Salt: How much is too much?
Salt has a bad reputation, many are aware that excessive salt intake can lead to the development of high blood pressure, but salt also plays a vital role in the physiology of our bodies. Sodium is so important to our bodies that we have a specific sensor on our tongues that can detect sodium. Salt is crucial for maintaining every cell in your system, it permeates the fluid between the cells, the extracellular fluid, while potassium exists inside the cells in the intracellular fluid. Sodium and potassium need to remain in dynamic balance so nutrients and waste can exchange across cell membranes. Without salt our bodies would cease to function properly.
So the human body needs salt, but how much? The average American’s salt intake is 2-3 teaspoons a day. While this may not sound like much, it provides 4,000-6,000 mg of sodium, double the FDA’s maximum RDA of 2,400 mg. Salt is so prevalent in processed foods, getting salt out of your diet and controlling your intake isn’t as simple as passing up the salt shaker. Snacks like chips, crackers, and popcorn are obviously salted but so are foods like bread, cereal, and salad dressings. In order to really reduce your salt intake you have to read the labels of the foods you are eating. As a rule of thumb: focus on buying foods that have 140 mg of sodium or less per serving.
Refined salt, aka table salt, is two mineral salts, sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl–) together with other chemicals like anti-caking agents, commonly, sodium aluminosilicate or alumino-calcium silicate. These anti-caking agents are sources of aluminum, a toxic metal that has been associated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Bleaches are often used in the refining process and more than 60 trace minerals and essential nutrients, except the sodium and chloride, are stripped out. None of these added chemicals work with our biochemistry and add additional problems with their use. When salt is isolated from its organic whole, excessive concentrations of sodium and chloride can cause mineral and fluid imbalances in the body and can lead to health problems like hypertension, and anemia. A low-salt or no salt diet can lead to accelerated aging, cellular degeneration, biochemical starvation, adrenal fatigue, heart attack (valves can tear and lacerate), and dehydration.
Reduce Salt Intake
Avoid processed foods as much as possible. Products that come in packages and cans are designed for long shelf-life and are the #1 source of salt in our diets. Additionally, these processed foods often contain sodium additives and preservatives, sugar, and hydrogenated fats, all of which are linked to common health problems. For your optimal health, your top priority should be removing these refined, processed, fake foods. Nature designed foods that are perfect for our bodies, low in sodium and filled with nutrients. Fresh plant foods and unprocessed animal foods fit this definition; all others do not. Therefore, choosing foods low in sodium is relatively easy: when in doubt, opt for the more natural choice, ideally organic.
Use unrefined sea salt instead of common table salt in your salt shaker. The kind of salt you use is just as important as the amount of salt you use. Common table salt is harmful; it does not dissolve in the body and tends to build up. Unrefined sea salt is “good” salt that the body can readily use for the many functions sodium is needed for in our bodies. Use only the amount of salt that is right for you. Sensitivity to salt, even the unrefined variety, is an individual response. Some can tolerate moderate amounts while others do better with very little. Always listen to your body.
Strive to eliminate or reduce the amount of salt used in cooking. Salt added during cooking accounts for 45% of the sodium we consume and is not tasted as well as salt added after cooking. Use natural salt at the table, but eliminate or reduce salt from your recipes. To add flavor to your recipes use salt-free seasonings like, garlic, herbs and spices. Use naturally salty, but still nutritious, foods like unprocessed cheese and tamari to add flavor while cooking. Aim for at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies each day. Fresh fruits and veggies are high in potassium, which helps to counteract too much salt in the diet.
There is a lot of information about nutrition and what is the best way to eat, but the single best thing you can do to reduce your sodium intake and eat a more nutritious diet is to eliminate as many processed foods as possible. Foods closest to their natural state are most nutritious.
©Ellice Campbell 2013
- Changing My Salty Ways (whattheflicka.com)
- The Best Way to Reduce Your Sodium Intake (mensjournal.com)
- Salt subtly trimmed from many foods amid campaign (kfwbam.com)
- Life-Saving Reduction In Sodium Consumption (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Dietitians Dish: February is National Heart Month (victoriaadvocate.com)