You might have come across several health warnings issued by medical organizations on the dangers of eating too much salt.
Patients who are suffering from high blood pressure and heart ailments are often warned by doctors to reduce the intake of salt/sodium diet.
According to various studies in the past, salt is important for health, but too much or too little of it is equally bad for health.
The over-consumption of sodium chloride is often blamed for health issues like heart diseases, blood pressure, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis, kidney failure, and many more.
Similarly, the low sodium level in the blood can cause hyponatremia, seizures, muscle spasm, heart failure, liver cirrhosis, etc.
In this article we are going to have a close look at the benefits and adverse effects of salt on health and how much sodium a person should eat per day.
What Is Salt?
Sodium chloride (NaCl) is the chemical name of regular salt.
The regular salt contains 60% chloride and 40% sodium. However, most salt brands (table salt, sea salt, and Himalayan salt) available in shops have other added ingredients in them; they include trace amounts of calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, and iodine. Many of the salt brands have tagged labels as “iodized salt.”
The right amount of sodium level in the blood is essential for good health. It helps to normalize the blood pressure, aids in the better functioning of muscles and nerves and helps in maintaining the fluid balance in the body.
Table salt makes not only the food tasty but also the single best source of dietary sodium.
Most foods have some amount of salt naturally present in them, but more of it is added to the food for flavor.
The right amount of salt intake per day is good for health as the various minerals in it become important electrolytes in the body that aid in muscle functioning, fluid balance, and nerve transmission.
The salt is harvested from salt mines or by evaporating the seawater.
There are different types of salts suitable for consumption; they include plain table salt, sea salt, and Himalayan pink salt.
Recommended Daily Sodium Intake
With the increasing popularity of processed foods (which contain a lot more salt than home-cooked foods) the daily sodium intake has gone up very high, much beyond the recommended amount.
According to a rough estimate of health organizations, the average intake of sodium by an American individual is about 3400 mg per day.
Excess intake of salt is really unhealthy as it causes some diseases.
Here is the recommendation of the major health organizations in the world on daily sodium intake:
- American Diabetes Association (ADA): 1500 to 2300 mg.
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): 2300 mg.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND): 1500 to 2300 mg.
- American Heart Association (AHA): 1500 mg.
It is obvious from the above recommendations that it is not healthy to consume more than 1500 to 2300 mg. of sodium per day. It is best to limit the sodium consumption to 1500 mg per day going by the consensus limit of the above recommendations.
The regular salt consists of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Now let us see the sodium content in salt according to teaspoon measure:
- 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
- 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
- 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
- 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
One teaspoon of salt weighs 6 grams, and your daily intake of table salt should not exceed 6 grams.
If we literally follow the above recommendation on salt intake, it calls for drastic changes in the food choices of each one of us.
There is an element of skepticism on the daily sodium intake recommendations, as most people daily consume 3000mg plus sodium and still stay healthy without much of the possible health issues associated with sodium.
Does Low Salt Intake Cause Any Harm?
A low intake of sodium is harmful to health just like a high intake of sodium.
Here are the major side effects of low sodium intake:
- Type II diabetes patients could face increased chances of death with a low intake of salt.
- Insulin resistance increases with a low amount of sodium intake.
- Lack of sufficient sodium intake increases the risks of heart failure.
- According to various studies, a person, who consumes less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day, has a higher chance of developing fatal heart diseases.
- Lack of salt in the diet can lead to elevated levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.
Dangers Of High Sodium Intake
A high intake of sodium can result in many diseases that may even lead to the untimely death of a person.
Stomach cancer accounts for more than 700,000 deaths each year.
According to several observational studies, high sodium diets increase the higher risk of stomach cancer by 68%.
The growth of Helicobacter pylori bacteria that causes inflammation and gastric ulcers is increased with a higher intake of sodium-rich diets.
A person who consumes a diet high in salt may damage and inflame the stomach lining which exposes the body to carcinogen substances that cause gastric cancer.
Eating a high amount of salt leads to a substantial increase in blood pressure, and this heightens the risks of stroke and heart diseases.
However, some of the review studies do not find any evidence to prove to limiting salt intake will reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
A 2011 Canadian study on 1,200 older sedentary adults with normal brain function reached the conclusion that cognitive ability declines with a high daily intake of salt.
High-sodium diets increase the risk of developing renal/kidney stones.
According to a report published in The World Action on Salt and Health, eating too much salt increases the stress on the kidney to maintain the fluid balance in the body. Eventually, the kidney becomes weak and fails to function properly.
A high-salt diet can cause calcium to be lost from bones and excreted in the urine, making the bones weak and easily broken; this disease is called Osteoporosis.
High salt intake will also aggravate other health issues like Vascular Dementia, Water Retention, Asthma, Ménière’s Disease, and Diabetes.
Dietary Advice On Salt Intake
The health organizations in the world have constantly been issuing warnings on the importance of reducing daily salt intake.
While the recommended salt eating is a maximum of 6g per day, the average individual salt intake is 8.6g in the western world.
Here are a few simple tips for reducing the salt intake:
- Choose foods low in salt; less than 1.5g salt (0.6g sodium) per 100g
- Avoid salted snacks, begin to eat nuts and fruits instead
- Eat more home-cooked meals with less salt
- Avoid eating processed foods as 75% of our salt intake comes from them
- Use foods flavor adding ingredients like black pepper, herbs, spices, etc. to reduce the use of salt for flavor.
Which Foods Are High in Salt?
The “Fast Food” culture of the modern lifestyle is the Number.1 reason for the excess sodium intake by most people today.
Popularly used processed foods and restaurant foods are the high sodium ingredient foods we eat.
According to a report published by The American Heart Association about 75% of the salt intake in the US diet comes from processed foods. The people who eat home-cooked foods are well within the limit of healthy levels of sodium intake.
Especially the children and youth, who are fond of processed food items such as snacks, canned soups, pickled foods, and soy sauce, are in the greatest danger of eating slat-rich foods.
The other commonly used high-salt content foods are bread, cottage cheese, pops, pizzas, salted nuts, and salted-cereals.
To cut back on salt, make sure the processed foods you buy do not contain more than 0.6g sodium per 100 grams.
About Low Sodium Diet
You have to eat a low sodium diet only if your health conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart diseases, etc.) do not permit you to have salt. It is always good to follow the recommendations of the doctor if you are physically unwell.
But if you are a normally healthy person who mostly eats only healthy home-cooked foods, you need not pay any particular attention to the daily salt intake.
Every healthy person requires about 1,300mg sodium intake per day for the proper functioning of the body.
Both extremes of ‘low or high amount of salt eating are equally bad for the wellness of the body.