If you have heard the common advice that salt is bad for you and you think low-salt or no salt diet is good for your body. Then, it’s time to think again. Salt plays many vital roles (water retention, muscle contraction, maintenance of proper stomach pH) inside your body and you do need salt in moderation to maintain good health.
In earlier times, salt was considered a prized substance. It was believed that salt is essential for boosting health and often prescribed to treat a multitude of conditions such as toothaches, stomach pain and nausea. As, in last few decades salt content of commercial food has gone up and so is the prevalence of chronic diseases i.e. high blood pressure, stroke and coronary heart disease. This link led to public health measures advocating to limit salt consumption for prevention of these diseases.
The main reason excessive sodium can cause a problem is because of a deficiency of potassium (from fruits and vegetables), calcium and magnesium. It is the gross imbalance of these nutrients that causes problems in Americans. Therefore, if more Americans consumed optimal amounts of these four minerals – calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium, then our health would be far better. In most Americans a blatant excess of sodium and a blatant deficiency of calcium, magnesium and potassium becomes the double edged sword in our health problems.
However, recent studies suggest that a low-salt diet may actually lead to adverse health consequences and higher overall mortality, particularly in conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Salt is a chemical compound called sodium chloride (NaCl) with a composition of 40% sodium and 60% chlorine. Inside your body salt dissolves back into individual ions in water and play vital role in many biological processes. Your body also uses salt for upkeep of your brain, spine, tears, bones, sweat glands, organs and blood. Why are we really fat?
Here is a list of benefits you get by taking salt (in moderation) in your diet:
- Salt maintains Fluid Balance: Your body uses electrolytes (Na and Cl) to carry electrical impulses, which control various bodily functions. To maintain fluid balance in the body these electrolytes trigger thirst mechanism, so that you consume adequate amounts of water. This water is then used by your kidneys to keep the appropriate balance of electrolytes in your bloodstream. As, the amount of water retained in your body impacts blood pressure, your salt consumption is directly linked with your blood pressure.
- Salt supports Nerve and Muscle Activity: Sodium and chloride ions in salt play important role in the regulation of nervous system and muscle contraction. Nerve transmission as well as mechanical movement in your body happens only when changes in the concentrations of these ions allow neurons to send signals to other neurons and cells.
- Salt facilitates Cardiovascular Function: Sodium in salt is a major component of extracellular fluid. It is essential for maintaining the volume of the plasma and normal cellular metabolism. Besides, maintenance of extracellular fluid volume, its role in proper transmission of nerve impulses and muscle activity helps in preserving your cardiovascular health.
- Salt helps Digestion: Salt is essential for digestion and absorption of your food. When your taste buds taste salt in your food, salivary amylase, an enzyme is secreted in your mouth that helps in breaking down your food. Chloride in salt is also required for producing hydrochloric acid, an important constituent of gastric juice, which besides helping in digestion and absorption of food, protects the body from illness by killing pathogens commonly found on foods. This fruit can help you improve your digestion
- Salt lowers Stress: Salt might be nature’s antidepressant, as sodium levels rise in the blood, the kidneys produce more of feel good hormone oxytocin, which lowers blood pressure, pain and anxiety levels. The stress-reducing or mood-enhancing effect of salt was confirmed in a study, where women whose diets were high in sodium were found less depressed than other women. So, giving in to your salt cravings once in a while may actually make you feel better.
- Salt aids Growth: Children often reach for more salt (independent of caloric intake) than adults do, which may explain the higher needs of salt for their growing bodies. Animal studies also suggest that low-salt diets make bones and muscles fail to grow as fast as they normally would.
These vital roles make salt an essential part of your daily diet. Salt deficiency is dangerous and too little salt can cause disturbances in tissue-water and acid-base balance. Further, sodium deficiency may lead to symptoms of hypo-natremia such as brain swelling, coma, congestive heart failure, cardiovascular collapse. So, take adequate salt (neither too much nor too little) in your diet. The recommended amount of salt ranges from: 0.75 tsp – 1 tsp of salt; that makes (3.75 grams – 6 grams of salt or 1500 mg-2300 mg of sodium) per day. Keeping in mind this recommended daily maximum limit will help you in choosing food.
You will be surprised that the salt you add during cooking or at table contribute only a small amount to your diet. Often, salt is a ‘hidden’ ingredient in many foods. These foods contribute a lot of salt to your diet without you realising it. Around 75% of the salt in your diet comes from ready-made and processed foods, such as bread, breakfast cereals, soups and baked beans. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that more salt in US diet comes from bread and rolls and not salty snacks (potato chips, pretzels and popcorn). So, to keep track of your salt intake, get into the habit of checking the food labels to find out the salt content, as the amount you eat of a particular food decides how much salt you will get from it for e.g. if the food label says 1g of salt per 100g and you eat 500g, you get 5g. In case, food label specifies sodium, multiply the amount by 2.5. These solutions to good health are really very simple!
Remember, if label says more than 1.5g of salt (or 0.6g of sodium) per 100g, it is a high salt content food and if it has 0.3g of salt (0.1g of sodium) per 100g then it is a low salt content food. Try to consume processed packaged foods that are high in salt, less often or in smaller amounts and choose more natural foods. Also, while cooking, prefer using pure healthier versions such as sea, rock, black and celtic sea salts, which are rich in trace minerals.