I am always boggled by people who load up on the salt. Not because I am thinking about health necessarily, but because I am thinking about taste. It is amazing how much of a tolerance people can build up to salt and ultimately require more and more as the years go on. Have you ever known anyone like that?
Salt, for the purpose of this article will be in reference to sodium chloride, which is our basic rock or table salt. Yes, there is a difference, but this is what we think of when we think of salt. Sodium is essential for life, hydration, muscle and nervous system function and one of the primary electrolytes in the human body. Thankfully it is not hard to acquire sodium from the foods we eat or we would be in some serious trouble. Have you ever heard of anyone having a sodium deficiency? Not so much.
Deficiency issues may arise in rare situations such as starvation, malnutrition, excessive dehydration or over-hydration and can result in seizures or coma.
Most of us do not mind the taste of salt in moderation, but too much tends to turn our taste buds in the opposite direction. Perhaps that is a natural signal that too much is not good. However, for most Americans, it is not about lacking, but rather about getting too much.
Foods that naturally contain sodium:
- Any food that comes from an animal contains salt
- Certain vegetables such as beets, carrots, spinach, celery and turnips
- Table salt or any other rock salt such as Sea salt or Himalayan pink salt
Foods with added sodium:
- Salted snacks
- Many boxed cereals
- Frozen meals
- Canned soups and vegetables
- Certain Breads
- Many condiments such as ketchup
- Processed foods such as processed cheese or lunch meat
- Cured meats
- MSG and many other seasonings, baking soda, baking powder
- Pickled foods
What happens when we get too much salt?
Generally the repercussions from getting too much salt does not cause toxic harm to the body, but the danger can be with any preexisting condition such as high blood pressure or issues with the heart or kidneys.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Your kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in your body for optimal health. When your sodium levels are low, your kidneys essentially hold on to the sodium. When sodium levels are high, your kidneys excrete the excess in urine.”
What happens when our kidneys are inefficient?
The regulation of salt in our blood is off and we start retaining extra water and salt leading to fluid retention, increased blood pressure or long term effects such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and congestive heart failure.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1500 mg of sodium chloride per day. If you compare that to the 6200 mg of sodium found in one teaspoon, you can quickly see how that adds up.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day — or 1,500 mg if you’re age 51 or older, if you are black or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
How to limit excess sodium:
- Limit processed foods
- Include more fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables
- Choose fresh or frozen produce over canned
- Substitute with non animal protein sources such as dried beans and peas (rinse canned beans well)
- Avoid too much salt when cooking or adding to meals
- Buy low sodium or no sodium added broths, soups or sauce
- Buy nuts without added sodium
- Read food labels and identify words such as salt, soda, MSG, yeast extract, benzoate and nitrites for example
- Go easy on snacks, chips, salted lunch meats, pickled foods
- Utilize citrus fruits, fresh herbs or spices for flavor instead of salt
Understanding processed salt:
Many of you may get your salt from the grocery store or purchase salt as a specialty item. Processed salt or Iodized salt is rock salt with added potassium iodide or sodium iodide. This is done as a preventative measure to ensure people are getting essential iodine in their intake to prevent iodine deficiency.
Regardless of what type of salt you use, processed or not, remember that it is easy to get the required sodium from foods that naturally contain salt as well as already prepared and processed foods. Unrefined salt also offers trace amounts of some minerals such as calcium and magnesium, but we shouldn’t rely on salt sources to provide additional essential vitamins and minerals. Those should come from our total food intake.
Adding small amounts of salt when cooking is okay if you are not salt sensitive or have any preexisting heart or kidney issues, as long as you do so in moderation and strive to cook with mainly fresh ingredients.
Are you conscious of your salt intake? If so, how do you monitor how much you get? I’d love to hear from you.