Salt: Is It Healthy or Unhealthy ?

When it comes to salt, also known as sodium chloride, all scientists and doctors agree on one thing: your body need some of it. Sodium regulates fluid levels and blood pressure in the body and is required for muscle and nerve function.

But the differences arise when it comes to how much salt we need—or, more crucially, how much sodium is too much. Excess sodium intake has been related to cardiovascular disorders such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, but many experts believe that most individuals are OK taking salt and really need it for a healthy lifestyle. People with renal illness are likely to benefit if they avoid eating too much salt. So, which is it, and why is the medical community divided?

salt benefits

Is salt good or bad for you ?

You’ve undoubtedly heard or read that consuming too much salt is hazardous to your health. In reality, hundreds of publications have been written on the issue, but those articles haven’t always addressed the entire spectrum of the link between salt intake and heart health. A 2016 study conducted by Columbia University and Boston University, mentioned in Science Daily, examined 269 salt-intake-related scholarly publications published between 1979 and 2014 and discovered significant disagreement among the authors. The analysis assessed whether each publication “supported or rejected the relationship between reduced salt consumption and lower rates of heart disease, stroke, and mortality,” and discovered that 54 percent were supported, 33 percent refuted, and 13 percent were inconclusive.

They also discovered that the writers of the studies on each side of the question were more likely to mention reports that reached a similar conclusion than those that reached a different result. This puts into doubt the credibility of the papers.

The fact is that salt is both beneficial and detrimental to your health. Having a sufficient level of salt in your system is necessary for survival, but having too much or too little may be harmful and cause long-term health concerns. For most individuals, the American Heart Association (AHA) advises no more than 2,300 milligrams per day, with an optimal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day.

The issue is that Americans consume 3,400 mg of salt per day on average. That’s more than double the amount of salt recommended by the AHA. We prepare salty dishes and frequently season them further when they get to the table. Processed and prepared meals might have much more salt. Most people find it difficult to maintain a daily salt intake of 2,300 mg, let alone 1,500 mg. It is still possible with a restricted diet and rigorous monitoring of salt intake, but is it worth it ?

The health benefits of salt

When dissolved in a liquid, such as blood, sodium becomes an electrolyte, which is a mineral that can carry an electric charge. As such, it plays a key function in the cardiovascular system and the metabolism of the body. Sodium aids the body in maintaining proper fluid levels and is essential for nerve and muscle function. People used to assume that eating more salt would make them thirstier, but a 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation discovered that eating more salt resulted in higher bodily water conservation, making people less thirsty. Many physicians interpret this to suggest that, given enough salt and water, the body may choose its ideal sodium level.

Our bodies can function just as well on less than 500 mg of salt per day, according to the AHA. That equates to less than a quarter teaspoon of salt. However, this does not always imply that a low-salt diet is superior to a typical one. According to studies, diets in the middle salt ranges—those classified as low normal, usual, and high usual sodium intakes—do not make a substantial difference in overall health outcomes for the majority of people. Low sodium consumption diets, on the other hand, can be almost as harmful as high sodium intake diets.

Sources of sodium intake

More than 70% of the salt consumed by the average American comes from packaged, prepared, and restaurant foods. The remainder is largely the sort you put on yourself, and it comes in a variety of flavors. Kosher salt, sea salt, table salt, iodized salt, pink salt, and even Hawaiian salt and Himalayan salt are available. With the exception of iodized salt, they all have almost the same nutritional properties.

We add iodine in salt in the United States and many other areas throughout the world. According to experts, this is a good thing since iodine helps prevent hypothyroidism, which causes goiter (an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland). Iodine insufficiency is common in many regions of the globe; consequently, iodine is added with edible salt to prevent iodine deficit.

