Perfect seasoning takes a dish up a notch – any foodie worth their salt will vouch for this! Apart from the taste aspect, dietary salt (sodium chloride) is a mainstay of sodium and is essential for the normal functioning of our body. Table salt is about 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Though vital to our well-being, salt isn’t needed in more than a small quantity. Most of us, in fact, eat much more salt than we need. Higher salt intake puts you at a greater risk of developing various health conditions.
Salt And The Human Body
Sodium and chloride, the components of salt, are vital nutrients with many physiological roles.
- Sodium and chloride present in salt are the components of extracellular fluid (the fluid outside cells), which includes blood plasma. Thus, salt is essential for maintaining normal cellular metabolism and plays a critical role in a number of life-sustaining processes.
- Salt helps to maintain the fluid balance in our body.
- Salt helps to maintain normal cardiovascular function.
- Sodium in the small intestine has an important role to play in the absorption of chloride, amino acids, glucose, and water.
- Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is an important component of gastric juice. Chloride from salt is required for the formation of HCl, which aids in the digestion and absorption of many nutrients.
- Salt plays an important role in the nervous system, helping nerves to work properly and in the contraction of your muscles.1
How Much Salt Do We Need?
According to the Food Standards Agency (UK), the human guideline daily amount (GDA) for salt consumption is as follows:
- Age 11 years and over, 6 gm (grams) of salt per day
- Age 7–10 years, 5 gm of salt per day
- Age 4–6 years, 3 gm of salt per day
- Age 1–3 years, 2 gm of salt per day
- Infants under 1 year should not be given salt because their kidneys have not yet matured
- People with certain medical conditions should consume even less2
Salt And Sodium: Connecting The Dots
According to the American Heart Association, a maximum of 1,500 mg (milligrams) of sodium per day is optimal to ensure cardiovascular health and to provide the necessary nutrients to the body. So how much salt does that amount to?
- 1 teaspoon (6 g) of salt has approximately 2300 mg of sodium
- 3/4 teaspoon salt has about 1,725 mg of sodium
- 1/2 teaspoon salt has about 1,150 mg of sodium
- 1/4 teaspoon salt has about 575 mg of sodium3
The Dangers Of Low Salt Intake
Salt restriction below recommended limits has several adverse effects on human health. Increased LDL: In a review study, a diet low in sodium was found to cause an increase in LDL or bad cholesterol.4 Insulin Resistance: Low salt diet can increase insulin resistance, which is a leading cause of health disorders such as diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome.5 Type II Diabetes: In patients with type 2 diabetes, less sodium is associated with a range of adverse health effects including cardiovascular disease (CVD) and premature death.6 Hyponatremia: This condition occurs when the level of sodium in your blood is abnormally low.7
The Dangers Of High Salt Intake
Consuming too much sodium can be detrimental too. Blood Pressure and Stroke: A high salt diet can raise your blood pressure, leading to a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes. High blood pressure is the single biggest cause of stroke.8 Stomach Cancer: Excessive salt intake can damage the linings of the stomach. It can also aggravate stomach infection caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, leading to stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.9 Osteoporosis: Calcium in the body is mostly stored in bones. A high-salt diet can cause calcium to leach out from the bones and get excreted in the urine, leading to weak and brittle bones.10
The Hidden Salt In Your Diet
Table salt is not the only thing you need to regulate in your diet. Most of the sodium you consume (about 75%) could be hidden in processed and packaged foods. These foods can be high in sodium even if they don’t seem to taste very salty. Some of these foods include frozen meals, canned or pickled foods, cheese, condiments, sauces, dressings, bread, cereals, soda, and snacks like salted peanuts, tortilla chips, and crisps.
Tracking Sodium In Your Diet
Several practices can help keep tabs on your salt/sodium intake.
- Regulate the amount of salt you consume (directly and indirectly) in your food. Use apps or online trackers to keep track of your sodium intake.
- While buying packaged or processed foods, check the nutrition labels for sodium or salt content.
- Choose foods that are labeled “sodium-free” or “very low sodium” as much as possible.
|↑1||Sodium (Chloride), Oregon State University.|
|↑2||How much salt is good for me? NHS.|
|↑3||Shaking the Salt Habit, American Heart Association.|
|↑4||Jurgens, G., and Niels Albert Graudal. “Effects of low sodium diet versus high sodium diet on blood pressure, renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterols, and triglyceride.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev 1 (2004).|
|↑5||Garg, Rajesh, Gordon H. Williams, Shelley Hurwitz, Nancy J. Brown, Paul N. Hopkins, and Gail K. Adler. “Low-salt diet increases insulin resistance in healthy subjects.” Metabolism 60, no. 7 (2011): 965-968.|
|↑6||Ekinci, Elif I., Sophie Clarke, Merlin C. Thomas, John L. Moran, Karey Cheong, Richard J. MacIsaac, and George Jerums. “Dietary salt intake and mortality in patients with type 2 diabetes.” Diabetes care 34, no. 3 (2011): 703-709.|
|↑7||Rosner, Mitchell H., and Justin Kirven. “Exercise-associated hyponatremia.” Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology 2, no. 1 (2007): 151-161.|
|↑8, ↑9, ↑10||Salt and Blood Pressure, Action on Salt.|