Salt - The Good, The Bad & When Is It Too Salty?
Salt, or sodium as the main ion, is vital for bodily functions such as:
Maintaining cell volume
Controlling fluid flow
Assisting absorption of glucose and amino acids (building blocks of protein) in our small intestine
Normal muscle and nerve function
Regulating blood pressure
Sodium deficiency is extremely rare, but could occur with diarrhoea, vomiting or excessive sweating (>2% of body weight). Hydralyte will be good for replenishment in these situations!
On the other hand, it's way more common to overdose sodium, as salt is the biggest source.
'But I rarely add salt to my foods!'
Unfortunately, there's actually a lot of hidden sodium in our foods. In fact, 75% of the salt we eat is already in the foods we buy. Some of these don't even taste salty at all:
Takeaway foods (in fact, one meal can take up to 80% of our recommended daily intake)
Condiments such as soy sauce, tomato sauce, tartare sauce, BBQ sauce, teriyaki, worcestershire sauce, cheese sauce
Bread and cereal
Baked goods containing sodium bicarbonate (e.g. pancakes, crumpets)
Cured meats (e.g. sausages, bacon, ham)
Some dairy such as cheese
Tinned fish in brine
Carbonated drinks and sports drinks
Shellfish e.g. prawns, lobster, crab, oysters
Canned baked beans
What does an overdose lead to?
Chronic excessive sodium intake increases your chance of developing high blood pressure, which then increases stress in your cardiovascular system. You will also have an increased risk of developing a heart attack or stroke due to the stress.
How much salt/sodium am I allowed daily for optimal health?
To prevent developing heart diseases later on in life, the Heart Foundation has recommended that we should have no more than 2300mg of sodium per day, and less than 1500mg per day is best. 2300mg of sodium is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of salt, or about 2 double cheeseburgers. This recommendation is based on its link to high blood pressure.
What if I sweat a lot from exercising?
Our body is actually very good at recycling sodium while sweating. In fact, about 90% of the sodium used during sweating is reabsorbed at the end.
The only time it's advised to consume more than 2300mg/day, is if you are an excessive sweater -by that I mean if >2% of your body weight is lost by sweating alone! This can be easily determined by taking your weight immediately before and after exercising.
So unless if you're an endurance athlete, don't get too salty!
What can I do to reduce salt intake?
Reduce the frequency of getting takeaway foods, as mentioned before this can take up to 80% of our daily sodium intake
Reduce processed foods, as the sodium level increases as more processing occurs
Look for low-sodium options for condiments and canned goods
While seasoning your food, use natural ingredients to spice up the taste (e.g. garlic, onion, chives, herbs, turmeric, ginger). Add salt last and only AFTER you have tasted the food
Keep in mind that the cells in your taste buds take about 6 weeks to change over, so it'll take just as long for you to get used to the new, 'blander' taste. The foods may taste bad for the first few weeks, but you will slowly adapt to the new taste before you even know it!
Should I worry about the naturally-containing sodium in whole foods, like fruit and vegetables?
No! The amount is negligible and focusing on the foods above will do you much more favour.
Sodium is essential, but with this day and age, we are far more likely to overdose than be deficient. Focus on minimally processed foods, reduce takeaway frequency, and be patient for the outcome! Your body will thank you in 30 year's time.