Salt (or sodium chloride) contains a mineral called Sodium, which is present in most natural foods and added to almost every processed food. Salt is important for the body for the following reasons:
- To maintain the right body fluid concentrations
- Enable nerve impulse transmission
- Allow contraction and relaxation of muscles
When does salt become a health hazard?
The kidneys regulate the optimal levels of salt required to carry out body’s physiological functions. When the body requires sodium, kidneys prevent it from being filtered out into urine, and ensure the sodium moves into the body fluids. When body sodium level is high, the kidneys allow it to pass through the urine.
The problem arises when a person takes in a large amount of salt in a day through food. The kidneys cannot excrete out sodium fast enough and it starts to build in the blood. High salt concentration in blood causes water retention, which further increases blood volume. A high blood volume puts pressure on the heart to pump harder, increasing the pressure in the blood vessels. Over time, this can lead to chronic diseases like cirrhosis, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, kidney stones, kidney disease, enlarged heart muscles, stroke, and heart failure.
How diet affects body’s salt levels
According to the American Heart Organisation, only 12 per cent of daily salt intake comes from natural foods, while processed foods contribute for 75 per cent. The rest finds its way through salt added during food preparation. A single teaspoon of salt carries 2,325 mg of sodium. NHS recommends a daily limit of 6g of salt (or 2.4g sodium).
Keeping track of how much salt gets consumed in a day can be difficult because salt is one ingredient that can be present in foods one would not assume to have salt. Take for example, breads, cereals and biscuits – all have salt added to them. All forms of processed foods like chips, burgers, pizzas, soda drinks, etc., carry large amounts of salt.
How to keep sodium levels on track?
One need not remove salts from natural foods like vegetables, but it is possible to cut back on salt consumed through processed foods and added to dishes during preparation. Here are some ways of cutting back on salt:
- Avoiding processed foods – Processed foods are not only laden with sodium but they are also addictive, keeping a person going back for more. Cutting them out of the diet or at least reading the sodium content in the nutritional information of the product before buying can help. There are also ‘low sodium’ products available in the market.
- Eating more fresh food – Fresh fruits and vegetables and meats are low on sodium.
- Limiting or removing salt/salty ingredients when cooking – Adopting low-salt cooking by leaving out salt in some recipes and avoiding the use of sauces and dressings can be helpful. Other herbs and spices can be used instead for flavour.
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“How much salt is good for me?” NHS.uk, http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1138.aspx?CategoryID=51
“Sodium: How to tame your salt habit,” MayoClinic.com, Mayo Clinic Staff, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/sodium/art-20045479
“The Effects of Excess Sodium on Your Health and Appearance,” Heart.org, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/The-Effects-of-Excess-Sodium-on-Your-Health-and-Appearance_UCM_454387_Article.jsp
“Tips for cutting back on sodium,”MayoClinic.com, Mayo Clinic Staff, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/sodium/art-20045479?pg=2