The FDA recommends having 2,300 milligrams of sodium or 1 teaspoon of salt per day.1 But you may need to stick to 1,500 milligrams or 2/3 of a teaspoon of salt per day if you:
- Are over age 50
- Have high or slightly elevated blood pressure
- Have diabetes
- Are of African American origin
While most health-conscious people are now aware of the perils of too much sugar in the diet, not many are aware of the ill effects of excessive salt consumption. But research indicates that excessive salt intake can disrupt the electrolyte balance in your body and lead to a number of complications. It’s important to note that most of these studies are small and need further research to validate, making it necessary for you to consult a health professional about the ideal salt intake for you.2
1. Kidney Stones And Kidney Disorder
Kidneys have a hard time keeping up with all the salt we tend to load up on. Kidneys filter our blood and help excrete waste products and extra salts and minerals from the body. This process involves regulating the amount of water that’s retained in the bloodstream and the amount that’s released as urine. When we load up on sodium, the kidneys struggle to effectively expel fluid waste, leading to water retention.
Over time, improper filtration could cause an increase in the amount of calcium in the urine. Eventually, this can lead to kidney stones.3 4
2. Bloating And Edema
Did you know salt is as addictive as nicotine and alcohol? This is because salt triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the sensation of pleasure.5
Sometimes, a very salty meal might make you feel bloated because of water retention. This is not too common in healthy people and not a cause of serious concern. The condition resolves in a few hours. You can help it further by drinking sodium-free water.6 However, if you consistently experience edema, that is a swelling in your face, hands, legs, and ankles, after every meal, it indicates that your kidneys are struggling to filter out water and you must reduce your overall salt intake. This also calls for a visit to the doctor.
The most common signs of dehydration due to excessive salt intake are concentrated urine, decreased urination, and dry skin.
When too much sodium in your body throws your kidneys off their game, your body becomes dehydrated and pulls water from the cells, leading to dehydration. Excessive thirst, nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea can be attributed too much salt. Like in the case of edema, drinking more water will help this problem as well because it will neutralize the sodium and rehydrate the cells in your body.7
4. High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is another fallout of excessive sodium intake. When the kidney doesn’t function well and water is retained in the body, blood volume increases. This in turn leads to high blood pressure and increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, and even heart failure.8 This is why people with a history of hypertension in the family are warned against excessive salt consumption.
As we’d mentioned earlier, excessive sodium intake hampers the filtration process of the kidneys, which could lead to the build-up of calcium crystals in the urine. When excessive calcium is lost through urination, your bones don’t get enough of the mineral to maintain bone density. In fact, if calcium is in short supply in the blood, the body might leach it out of the bones. Over time this could lead to osteoporosis, a condition where bones become weak and brittle. This effect is more likely to happen in postmenopausal women.9 10
Salt doesn’t directly cause obesity like sugar or refined foods do. But research has found that excess salt intake increases your insulin production. Insulin signals your body to store more fat. Eventually, this also leads to insulin resistance and diabetes as well as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.11 It has also been found that as salt increases thirst, people tend to load up more on calorie-laden beverages, which in turn contributes to their rapid weight gain.12
Consuming too much salt could lead to dementia. One study has found that when mice were put on a high-salt diet, they couldn’t perform well on tests that focused on memory and cognitive function. Researchers of this study concluded that excessive salt impaired the ability of cells that lined the blood vessels (endothelial cells) and, in turn, reduced the production of nitric oxide, a gas that is normally produced by these cells to relax blood vessels and increase blood flow. This impairment reduced the resting blood flow to the brain and led to dementia.
