While nearly everyone knows that having too much salt in one’s diet is bad for the heart, we’d like to highlight some other facts about this mineral that not everybody is aware of, in honour of World Salt Awareness Week.
Read on to get the details.
A Note On Sodium
Salt’s scientific name is sodium chloride, and about 40% of it is made up of sodium: the main reason behind salt’s notoriety.
Sodium binds to water in our bloodstream and retains it, which increases our blood pressure and makes the kidneys work harder. Both of these are the risk factors for stroke, kidney disease and, most notably, heart disease – the leading cause of deaths in India from 2010-2013.1
But – as you will discover later in the article – we do need some amount of sodium in the body.
Here’s a list of facts that, together, will help you understand how to achieve the ideal amount of salt intake from your diet.
1] 77% of the Salt We Eat is From Hidden Salts
Many people who try to limit their sodium-intake believe that using less salt in their home cooked meals will make a significant difference.
Studies have found otherwise.
Decreasing the amount of salt we use in cooked food only leads to a modest decline in blood pressure. Turns out, home cooked food contributes a mere 11% (approximately) of the total salt that we eat!
A whopping 77% – three quarters of our salt intake – come from the hidden salts in various store-bought foods. Other than for its flavour, salt is used as a preservative in these foods, because bacteria have trouble growing in a salt-rich environment. This applies to snacks, canned food, processed meat, bread, breakfast cereals and cheese, amongst others.2
A good place to start would be reading food labels: you can consider products that have 140mg or less sodium, per serving, to be low in sodium.
2] 2300mg of Salt a Day is Fine (For Most People)
It seems as though we’re constantly being told to reduce the amount of salt we eat – but this needn’t apply to everybody.
In truth, the blood pressure raising property of salt is essential to our wellbeing.
But the problem – as with anything else – comes with overconsumption, specifically, having more than 2300 mg of salt a day, which is about 1 teaspoon. (For those with high blood pressure and heart disease, a little more caution is required – the recommended daily limit is 1500 mg per day).
So, as long as you avoid processed foods that have hidden salts or aren’t sensitive to salt, the little amount that you do use in your cooking needn’t be a cause for concern.
3] Too Little Salt = Also a Problem
In some cases, the advice of cutting down on salt can do more harm than good.
When people completely cut down on their salt intake – especially athletes, since they tend to drink more water and could thus dilute their sodium levels even more – things start to go wrong.3
When there isn’t enough salt in the body, our levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides increase. Both are risk factors for many lifestyle diseases, including heart disease.4-7
A study has even shown us that very low levels of salt can make our cells more resistant to insulin, which leads to type II diabetes and related issues.8
Salt is also needed for our body to maintain fluid balance and help our nerves and muscles function properly; it is, after all, an important electrolyte of the body.
4] Different Salts Still Might Need the Same Restrictions
Those who replace the table salt in their food with “healthier salts” should still be wary of their salt consumption.
The reason “natural salts” like sea salt are believed to be healthier is because they have some trace amounts of minerals like magnesium, potassium and calcium – but these levels are often so little that you can get more of these from other food sources.
Also, table salt may have additives like anti-clumping agents, but many also have iodine, too little of which leads to a deficiency that many people suffer from.9
The clincher: even if you replace the table salt in your food with sea salt, kosher salt or Himalayan salt, their sodium levels are basically the same! Unless specifically stated otherwise, they all have 40% sodium.
So switching your table salt with another does not necessarily make it okay to increase your salt consumption!
5] Diet & Exercise Can Counter the Effects of Excess Sodium
Exercise is very important for maintaining a healthy heart because it helps reduce blood pressure. Reducing the amount of carbs in our diet has also shown to contribute to a healthy heart.10, 11
Food rich in potassium can actually counter the effects of too much sodium. Potassium helps gets rid of sodium through urine and helps relax blood vessel walls (which lowers blood pressure).12, 13 So, a healthy diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grain, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts goes a long way.
Antioxidants are another great way to reduce blood pressure and also fight the other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.14-18Many of these are found in spices, which also happen to be a great way to cut salt from food without compromising on flavour.
And once we start looking out for the sources of sodium in our diet, we can help keep a check on our blood pressure while still enjoying the flavour of our food!
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