Sodium has been known to mankind primarily through salt. Table salt has been upheld as a traditional preservative and flavoring agent in various foods. Your body needs a little bit of salt every day for the sodium it contains as it performs many functions.
Sodium is among the many essential elements that play a pivotal role in the bodily functions. In particular, sodium maintains fluid balance in the body and aids in the uptake of various other nutrients into the body cells.
Aside from this, sodium influences the pH, or acid-base level, of the blood. Any deviation in the electrolyte balance can affect the fluid levels and cause dehydration or overhydration.
Sodium is an element that needs to be provided to the body in adequate amounts to sustain its sound functioning. Your body gets the required dose of sodium through the foods you eat.
The recommended amount of salt is no more than 5 grams a day (1 teaspoon of salt is about 6 grams). An intake of more than the recommended amount can have negative consequences in your body and is harmful to your overall health.
Anything in excess is bad and consuming too much salt can be detrimental to your overall health. Although sodium has roles to play, overdoing its consumption is related to heart problems, kidney problems, and stomach cancer. Watching over your salt intake is indispensable to avert its harmful effects on human health.
Reasons to Limit Your Salt Intake
Enlisted below are the reasons you should regulate your salt intake:
1. Damages Kidneys
A small amount of sodium is required by your body to maintain fluid balance. An excess of sodium can be damaging to your kidneys.
Excess salt causes your kidneys to retain water in order to dilute the sodium in your bloodstream. This dilution is imperative to aid the functioning of your heart. This added effort places a load on the kidneys and affects renal function.
An increased sodium intake affects kidney function by enhancing the excretion of proteins, increasing intravascular blood volume, elevating blood pressure levels, and raising the pressure in the kidney tubules. Sodium excretion is favored by the reverse action of potassium when consuming salt in high amounts.
As published in Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension (2014), WHO recommends that in order to fight the crisis of chronic noncommunicable diseases in the world, it is necessary to limit the dietary sodium intake for an adult to about 2000 mg of sodium, which corresponds to 5 grams of salt per day.
Additionally, the guidelines released by Kidney Disease: Improving Global Outcomes in 2012 recommend reducing the daily intake of sodium to less than 2000 mg/90 mmol.
2. Increases Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease, and high salt intake is one of the primary and prevalent causes of high blood pressure.
A 2014 study published in Electrolytes & Blood Pressure demonstrated the effects of a diet high in salt. The study observed that increased sodium intake resulted in elevated blood pressure levels.
It is recommended by WHO to take action in terms of decreasing dietary salt intake across populations as a preventive measure to deal with the burden of mortality from noncommunicable diseases including cardiovascular diseases, stroke, and hypertension.
A high sodium level in the body causes a decrease in the synthesis of nitric oxide, an arteriolar vasodilator. This means that blood flow experiences more resistance because the blood vessels are not widened as much.
3. Raises Stomach Cancer Risk
High salt intake is linked to a higher risk of stomach cancer.
A study conducted in 2016 published in Cancer Research and Treatment highlighted the association of excess salt consumption with the risk of stomach cancer, causing gastritis and atrophy and also affecting the later stages as cancer takes the form of carcinoma.
A high-salt diet may induce gene activity in the stomach bacteria Helicobacter pylori, playing a role in enhancing the gastric carcinogenesis. High sodium intake may also make the cancer treatment less effective.
In fact, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research confirm that salt, as well as salted and salty foods, is one of the probable causes of stomach cancer.
If you already suffer from a stomach ulcer or you are at a higher risk of stomach cancer, you should avoid adding salt to your food and opt for low-sodium options.
4. Weakens Bones
Increased intake of salt can affect your bones and make them prone to breakage and fracture.
High levels of salt can adversely affect bone density by channeling the excretion of calcium in the urine. This can dwindle the calcium levels in the body. As the bones lose calcium, they become weak and can break easily, and your likelihood of developing osteoporosis is increased.
Women are more vulnerable to osteoporosis after menopause. According to a Japanese study, older females consuming a diet rich in salt were four times more vulnerable to the risk of a fracture, or a nonvertebral fracture in the bones located anywhere other than the spinal region.
According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Bone Metabolism, an increased sodium intake causes excretion of calcium in the urine, which can be analyzed through a urine sample. However, this study demands the need for large-scale trials that include severe bone disorders and fractures to ascertain the negative aspects of a diet rich in sodium.
5. Triggers Asthma
Asthma, which can affect both children and adults, can greatly reduce one’s quality of life. Your diet plays an essential role in the management of asthma.
Salt intake can trigger an asthma flare-up. Also, as asthma patients are prone to have an increased risk for cardiovascular, renal, bone, and other diseases, following a low-salt diet will benefit them indirectly.
A 2010 study published in Physician and Sports Medicine concluded that a diet low in salt can help improve lung function and airway hyperresponsiveness in individuals suffering from asthma.
The study also analyzed the role of salt consumption in the worsening of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) in asthmatics under study. It was observed that asthmatics consuming a low-sodium diet for a time period of 1 to 2 weeks experienced reduced bronchoconstriction triggered by exercise.
