Salt Intake And Your Health

How much salt in our diet is too much? Most animals can’t live without a regular intake of salt, and we humans need at least a few hundred milligrams of daily salt for health and survival. When intake is kept within about 1500 to 2300 mgs per day, salt is healthy. But these days, most of us consume way too much of it, primarily from processed foods.

Heart Health and Salt

Excess salt may represent a danger to our cardiovascular health. Sea salt (dried sea water) and table salt (mined from the earth) are mostly composed of sodium chloride, and too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure. High blood pressure can cause a cascade of problems for our cardiovascular system, which can result in worst-case scenarios of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.

Why does this happen? Our bodies need salt to transmit nerve impulses, help our brains and muscles function optimally, and maintain our fluid balance. When we consume too much sodium, the excess is stored in our kidneys, but when their capacity is exceeded, sodium enters the bloodstream. And since salt molecules attract and hold water, blood volume increases.

Blood vessels swell to accommodate the volume, and the heart has a harder time transporting blood around the body. Stress and damage result, both to artery walls and to the heart muscle itself.

Salt Consumption and Processed Food

Most of us don’t feel this process taking place, which is why it’s a good idea to have your blood pressure checked periodically. Also, most of us don’t fully realize how much sodium we consume each day.

Salt is an excellent preservative, and it also complements and heightens the flavors of many foods. We’ve known this for thousands of years, but only recently have we been processing, packaging, selling, shipping and storing food the way we do now. Food manufacturers add salt to almost everything. If we eat a variety of processed food each day, our sodium intake can approach dangerous levels very quickly.

Reducing Sodium and Salt Intake

Try to keep your daily sodium levels under 2,300 milligrams–a teaspoon of salt per day. If you’re over 45, of African descent, or have kidney disease or high blood pressure, stay below 1,500 milligrams to maintain optimal health.

Here are a few healthy ways to slow down your salt intake:

  • Eat fresh vegetables, not vegetables from a can. Sodium can’t be added to the packaging if there is no packaging.
  • Follow the same guideline with meat: Choose fresh meats and avoid processed varieties like luncheon meats or prepackaged meat-like products.
  • If you do choose processed meats and vegetables, reach for low-sodium varieties. But read the package labels; you may find that “low sodium” products still contain a shockingly high amount of sodium.
  • Try to reduce your use of condiments, including ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and of course, table salt. Depending on the sodium levels you’re used to, it may take a while for you to fully appreciate the true flavors of foods. But give it time. Reducing your sodium will not only help you appreciate the natural flavor of fresh unprocessed food: it may also extend your life.

Resources

Los Angeles Times. (2010). Less salt, fewer health issues, studies say. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from http://articles.latimes.com/2010/mar/23/health/la-he-0323-hosp-blood-pressure-20100323

Mayo Clinic.com. (2010). Sodium: how to tame your salt habit now. Retrieved September 19, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sodium/NU00284

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. (2010). Tips for reducing sodium in your diet. Retrieved September 20, 2010, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/prevent/sodium/tips.htm