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Salt and Your Health – Myths & Facts about Salt Intake

Posted on: 27 Jun 2021

By: Dr Vinoth Kumar

Published in:

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What is salt?

Salt is known as sodium chloride and it contains 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Salt adds flavour and taste to the food and it is used as food preservative.That’s why all the processed snacks, processed meat, and pickle contain a high amount of salt in order to prevent the growth of bacteria.

What are the types of salt?

All types of salts are prepared from either evaporation of sea water or extraction from salt mines. All types of salt undergo a purification process to remove the impurities before coming to the market. Generally, all types of salt contain sodium chloride and the mineral content in any form of slat is very minimal  when compared to our daily fruits, vegetables, and dairy products

Table salt:

It is prepared from underground salt deposits. It undergoes a lot of processing so that the minerals are almost removed .Iodine is very essential for the body to prevent thyroid problem and hence most of the commercially available table salts are fortified with iodine.

Himalayan pink salt:

It is harvested from the large mines of Pakistan. It is pink in colour due to the iron oxide. They may contain little more minerals and trace elements than Table salt due to natural harvesting methods and minimal processing.

Kosher salt:

It has larger grains. It enhances the flavour of the food instead of making them salty like table salt. Because it lacks iodine, it does not give bitter taste.

Sea salt:

These are larger crystals. Otherwise, the composition is the same as table salt. It may contain microplastics and traces of heavy metals

Is salt bad for health?

Sodium is very essential for the good function of the body muscle and nerve function. But excess salt is harmful for the body. Excess salt absorbs more water in the body and puts excess pressure on the heart and blood vessels. It also puts the burden on the kidney. So considering the harmful effects of excess salt we should always be cautious in the consumption of salt both directly and indirectly.

What are the common sources of salt?

Almost everyday diet like dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and grains contain some amount of sodium. More than 60-70% of our salt intake comes from restaurant diet and from processed foods. So we need to avoid these things more than restricting salt in the cooking.

Common sources of high salt in the diet:

  • Packed and processed meat
  • Processed snacks
  • Pickles
  • Pizzas, burgers, and sandwiches
  • Chips,Soups
  • Cheese and omlets

What is the recommended daily intake of salt?

The worldwide usual sodium intake ranges between 3.5–5.5 g per day (corresponding to 9−12 g of salt per day). WHO recommends to limit sodium intake to approximately 2.0 g per day (equivalent to approximately 5.0 g salt per day) in the general population.5 gm of salt is equal  to one tea spoon.

Will high salt intake increase BP?

50% of BP patients are salt sensitive. It means the higher intake of salt produces a significant increase in BP.

What are the benefits of reducing salt in diet?

  • Delay the development of hypertension
  • It will reduce the swelling of the heart in high BP patients
  • It reduces kidney damage in diabetic patients with or without hypertension
  • Reduces pro-inflammatory markers in the body and increases anti-inflammatory markers.

The beneficial impact of lowering dietary sodium is amplified by raising dietary potassium and blunted by lowering dietary potassium. In other words, if we reduce the salt intake alone without increasing the potassium in the diet, the BP may not come down but if we increase potassium rich fruits and vegetables along with low sodium there will be significant reduction of blood pressure.

How to reduce salt in diet?

While cooking add only 50% of the routine salt usage

Do not add salt on table

Reduce pickles, papads

Restrict the processed food items and salty snacks

Add herbs (cumin & pepper), spices, and citrus to give some flavor to the diet if you feel it is bland.

MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT SALT INTAKE

MYTH 1 – Himalayan salt or black salt or sea salt is good for health as it contains less sodium

FACT – All types of salts contain sodium chloride with 40% sodium only. The content of other minerals vary between the different salt types. Whatever the salt may be, when consumed more than recommended levels (5gm/day), it might cause harmful effects on the body

MYTH 2 – As reducing salt reduces blood pressure, I will completely avoid salt in my diet.

FACT – Salt is an essential mineral for the normal function of muscles and nerves of the body. So completely avoiding salt will have harmful effects on the body.

MYTH 3 – I can’t eat food with low salt. Iam not used to it.

FACT – Once we start reducing the salt, slowly our taste buds will get adjusted to that over time. After that we will not feel the difference much between full salt and low salt diet.

MYTH 4 – Only old people will develop BP. So I can take more salt at younger age

FACT – BP can rise at any age. In fact in recent years, high BP is very much increasing in younger age group because of high salt intake, sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity and obesity.

MYTH 5 – Only high salt can give better taste and flavour to the food.

FACT – Even with low salt, when we add spices, herbs and citrus like lemon we can increase the flavour and taste of the food.

MYTH 6 – If I reduce the added salt during cooking, my per day salt consumption will be reduced significantly

FACT – More than 70% of our salt intake comes from restaurant foods, processed foods, and pickles. Avoiding these things are very important than reducing salt during cooking.

MYTH 7 – My BP is normal and I can take excess salt

FACT – In persons without BP also, low sodium can delay the development of high BP.