Salt: The Delicious Health-Buster (And What to Use Instead)
If you (or someone you know) has ever been told to “eat less salt,” or go on a “low sodium” diet, what does that mean? And how much sodium is actually in salt?
I can tell you right now that cutting down on the salt you sprinkle from your salt shaker probably isn’t going to have the effect you think.
The problem is rarely the salt on your table. The problem, well 75% of the problem, is the salt that’s already in the food you eat.
I was surprised to read the statistics about where people’s salt intake was coming from. You may be surprised too.
I explain it all in today’s post, in recognition of the effects that salt may have on the heart, during World Heart Day.
And later this week, I will share a low-sodium spice mix recipe for you to try out.
Kinds & Types Of Salts
Yes, there are lots of different kinds of salt: pink, iodized, kosher, sea, etc. They come from salt mines in the ground, or from evaporating the water out of salt water. What they all have in common is that infamous mineral that I’m going to talk about below: sodium.
In food, salt is used for both flavour, and as a preservative. Salt helps to preserve food by drawing out the water that bacteria and mold need to grow. Hence, preserving the food from spoiling as quickly.
Would you be surprised to know that 75% of our salt intake comes not from the salt shaker? It comes from processed foods. Snacks like chips, pretzels and salted nuts are included here. But so are canned foods, pickled foods, boxed foods, deli meats, restaurant food, and fast food.
Salt vs. Sodium
Ok, I had to sneak in a bit of the “physiology lecture” part (from my sciency background) … Salt is actually “sodium chloride.” It’s about 40% sodium and 60% chloride; this means that one teaspoon of salt (5,000 mg) contains about 2,000 mg of sodium.
Sodium itself is not that bad! In fact, it’s an essential mineral and an important electrolyte in the body. It helps with fluid balance, and proper nerve and muscle function.
However … too much sodium might not be that great! Regularly getting too much sodium can increase your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, stomach cancer, and kidney stones.
That one teaspoon with about 2,000 mg of sodium is pretty much your entire day’s worth of sodium.
People who eat a lot of pre-made, packaged foods tend to eat way too much sodium. In fact, 90% of North American adults (Canada & USA) consume more than 2,300 mg per day. The average intake is closer to 3,400 mg of sodium per day!
So if you are at high risk for some of those conditions mentioned, check in with your doctor or nutrition expert to help you determine how much sodium you should have each day.
Something More Specific To World Heart Day: Sodium And High Blood Pressure
How does salt increase blood pressure? And what does that have to do with it making you thirsty?
Well, there actually is something called “salt-sensitive high blood pressure.” Here’s how it works:
The salt you eat gets absorbed quickly and goes into the blood.
Your body recognizes that the blood is too salty, so more water is added to the blood to dilute it (i.e. with thirst signals to make you drink more fluid). More water in the blood means more fluid your heart needs to pump and more fluid pushing against the walls of your vessels. It also sends more blood to the kidneys so the sodium can be filtered out into the urine.
This is how too much sodium increases your blood pressure. Increased blood pressure also puts a strain on your kidneys and other sensitive vessels, including critical vessels in your brain and heart.
You can counteract this effect by reducing the amount of salt you eat (from both processed foods and the salt shaker). In fact, limiting salt intake has been shown to slightly reduce blood pressure.
Interesting Fact: You can reduce high blood pressure by eating more whole foods, and more mineral-rich plant foods.
A Quick Summary
If you are healthy and eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods, then you probably don’t need to worry about your salt intake. Feel free to add a bit of salt during cooking or at the table for flavour.
If your doctor has told you to reduce your salt or sodium intake, then you can do this by
- Reducing your intake of processed foods
- Adding less salt to the food you make
- Eating more plant-based foods
In the next blog post, I will share a low-sodium spice mix recipe for you to try out. In the mean time, if you want to take a look at a recipe for help with high blood pressure, click here, check this one out.