If you don’t want to use a salt shaker and don’t like packaged or prepared meals, you may still eat healthy and receive adequate sodium from foods like meats, shellfish, beets, celery, carrots, melons, spinach, chard, artichokes, and seaweed. Milk and coconut water are both good providers of sodium in liquid form. According to Bates, sports beverages tend to be high in salt and sugar, so she has a suggestion for weekend warriors rehydrating this manner.

The health risks of salt

Most doctors recommend that most individuals reduce their salt intake. High salt levels in the blood can promote inflammation, putting you at risk for a variety of major health issues such as high blood pressure, stomach cancer, kidney stones, headaches, osteoporosis, stroke, and heart failure.

Inflammation is a quiet assassin. You may not be aware that you are inflamed. Because it isn’t always unpleasant, it can go on for 20 years and you won’t notice until your blood vessels are weakened.

What happens when you have too much salt ?

Hypernatremia (too much sodium in the blood) is the same as dehydration (too little water in the body). In most situations, it is not caused by ingesting too much salt. It is instead caused by dehydration, severe diarrhea, vomiting, fever, renal illness, diabetes insipidus (loss of water hormone), some drugs, and extensive burn areas on the skin.

Symptoms of hypernatremia include:

  • Thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Water retention, or weight gain
  • Puffiness, swelling, or bloating
  • Frequent headaches

In addition to these symptoms, too much sodium can cause your taste receptors to become less sensitive over time, causing food to lose flavor and necessitate the addition of additional salt to make it taste better. It can have a snowball effect, which can be mitigated by adopting a low-sodium diet. Although they are not always necessary, diets that limit sodium consumption to less than 2,300 mg per day (approximately a teaspoon of salt) are frequently suggested for patients with specific medical disorders such as high blood pressure, renal disease, and heart failure. Lower salt levels can also aid to improve the efficacy of those people’s medicines.

What happens when you don’t have enough sodium in your diet ?

Hyponatremia (low sodium levels in the blood) is a very uncommon illness that can be caused by some drugs, heart, kidney, or liver disorders, hormonal changes, persistent alcoholism, starvation, or just drinking too much water. This has been observed in athletes who over-hydrate when they are not sweating much and in those who use illegal substances, notably MDMA, often known as ecstasy or molly.

Symptoms of hyponatremia include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle weakness, cramps, or spasms
  • Confusion, restlessness, or irritability
  • Seizures

Mild, chronic hyponatremia can go unnoticed and produce no symptoms, but it can lead to elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (a form of fat) in the blood. Acute hyponatremia, or a sudden decline in sodium levels, can cause brain enlargement, seizures, coma, and even death. The disease is frequently preventable by addressing any underlying medical disorders that might induce hyponatremia, or by drinking water in moderation or electrolyte-containing drinks when participating in strenuous activities or sports.

Low-sodium diet

Many people are salt-resistant, which means that the quantity of sodium they consume has no effect on their blood pressure. Others who are salt-sensitive may see a five-point or more increase in blood pressure if they follow a high-sodium diet. A low-sodium diet can be beneficial to general health for these patients, who typically have high blood pressure to begin with. Low-sodium diets can also benefit those who are attempting to lose weight since excessive sodium levels encourage the body to retain water, which can lead to weight gain.

To follow a low-sodium diet, carefully study nutritional information labels and choose things that are low in salt. Put the salt shaker away and season your dish with other spices instead. Consume no packaged or prepared foods. Avoid eating out as much as possible, especially the AHA’s “Salty Six”: breads, cold meats, pizza, chicken, soup, and sandwiches.

How much salt a day is safe ?

There is evidence suggesting the quantity of salt you consume has no effect on your blood pressure and other health markers if you don’t have high blood pressure. However, there is evidence that ingesting less sodium is a better long-term approach. However, unless the quantity of salt in your blood causes difficulties, any level between 500 mg and 3,400 mg per day is generally safe. A better suggestion, though, would be to aim to keep within the AHA’s 1,500 mg to 2,300 mg per day limits. Most physicians and scientists would agree on that range.

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