Are you one of the many people confused about whether salt is good or bad for you? In this blog to coincide with the 2019 Salt Awareness Week, Lisa discusses why we should cut down on salt and offers top tips for how to use less salt.
For a deeper look at salt we discuss this topic in our seminars on Cardiovascular Health and Mens Health.
Too Much Salt
Salt is a combination of sodium and chloride, which is vital for these functions:
- maintaining proper fluid balance and preventing dehydration
- enabling muscles to contract and relax
- sending nervous system impulses
- keeping blood pressure within healthy range
Despite these essential uses, consuming too much salt can lead to to serious health problems, and the UK Department of Health estimates that for every 1g reduction in daily salt intake, 7,000 deaths could be prevented and 4,000 of those deaths would occur before the age of 70.
Our love affair with salt is down to the fact that it makes food taste good, suppressing bitter tastes and enhancing sweet and sour tastes. Research on rats deprived of salt found that they showed symptoms of depression, hinting that it may be be a mood elevating substance, which could explain why we develop cravings for salty foods(1).
Western diets often contain far more than the WHO recommended 5g of salt per day. The worst offending foods are soy sauce, ready meals, salted snacks (crisps, Pringles, salted nuts), pasta sauces, cured meats and some soups.
When we eat more salt than we need, the sodium causes us to retain water in our blood vessels. As a result this causes pressure to build up, leading to high blood pressure (hypertension). One of the consequences of having hypertension for any length of time is that the arteries thicken and harden as they work harder to push the blood around the body. This narrows the arteries and can lead to heart failure or stroke.
It’s the job of our kidneys to remove the excess sodium from the body, but again, over-use of salt can lead to kidney damage which may impair their ability to function correctly. The efficiency of the kidneys also reduces as we get older, so we become less able to tolerate high amounts of salt without getting hypertension.
There is also some evidence to link a high salt diet with risk of obesity and to stomach cancer (2).
Too Little Salt
A low salt diet can prevent proper hydration, particularly during and after sport or in hot weather. Salt is need to restore sodium excreted in sweat.
Studies have also linked a low salt diet to elevated LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes (3).
Rock and Sea Salt
Rock and sea salts are less refined than table salt and contain low levels of minerals from the sea bed, such as iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc and iodine. However, they are typically still around 98% sodium chloride, which means that they have the same effect on your blood pressure as table salt.
Adding Flavour without Salt
There are lots of ways to add flavour to your cooking without relying on the salt pot:
- Fresh herbs can bring out the flavour of pasta dishes, vegetables and meat.
- Garlic, ginger, chilli and lime add taste to stir fries (avoid soy sauce which is very high in salt).
- Roasting vegetables in olive oil with a few herbs also brings out the flavour. Try red peppers, tomatoes, courgettes, fennel, parsnips and butternut squash.
- Squeeze lemon or lime juice onto fish or seafood.
- Try using different types of onion as a flavour enhancer– brown, red, white, spring onions, shallots.
- Make sauces using ripe flavourful fresh tomatoes and garlic.
- Use black pepper as seasoning on eggs, beans, and other foods rather than salt.
- If budget allows, buy organic vegetables, which can have more flavour.
- Add a teaspoon of turmeric in place of salt to the cooking water for brown rice or wholewheat pasta.
- For recipe suggestions, try the low-salt section of the BBC Good Food website.
1. Morris, M.J.; Na, E.S.; Johnson, A.K. Salt craving: The psychobiology of pathogenic sodium intake. Physiology & Behavior, 94 (5), p.709-721, Aug 2008, 2008; 94 (5): 709-721 DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2008.04.008
2. J. A. Gaddy, J. N. Radin, J. T. Loh, F. Zhang, M. K. Washington, R. M. Peek, H. M. S. Algood, T. L. Cover. High dietary salt intake exacerbates Helicobacter pylori-induced gastric carcinogenesis. Infection and Immunity, 2013; DOI: 10.1128/IAI.01271-12
3. “Effects of Low-Sodium Diet vs. High-Sodium Diet on Blood Pressure, Renin, Aldosterone, Catecholamines, Cholesterol, and Triglyceride (Cochrane Review)”
Niels A. Graudal, Thorbjørn Hubeck-Graudal and Gesche Jürgens
American Journal of Hypertension (2011); doi:10.1038/ajh.2011.210