Do you think of yourself as a food lover, always looking to enjoy culinary experiences outside your home? If yes, you’ve probably encountered a situation when your served food was just too salty.
When enjoying meals that are not home-cooked, or buying processed foods, you’re ingesting a lot of salt. This is due to the lack of control over how much you add! But why is that even a problem? Let’s see!
In this article
Why is too much salt bad for us?
Salt, also known as sodium chloride, is about 40% sodium and 60% chloride by weight. Besides giving flavour to food, it is also used as a food preservative – bacteria can’t thrive in the presence of a high amount of salt!
That’s why processed food is filled with salt: more than 70% of sodium comes from processed and restaurant food!
However, the human body requires sodium, but only in smaller amounts. We need it to conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals.
For these functions, we need about 500 mg of sodium daily based on the estimation of the World Health Organization (WHO). The average diet shouldn’t exceed 2000 mg or 2g of sodium per day, and those with high blood pressure or health conditions should enjoy even less.
But what happens if you consume too much?
What happens if you eat too much salt
Consuming higher amounts of salt than recommended in the long term can increase the risk for a host of health problems, such as:
• enlarged heart muscle
• heart attack
• kidney disease
• heart failure
• high blood pressure
• kidney stones
• stomach cancer
• calcium losses
We’ve told you it’s a long list!
These are just long-term effects of consuming too much salt and consequently, sodium. In the short term, it may cause bloating, severe thirst, and a temporary rise in blood pressure. If you consume too much salt day by day, sodium can accumulate in your blood. Your kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in your body for optimal health. When your body sodium is low, your kidneys essentially hold on to it. When body sodium is high, your kidneys excrete the excess in urine.
But if for some reason your kidneys can't eliminate enough sodium, the sodium starts to build up in your blood. As sodium accumulates, the body holds onto water to dilute the salt. This increased water retention can lead to puffiness, bloating, weight gain and some more complicated consequences.
Holding onto water increases the amount of fluid surrounding cells and the volume of blood in the bloodstream. Increased blood volume means more work for the heart and more pressure on blood vessels. Over time, the extra work and pressure can stiffen blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke or even heart failure.
How much is too much?
According to WHO, the average diet shouldn’t exceed 2000 mg of sodium, which is about a teaspoon of salt per day. But the average consumed amount is much higher. It clocks in at around 3400 mg a day!
Let’s put that into context. A half-teaspoon of salt is equivalent to 500 mg of sodium. So, on average, we consume around three and a half teaspoons of pure sodium per day!
And yes, that is too much.
Ideally, no one should consume more than 1.5 g of sodium, or 3.75 g of salt, per day. An average person requires roughly 0.5 g of sodium per day for the body to function well and should consume less than 2 g of it (about 5 g of salt) per day.
Of course, salt is not the only product that contains dietary sodium, so we need to pay attention to other sources of sodium as well. Sodium can be found naturally in a variety of foods, such as milk, meat, and shellfish. It is also a part of sodium glutamate, used as a food additive in many parts of the world.
These are rough guidelines – some people require more, and some less. If you’re highly active, you may need more salt to maintain fluid balance and prevent dehydration, as people lose salt when they sweat. It’s always important to know your body’s metabolism and preferences. By unlocking the secrets your body has written in your DNA, you can achieve an optimally balanced diet, designed just for you and adjust your sodium intake accordingly.
Nonetheless, consuming large amounts of salt is hardly ever recommended. As you can see, an average person consumes it way more than is advised.
Before we give you the tips for cutting down on salt, let’s see the tell-tale signs that you are ingesting too much of it.
5 signs you're eating too much salt
Tips for cutting down on salt
A diet low in sodium is proven to have several beneficial health effects. But how can you achieve it?
The first thing you should start doing is to look at labels. Check the sodium count – if it seems high, try finding a lower sodium alternative. When looking for canned food, pick canned vegetables with no added salt, and consider draining or rinsing them before eating.
Then, start eating more home-cooked meals! If you prepare food at home, you can easily control how much salt you will add to your plate.
Instead of table salt, try using onion, garlic, vinegar, citrus juices, herbs and spices like black pepper, cumin, rosemary, and thyme. There are also many ways to bring out natural flavours of foods, such as grilling, braising, roasting, searing, and sautéing. These are all healthier than adding salt and will not leave your meals tasting dull.
If you’re struggling with the preparation of home-cooked meals, whether because of the lack of ideas or lack of time, check out these three easy, healthy meals prepared by our nutrition experts.
Keep your sodium intake in check as part of an overall healthy lifestyle. A healthy, balanced diet and proper hydration will not only help adjust your sodium levels but will also leave you feeling better and healthier! By taking care of your body, you're also taking care of the quality of your life.