6. Leads to Obesity
A high-salt diet is also linked to obesity, as people with a higher sodium intake tend to consume more calories and have worse eating habits. Plus, sodium intake itself appears to be related to obesity.
A study demonstrated that higher salt intake was related to obesity in about 28% children and 26% adults after adjusting various parameters. It was also observed that after adjusting the age, sex, ethnicity, and energy consumption, increased salt intake led to a higher body fat mass in both adults and children.
7. Causes Fluid Retention
Salt has a major role to play when it comes to maintaining water balance in the body. Consumption of increased levels of salt stimulates thirst, which leads to drinking excess water.
Excessive water intake leads to the retention of water inside the blood vessels, thereby increasing the total volume of the blood. This alteration is rectified by the heart and kidney through a hormonal response that entails an increase in the blood flow, systolic ejection, and renal clearance.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation stated that drinking salt-containing soft drinks might be a factor behind obesity. The research paper also stated that any variation in salt concentration between 0.6 g/d and 24 g/d is safe for humans and may not contribute to any changes in consumption of fluids or urine volume.
Foods to Avoid to Keep Your Salt Intake in Check
Several foods are loaded with salt or their preparation methods employ salt as one of the ingredients. Such foods must be avoided to keep your salt levels in balance. These include:
- Sauces such as oyster sauce, soy sauce, steak sauce, teriyaki sauce, and barbecue sauce
- Potato chips
- Corn chips
- Tortilla chips
The consumption of salt has been associated with a number of myths. These include the following:
Excess perspiration can deplete your salt levels; hence, you need to consume more salt on a hot and humid day.
Salt is present in trace amounts in the sweat and its loss as a constituent of sweat is not a cause of concern. However, what needs your attention is the amount of your water intake. You need to drink a lot of fluids to keep the salt-water balance at optimum.
Sea salt, although natural, is not a better alternative to manufactured salt.
The sodium content is the actual consideration when it comes to salt intake. Hence, it is preferred to consume salt containing adequate sodium levels, be it sea salt or manufactured salt.
Salt that is added in our foods when cooking is the primary source of salt intake.
No. Individuals in several countries get about 80% of their salt consumption from processed, prepackaged, and packaged foods as hidden sources of salt.
Foods that are abundant in salt give out a salty taste.
Additives and preservatives may alter the taste of some foods containing high amounts of salt. You are fooled into thinking that the food is not salty. To avoid this misconception, always make sure to check the nutrition labels carefully.
Only older adults need to keep tabs on their salt intake.
The negative consequences of consuming excess salt are not restricted to older people only. Increased consumption of salt can spike blood pressure levels in individuals of any age.
Eating less salt can be detrimental to your health.
Several foods that we eat on a daily basis contain salt. Hence, it is almost impossible to avoid or restrict the consumption of salt.
Tips to Eliminate Excess Salt from Your Body
It is paramount to keep your salt levels balanced. To achieve such balance and wash out the excess of salt from your body, you can adopt the following measures:
- Drink plenty of water.
- Prefer to buy fresh farm produce including fruits, vegetables, and meats over processed ones to cut the excess salt that comes from the preservatives and processing. Frozen products are replete in sodium to preserve them and extend their shelf life.
- Only pick fresh frozen vegetables.
- Try to eliminate the use of sauces and seasonings from your preparations.
- Make sure to rinse your canned products nicely to wash away the excess salt in them. Washing them in cold water can curtail the added salt content by half.
- Instead of salty seasonings, choose to add natural unsalted herbs, vinegar, lemon, and spices.
- Be smart about your breakfast choices and make sure to opt for low salt or unsalted preparations such as yogurt, fruit salads, and unsalted bread. Avoid eating cereals loaded with salts.
Tips to Reduce Your Salt Intake
- Choose unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Canned and processed foods are usually loaded with added salt.
- When grocery shopping, read the food labels thoroughly and choose lower-sodium products.
- Avoid pepperoni pizza, white bread, processed cheese, hot dogs, spaghetti with sauce, ham, ketchup, and cooked rice and flour tortillas as they are typically loaded with salt.
- Instead of processed salt, use just a pinch of high-quality Celtic or Himalayan sea salt.
- Do not add lots of salt to foods when cooking. Instead, use pepper, herbs, and spices to add flavor to your dishes.
- Do not keep a salt shaker on your dining table.
- Consume foods that are rich in potassium to help curb the effects of sodium on blood pressure.
Excess sodium in the body can be harmful to your health as it damages the kidneys. It also promotes water retention, which adds to the water weight in the body.
While a high-salt diet has its disadvantages and risks, it is essential to understand that reducing your salt intake below optimum levels is also not advised. Always make sure to keep your sodium level at optimum by consuming just the right amount of salt to allow the smooth and properly regulated functioning of your body organs.
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- Ma Y, He FJ, MacGregor GA. High salt intake: an independent risk factor for obesity? Hypertension (Dallas, Tex. : 1979). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26238447. Published October 2015.
- Cappuccio FP. Cardiovascular and other effects of salt consumption. Kidney international supplements. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4089690/. Published December 2013.
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