How much salt friendly is our body and health?

Salt – the necessary evil. We can’t take it in excess or avoid fully. How can we adjust the use of salt in our food, without affecting health? Sugar, sour, bitter and salt – The four vital ingredients that add flavours to our food.  But which one is most important? Which item can’t we avoid it most? Definitely it is salt – the king of all tastes. Salt adds new flavours to our common dishes, apart from grand ones, and we can’t avoid it at any cost. But we can’t neglect the hidden dangers behind the excess use of salt.

How much salt do we need really?

Though your lunch has so many side dishes, a little shortage of salty flavour can ruin the whole game. Do you know, just 1 teaspoon of salt is sufficient for a human body, and everything taken in excess can lead to many health issues? Read more. As per American Heart Association, 2.4 gm of salt is sufficient enough. When we eat salted snacks, puffs etc, we take almost 9 gms of salt every day.

If we don’t sweat?

Should we fear salt? Our ancestors used to add salt in excess to rice, curries, and they also ate pickles and pappads in excess. If there was no issue then, what’s the problem now? The answer is ‘sweating’. After having ‘salted’ meals, they used to work in field for long hours under hot sun, and release the excess salt through sweating. But present generation take fast food in excess and lack of proper exercises also prevent the loss of sodium through sweating.

Hypertension due to excess use of salt

Salt can increase your blood pressure. If blood pressure crosses the boundary level, heart diseases, kidney problems, stroke and blindness could be the end result. Blood pressure is the pressure exerted by the circulating blood on the walls of blood vessels. The magic number – 120/80 is the normal bp. 120 indicates systolic pressure while heart contracts and 80 indicates diastolic pressure while it expands. Hypertension is also called silent murderer, because high blood pressure may not exhibit symptoms always.

Findings of high blood pressure may be just by chance; otherwise while finding the reasons behind stroke or heart attack. Hypertension is the main villain of many such serious issues which can take human life. Headache and dizziness may not always indicate hypertension.

How salt increases blood pressure level?

Dry fish with high salt content

When salt reaches body in excess, kidneys became incapable to flush off the excess salt. It results in the deposit of salt in excess in blood. Sodium present in normal salt has the power to attract water. For the same reason, salt gets easily absorbed to plasma of blood and fluids on the outer layers of cell membrane resulting in the formation of excess blood, and heart has to work more to pump the excess blood. Blood pressure can also increase as its end result.

Like water, Sodium is a thick friend of calcium also. Calcium can make the muscles stiff. With the influence of calcium, muscles inside the blood vessels also turn stiff and rigid, which results in the loss of elasticity of blood vessels. It can also result in increase of blood pressure. So, the main solution to reduce blood pressure is to reduce the intake of salt in food. Exercises and medicines are also needed.

If you are able to keep salt level in control (1 tsp of salt every day) the mercury level decreases up to 5-10 mm. If you are able to decrease the mercury level by 5 mm, there are benefits. The chance of stroke reduces by 14%, heart diseases by 9% and death rate by 7%. There are many patients who complaint about the sugar levels even after taking medicines. If you are not able to bring control in the intake of salt, you can’t expect good results from treatment.

High blood pressure is the not the single damage done by salt

Presence of salt increases the density and quantity of blood resulting in high pressure. Apart from hypertension, salt gives you many diseases for free.

Heart diseases – Excess use of salt increases blood pressure resulting in hypertension. It increases the work load of heart, and reduces the life of blood vessels too.

Stroke – Stroke is brain attack. Excess use of salt may result in hypertension, arteriosclerosis, cerebral thrombosis and cerebral hemorrhage.

Obesity – Excess use of high-calorie carbonated drinks while taking snacks can result in obesity.

Osteoporosis – When salt intake is excess, kidney flushes out calcium in excess. Reduce of calcium level can weaken the bones resulting in osteoporosis.

Kidney stones – When calcium level increases in urine, stones may form in kidneys.

Stomach and intestine problems – Gastritis, Peptic Ulcer etc can result due to the excess use of salt.

Should we exclude salt completely?

Not at all! Sodium present in salt is vital to a number of routine body functions. In 1 gm salt, 40% sodium and 60% chloride are present. Many chemical and bio functions inside the human cells are controlled by sodium. It also eases the passage of glucose through cell membrane, transmission of messages through nervous system and proper functioning of muscles. During hot summers, we feel tiredness due to the loss of sodium in excess through sweat. Heat cramps due to the exposure to sun is also due to the same reason. A glass of salted drink can restore your energy back.

