Every year millions of people die because they consume too much salt. Too much salt is the main cause of high blood pressure and blood pressure-related non-communicable diseases. The problem is not you putting too much salt on your breakfast egg, the problem is the food industry and processed food. The salt hides in it and we barely notice the salt. Learn why is too much salt bad for you.
Why we crave salt
Million of years ago, when our ancestors wandered through the savannahs and deserts of Africa, salt and water were in short supply there. But our body needs salt to survive, so why is too much salt bad for you?
Salt, sodium chloride, is an important mineral for our body. It regulates the water balance in tissues, it has an important role in bone formation, is necessary for digestion and it is essential for the function of our nerves and muscles.
We lose salt through sweating and through urine we excrete. Since our body cannot produce salt, we have to take it up with food we eat to compare for the loss. Our life depends on salt.
Because salt has been rather scarce in the world of our ancestors, nature has fitted our body with a reward system that makes us crave salt. Researchers have found that our body releases happiness hormones when we consume salt. That’s why we enjoy eating salty stuff and why it is so hard to set aside a bag of chips until its empty. Salt is “addictive”!
But why is too much salt bad for you?
Too much salt is one of the major causes of high blood pressure. The concentration of salt in our body must be not too low and not too high. Both can be dangerous. So the body is always busy to maintain just the right level of salt in our blood and body.
Overdose of salt and the consequences
The first symptom of an overdose of salt is thirst because the sodium levels in your blood and body fluids increase. The cells are deprived of water. The more salt in the body, the higher must be the amount of fluid available to dilute the salt. If you drink too little, the lack of water can lead to vasoconstriction, which increases blood pressure.
The excess salt needs to be diluted and to be flushed out of our bodies. We have to drink about 3ounces (100ml) of water to flush out 1 g of salt.
5 grams of salt is the recommended daily allowance
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a daily maximum salt intake of 5 grams.
That is not even 1 rounded teaspoon of salt. Most people exceed this recommendation significantly by as much as 4 to 5 times. Continuous excessive consumption leads to chronic hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
How to avoid excessive salt intake
Read the label carefully to control the daily intake of salt and to reduce it. Look for hidden salt in processed food. Often it is not declared as salt but as Sodium. This value must be multiplied by 2.5 to determine the corresponding salt content. Remember for a healthy adult 5 grams of salt a day are recommended. Children should even eat less salt. Read the WHO guidelines on salt intake.
Avoid excessive consumption of fast food and of canned foods or processed frozen ready-made food. Anything smoked or marinated, poultry, meat or fish often contains lots of salt and many more debatable additives.
Cook yourself and season with herbs instead of salt.
Low-salt foods and salt alternatives
Fresh fruits and vegetables are always a good alternative. Even frozen veggies are good.
Avoid highly processed food and canned food when possible. These often contain hidden salts and contain fewer vitamins than fresh.
Be careful with sweets. Chocolate bars, biscuits, chips, and crackers not only contain lots of sugar but often also a lot of salt.
Better steam instead of frying, do not use the grill or the pan. Cooking with a slow cooker instead leaves more natural flavors in the food. The taste and vitamins are preserved.
Season with fresh herbs like chives, garlic, parsley, or basil. If the food is still too bland for you use herbal salt.
Don’t give up if a low salt dish tastes a bit bland at first. It takes time to change your eating habits and to adapt to a salt-reduced diet. Now you know why is too much salt bad for you. Your body and your health will be grateful for changing your salt consumption and a more healthy diet.