Of fluid balance, and muscle and nerve function, everybody needs salt. Yet we’re hearing too much salt being bad for us. And what do we need?
How much sodium it contains is governed by the human body. We get thirsty and drink if the rates are too high and the kidneys speed up the process of getting rid of it.
Too much sodium has been linked with kidney stones, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Too little sodium can cause hyponatremia, and symptoms of dizziness, confusion, twitches and seizures.
Owing to a heavy intake of processed foods, restaurants, and convenience, most Americans eat too much salt and sodium. How far should we go in cutting out salt?
Sodium chloride is actually what we know as salt. It is 40% sodium, and the rest is chlorine.
Important facts about salt
- The body needs salt, but too much or too little can cause problems.
- Sodium makes up 40 percent of salt. If a food label lists sodium instead of salt, multiply the answer by 2.5 for an accurate picture of the salt content.
- Most Americans take in too much salt, and 75 percent of it is hidden in processed and packaged food.
- The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend a maximum intake of no more than 2.3 grams (g) or 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day, or around 1 teaspoon, and preferably no more than 1,500 mg.
The term salt has its roots in the Latin word “sal,” meaning water. It once was a valuable asset, and was used as a trading currency. The English word salary has its roots in the term salt.
Salt has long been used for food preservation and flavouring. It was also used in tanning, dyeing, and bleaching, and pottery, soap, and chlorine manufacturing. It is commonly used in the chemical industry today.
It normally features as free-flowing table salt, rock salt, sea salt, or kosher salt at table or in the kitchen. High levels of salt, or sodium, come from fast food to frozen meat, concealed in everyday food.
The body uses sodium to regulate fluid concentrations. A fluid and sodium balance is important for cardiac, liver and kidney safety. It controls the fluid in your blood and avoids low blood pressure.
Too little salt
Low levels of sodium will result, for example, from fluid retention, if there is too much fluid in the body. In this case diuretics are provided 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 under active thyroid
- heart failure
- drinking too much water
If blood sodium levels decrease this can affect brain function. The person can feel lethargic and sluggish. They may experience twitches of the heart, accompanied by seizures, loss of consciousness, coma , and death. When sodium levels drop rapidly this can happen very quickly.
Symptoms can be severe in older people.
One research showed that rats were kept away from things they usually enjoyed while deprived of sodium. And, therefore, the researchers proposed sodium could act as an antidepressant.
Too much salt
Excess sodium consumption has been related to health problems like osteoporosis, kidney disease , and hypertension, or high blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular disease and stroke.
The American Heart Association ( AHA) states that it “pulls more water into the bloodstream because there’s so much sodium in the blood.” As the blood volume increases, the heart needs to work harder to pump it through the body. This can, in time, stretch the blood vessel walls, making them more susceptible to damage.
High blood pressure also contributes to plaque accumulation in the arteries, which leads to increased risk of stroke and heart disease, among other problems.
The AHA is encouraging people to eat more potassium while reducing their sodium intake. Potassium is believed to minimize the sodium’s harmful impacts.
Additionally, sodium has been shown to over-stimulate the immune system, indicating a link with autoimmune disorders such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, allergies, etc.
Studies find that children who eat salty foods are more likely to get a sugar beverage with it. The combination could increase the risk of obesity.
Within seawater salt and sodium occur naturally dissolved, or as a crystalline solid within rock salt.
The salt we consume today comes mainly from our diet’s refined and easy foods, although certain natural and unprocessed foods do have salt or sodium in them. It naturally occurs in meats , fish, eggs, other vegetables, and dairy products.
According to the AHA the top six salty foods in the U.S. are:
- breads and rolls
- cold cuts and cured meats
Sea salt, rock salt, and kosher salt all contain about 40 percent by weight of sodium. We can contain extra potassium and other minerals but in tiny quantities. We can use all forms of salt in moderation.
How much salt?
Today , the average American eats more than 3,400 milligrams ( mg) or 3.4 grams (g) of sodium a day. Salt is about 40% sodium, that is about 8,500 mg or 8.5 g salt.
The AHA and the World Health Organization suggest that a daily intake of 1,500 mg of sodium, or 1.5 g a day, or just over half a teaspoon of table salt does not surpass.
Persons with high blood pressure , diabetes or cardiovascular conditions should be especially vigilant in maintaining their consumption below the level of 1,500 mg.
What does sodium look like at 1,500 mg?
- one egg: up to 140 mg
- 230 g of fresh milk: around 50 mg
- 200 g of plain yogurt: 40 mg
- 200 g of natural, low-fat yogurt: 76 mg
- 50 g of raw celery: 140 mg
- 60 g cooked spinach: 120 mg
Some vegetables are low in sodium but added salt and much higher sodium content to canned vegetables.
Dietitians advise people not to add extra salt to their food, as whether it is cooked or packaged enough is already added.
Children under one year do not obtain salt, because their kidneys are not mature.
Reading food labels
It’s hard to calculate how much salt we eat, because it’s hidden in many foods. More than 75 percent of American salt eaten does not come from the salt shaker.
To find out which ones are high and low in salt, or sodium, content, and what is the difference between salt and sodium, it is important to test the nutritional information on processed food.
And, if a nutrition label mentions sodium instead of salt, you have to multiply the amount by 2.5 to get the equivalent salt content. If 100 g of food contains 1 g of sodium, the food would have a salt content of 2.5 g.
However, this could be an unnecessary measure, because health guidelines use as a guide milligrams of sodium, not salt.
How low is ‘low’?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that consumers look at the low-salt statements on packaging carefully.
Where a serving contains 1,400 mg (1,4 g) of sodium or less per serving, the salt and sodium content is graded as “low.”
A high-sodium food containing more than 20 percent of the recommended daily intake, or more than 480 mg (0.48 g) per serving, is one.
For example, if a food is salt- or sodium-free it can contain as much as 5 mg (0.005 g) of sodium per serving. Terms like “light” or “reduced” sodium do not simply mean a small amount of salt, but that there is less salt per serving than the normal product.
Physicians recommend avoiding high salt foods, and preferring those with “no salt added,” if possible. You’ll get plenty of salt from fresh meat , vegetables, and dairy products.