Salt : Dangerous or Beneficial to Health
Published Sep 19, 2022 • By Claudia Lima
Every year in the world, more than 295 million tons of salt are produced, mainly in China and the United States. Salt seems to be an inexhaustible commodity on the planet.
American adults consume over 3400 mgs of sodium per day as opposed to the 2300 mgs recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Today, food salt or table salt is an essential condiment.
What does it do for the body? What are the benefits if we consume it in moderation or on the contrary, what are the risks in case of excess?
You want answers? Read our article!
What is salt?
Salt is a mineral of marine origin, its chemical name is sodium chloride, it is thus composed of chlorine (60%) and sodium (40%). It is produced by the evaporation of sea water in salt marshes or is extracted from underground deposits.
Food salt or table salt is a crystallized substance, friable and soluble in water. It is used for seasoning food. It can be white, grey, refined, fine, coarse or blooming but also flavored. Each variety is intended for specific uses: flavoring, cooking, perfuming, preserving...
Food industries add salt to the products they prepare in order to improve their taste, appearance and texture and to increase their shelf life.
Some salts can be iodized, which is advantageous when the consumption of fish and seafood is too low.
Why is salt essential to the body? What are its benefits?
From a chemical point of view, sodium (Na) is the main extracellular electrolyte in the body, which means, among other things, that it allows the balance of electrical charges in our body. Combined with chloride (Cl) and potassium (K), it also helps regulate water, mineral and acid-base (pH) balance.
These balancing mechanisms allow the regulation of blood pressure and are important for the proper functioning of muscle and nerve cells.
The minimum amount of salt needed to live is 1500 milligrams per day.
In terms of cosmetics, salt has many purifying, energizing and relaxing properties.
Sodium deficiency is exceptional, but it is more common in high-level athletes. It is favored by a great sweating during training and in case of high temperature. They must drink bicarbonated water to compensate for the lack of sodium.
Sodium deficiency can have serious consequences, especially in the elderly, due to symptoms of dehydration, loss of appetite, muscle weakness, great fatigue or a drop in blood pressure, for example.
What are the risks of excessive salt consumption?
The right salt intake depends on individual variations, some people are sensitive to excess salt, others are resistant to it.
People with high blood pressure, heart failure and diabetes are particularly sensitive to the harmful effects of excess salt.
Consuming too much salt can be harmful to the body. In the United States, the trend is towards over-consumption, with an average intake of 3400 mgs of sodium per day per person.
The symptoms of salt overconsumption are :
- A great thirst, the brain makes us understand that it is necessary to restore the hydrous balance of the body,
- Frequent bloating, a salty diet causes an accumulation of gas in the intestine,
- A feeling of swelling, the salt retains water, there is an imbalance between the amount of water absorbed and that evacuated,
- Headaches upon awakening, migraine patients have excessive concentrations of sodium in the cerebrospinal fluid,
- Dizziness, as water retention can disrupt the balance of the inner ear.
Over the long term, excessive salt consumption stiffens the arteries, constricts the blood vessels and damages the cardiovascular system. Thus, salt causes an increase in blood pressure, it becomes a major risk factor for stroke, heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases but also kidney disease (renal failure).
Excess salt promotes water retention, when we have a diet too rich in salt, water accumulates in the tissues and is not eliminated. Swelling related to water retention can make you think of gaining weight, but salt has no caloric value.
Osteoporosis would also be favored by excess salt, which would increase the urinary elimination of calcium, cause the formation of calcium-based kidney stones and also bone decalcification.
Also, a salty diet stimulates the ulcer bacteria.
Some studies have shown a link between salt and stomach and colorectal cancers. In these cases, it would be nitrite salts, additives traditionally used in delicatessen.
How to adapt salt consumption?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming less than 2300 milligrams per day for an adult.
As salt is a taste enhancer, we tend to overconsume it. However, it is important to note that table salt only represents 10 to 20% of what we consume, 80% of our consumption corresponds to salt present in food and prepared dishes.
Eating habits are changing due to changing lifestyles and the ever-increasing production of processed products that are common and affordable. These processed products are ready meals, processed meats (bacon, ham, salami), some cheeses, appetizers, instant noodles, sauces and broths, etc. Also, most sweet products (cookies or cakes) made by the food industry contain salt. Some carbonated waters and effervescent medicines are also concerned.
Apart from industrialized dishes, some foods contain more salt than others, the food that contains the most salt is bread, then rusks.
It is enough to eat, for example, a slice of sausage, a handful of crackers, 1/3 of a sandwich, a bowl of soup, 4 slices of bread or a slice of pizza to have consumed 1/5th (i.e. 1g) of the recommended amount of salt per day.
The main benefit of reducing salt intake is a decrease in high blood pressure. Eating fruits and vegetables that contain potassium also helps.
Some practical tips for reducing salt intake at home:
- Do not add salt during food preparation,
- Opt for alternatives such as spices, herbs, etc,
- Do not use a salt shaker at the table,
- Taste before salting and salt with iodized salt,
- Choose foods that are already tasty and fresh (cabbage, celery, salmon, mackerel, lamb, beef),
- Choose low-sodium products.
- Cook with methods that preserve the flavor of food,
- Limit the consumption of appetizers and processed products,
- Learn to read food labels to adapt your consumption.
It is sometimes recommended that patients with high blood pressure or preeclampsia during pregnancy follow a salt-free or low-salt diet to prevent cardiovascular risks.
Many people think that drinking more water will reduce the amount of salt in the body, but this only leads to drainage and therefore a decrease in water retention.
The overconsumption of salt is one of the scourges of the 21st century in industrialized countries. The WHO calls on the food industry to reduce the salt content of prepared foods and issues consumption recommendations.
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