Loss of sodium can result in tiredness, memory loss, fatigue and change in behaviour of a person too. It may result in breaking down brain functioning leading to unconsciousness, epilepsy etc. For a healthy person, 2300 mg sodium is needed for his daily activities, and a small tea spoon of salt can easily supply it. But those suffering from hypertension, they should reduce sodium intake to 1300-1500 mg. In short, we can’t completely exclude sodium from our diet, which is one of the most important factors needed for the proper functioning of human body.

Salt is present in these things too

Salt is present in our normal meals. In addition to it, it is present in snacks, drinks and many more. If snacks taken in excess, 15-20 gm salt may reach our body – really the dangerous level!

Salted Olives

Bakery items, bread, fast food, fried items and packed food items contain salt in excess. Most of the products manufactured by leading food processing companies are too much salty – very much higher than the required salt levels. Hypertension seen in kids may be due to the excess intake of such processed food items or junk food. 

Bakery sweets may also contain salt in excess. Biscuits, jam, tomato ketchup, pizzas, samosas etc contain sodium in excess. Sodium citrate is present in many carbonated drinks.

Pickles, kondattams, pappads, cheese, dried fish etc contain salt in excess. So, reducing the salt intake from dining table along with the controlled intake of such salted items can also keep salt levels in control.

Is iodized salt needed?

Deficiency of iodine may result in many thyroid problems including goiter. Chances of thyroid diseases are higher in females comparing males. Iodine is needed for the production of thyroid hormones such as thyroxin, Triiodothyronine etc. When iodine is not supplied in desired levels, for excess hormone production, thyroid gland starts swelling resulting in goiter.

Iodine is present in soil and water. Marine fishes, vegetables, milk etc are also iodine supplements. Yet in hilly areas, the presence of iodine is low in soil and water. That’s the reason why goiter is seen higher in such residential areas. To overcome the deficiency of iodine, iodized salt came into existence.

Deficiency of iodine may slow down the functioning of thyroid gland and damages the production of hormones resulting in hypothyroidism. Swelling of body, weight increase, tiredness, constipation, hair loss, excess bleeding during menstruation etc are some of its symptoms. Since iodized salt came into being, thyroid problems due to iodine deficiency have reduced significantly.

Sodium chloride – Common salt

Sodium chloride is the scientific name of common salt. It contains sodium and chloride in the proportion 40:60. Sodium needed for our vital functioning is mostly received from the salt we take through normal food. Processed food and bakery items also have sodium content.

100 gm sodium is present in human body. For a healthy adult, 5 gm sodium chloride is needed for daily activities. To increase the nutritious factors of salt, iodine, fluorine and iron are also added to our common salt.

Low salt (Potassium salt)

Salt with low level of sodium is called low salt. Potassium chloride is the main ingredient of low salt, which reduces almost 70% of sodium level. It reduces the chances of increase in blood pressure levels. Potassium can also reduce blood pressure. For hypertension patients who can’t avoid salt, low salt is the best alternative. Low salt is not tasty as normal salt. Patients who suffer from diabetics and kidney related ailments should seek the doctor’s opinion before using low salt.

10 tips to reduce salt level through food intake

1. Take measure of salt before adding to curries. Always remember, a person needs 5 gm salt only.

2. Never place salt on your dining table.

3. Avoid adding salt to rice and similar dishes.

4. Avoid adding salt for the second time to your dishes, in case you feel less. Make a habit to use them, though they may be less tasty.

5. Reduce the use of pickles, pappads etc.

6. Instead of dry fish, use normal fish curry.

7. Cultivate a habit in kids from younger ages to reduce the salt intake through dishes and snacks.

8. Avoid puffs, samosas and chips in short breaks. Instead use fruits and homemade snacks. Reduce bread and bakery items.

9. While buying tinned food and processed items, keep an eye on the label. Choose ones with Sodium free/low sodium.

10. Eat fruits and vegetables plenty. Potassium present in these healthy items reduce the negative effects of sodium.

Image source: Pixabay

Also read: Salt tips while making dishes.

Also read a few more health articles on eating habits. Click on the images in the gallery to read

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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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