 teaspoon. Sodium is essential for good health, so people should not eliminate it entirely from their diet.