To see if these effects could be reversed, the researchers put the mice back on a regular diet and found that the cerebral blood flow and endothelial function returned to normal within 4 weeks. However, further research is required to fully understand the connection between salt intake and cognitive function.13
8. Stomach Cancer
If you tend to eat salt-preserved foods like pickled olives and jalapenos as well as meat and fish, you might be at a risk of stomach cancer. One study has found that consuming these specific high-salt foods excessively causes damage to the stomach lining and leads to the formation of lesions which, if left to develop can lead to stomach cancer. They also encourage the growth of Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria responsible for stomach cancer.14
Having stated that, the link between salt and stomach cancer is specific to these foods. As of now, the evidence on the link between overall high-salt diets and stomach cancer is inconclusive.15
Tips To Lower Salt Intake
Instead of table salt, you could try potassium chloride salts, also called no-sodium salts or low sodium salts. However, if you are diabetic, suffer from kidney or bladder diseases, or are on diuretics, consult a professional first.16
Now that you know of the possible health risks associated with salt, here are a few tips you can follow if you’d like to lower your intake.17
- Choose unprocessed or minimally processed foods when you’re shopping for groceries. Canned, processed, and frozen foods often have a lot of salt added to them.
- Avoid or lower your intake of high-sodium foods like pepperoni pizza, white bread, processed cheese, hot dogs, spaghetti with sauce, ham, ketchup, cooked rice, and flour tortillas.
- If you do wish to buy processed foods, go for items where the sodium content is less than or equal to the calories per serving.
- When eating out, do ask if your food could be made with less salt.
- Train your taste buds to enjoy foods with low salt. One study has found that people enjoy lower-sodium foods almost as much as they would foods with sodium overload.
- If you do have high-salt foods, make sure to eat smaller portions.
- Try and cook at home as much as you can so as to control how much salt you consume.
- Instead of using salt, try flavoring your food with herbs like basil, dill, oregano, thyme, and rosemary, or spices like paprika and turmeric.
|↑1||Salt and Sodium. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑2||Take it with a grain of salt. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑3, ↑6||You Asked: What Happens To Your Body When You Eat Too Much Salt? Texas A&M University.|
|↑4||How Your Kidneys Work. National Kidney Foundation.|
|↑5||Morris, Michael J., Elisa S. Na, and Alan Kim Johnson. “Salt craving: the psychobiology of pathogenic sodium intake.” Physiology & behavior 94, no. 5 (2008): 709-721.|
|↑7||Salt and your health, Part I: The sodium connection. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑8||Health Risks and Disease Related to Salt and Sodium. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑9||Potassium-rich foods can help offset high salt diet contribution to osteoporosis, UCSF study finds. University Of California San Francisco.|
|↑10||Heaney, Robert P. “Role of dietary sodium in osteoporosis.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 25, no. sup3 (2006): 271S-276S.|
|↑11||Lanaspa, Miguel A., Masanari Kuwabara, Ana Andres-Hernando, Nancy Li, Christina Cicerchi, Thomas Jensen, David J. Orlicky et al. “High salt intake causes leptin resistance and obesity in mice by stimulating endogenous fructose production and metabolism.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115, no. 12 (2018): 3138-3143.|
|↑12||Moosavian, Seyedeh Parisa, Fahimeh Haghighatdoost, Pamela J. Surkan, and Leila Azadbakht. “Salt and obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies.” International journal of food sciences and nutrition 68, no. 3 (2017): 265-277.|
|↑13||Faraco, Giuseppe, David Brea, Lidia Garcia-Bonilla, Gang Wang, Gianfranco Racchumi, Haejoo Chang, Izaskun Buendia et al. “Dietary salt promotes neurovascular and cognitive dysfunction through a gut-initiated TH17 response.” Nature neuroscience (2018): 1.|
|↑14||Gaddy, Jennifer A., Jana N. Radin, John T. Loh, Feng Zhang, M. Kay Washington, Richard M. Peek, Holly M. Scott Algood, and Timothy L. Cover. “High dietary salt intake exacerbates Helicobacter pylori-induced gastric carcinogenesis.” Infection and immunity 81, no. 6 (2013): 2258-2267.|
|↑15||Salt: Shaking up the link with stomach cancer. World Cancer Research Fund International.|
|↑16||Salt substitutes: Another way to trim your sodium intake. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑17||Take Action: How to Reduce Your Sodium Intake. Harvard T.H. Chan.|