Why is too much salt bad for you?


Salt is a necessary mineral in our diet, but too much of it can be bad for your health, here’s why:

Consuming some salt (sodium) is important for good health. One of its key functions is that it helps to maintain the correct volume of blood and other fluids circulating in the body. However, eating too much salt has been linked to high blood pressure, stroke and other health problems.Salt works on the kidneys to make the body hold on to more water. This extra stored water raises blood pressure and puts a strain on the kidneys, arteries, heart and brain. The arteries try to deal with this extra strain by making their walls stronger and thicker which, in turn, makes them less flexible and reduces the space for blood to flow through. Over time, this can result in oxygen and nutrient starvation to vital organs, in the worse case scenario causing damage to the organs and eventually death.

Most governments publish guidelines, recommending safe levels of salt intake. Typically, these hover around the consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of salt per day; this is about one teaspoon.

Of course, this amount should be taken as a general guide. People with certain health conditions – including heart disease, stroke and diabetes – are typically advised to consume less than 2,300 milligrams per day, so it’s best to discuss the matter with your doctor, who can offer advice based on your current health and medical history.

Government recommended salt guidelines are all well and good, however, in the “real world,” in which much of our daily food intake is flavoured and even preserved in salt, and we’re used to plenty of salty snack foods too (think potato crisps, peanuts etc), keeping to even the ‘one teaspoon’ limit can be pretty difficult to manage.
So here are some easy “hacks” to help you reduce your salt intake:

  • Read nutrition labels closely. Buy the low-sodium version of an item whenever possible, but keep in mind that even “low-sodium” foods (especially tinned goods), can still contain a great deal of salt – soups and soy sauce are particularly frequent offenders in this regard.
  • Gradually reduce salt intake over time to get used to the taste.
  • Use little or no salt when cooking or eating. You can skip or cut back on the salt many recipes call for without ruining the dish. It might also be worth considering flavouring food with herbs and spices instead.
  • Don’t keep a salt seller on the table.
  • Where practical, up your intake of fresh or home-prepared foods and reduce processed foods, so you know exactly what you are eating and you can control the amount of salt going into your meals.
  • At restaurants, consider ask that the cook avoid adding salt to your food.
  • Choose reduced-sodium bread and breakfast cereals where available. Bread can contain a surprising amount of salt. So again, remember to read the nutritional details on the packing, regardless of whether a food happens to be labeled as “low-sodium.” This way, you know just how much salt you’re eating.

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Source Material:

The source material for this article was provided to us by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center News publication “Southern Health” and has been amended by our health library team to take account of the fact that our readership is primarily from the UK and Europe. It was published here on 28th March, 2018