Salt Awareness Week
Salt is a really important compound that we get from our food, and many people know that consuming too much salt isn’t a good thing. However, there’s often a lot of confusion surrounding salt. Salt itself comes in many different varieties, but the most common and widely used is sodium chloride, or table salt as it’s known. This form of salt is used primarily for two reasons, firstly to add flavour to foods and secondly to prolong the shelf life of food. Both of these properties are inherently good things, however, as with many things in life, there can indeed be too much of a good thing!
The effect on the human body of salt is a bit of a double edged sword, in that we require salt for healthy function, but the quantities in which we require it are actually very small, far smaller than most will believe. Salt helps our bodies carry out quite specific roles such as maintaining balance within our blood, vital brain function, helping our hearts beat correctly and pump efficiently. Without salt, our bodies suffer extreme stress and cause very distressing symptoms such as nausea, headaches, fatigue, and in some cases, far more serious consequences.
Blood Pressure UK say that too much salt may cause problems and the disease most commonly associated with excess salt consumption is called hypertension, or as it is more commonly known, high blood pressure. As with preservation of food, salt absorbs moisture and this attribute has a similar effect on the human body. It causes our bodies to retain too much blood and this increases blood pressure. The exact mechanisms for this relate to kidney function.
Often the first time someone is aware that they are consuming too much salt is when they have their blood pressure measured, typically at a routine GP appointment, and the advice given will be to lower their salt intake, and in cases where the blood pressure is very high, medications may also be prescribed.
Confusion often sets in at this point, as once home from the appointment the first thing people often do is remove salt shakers and look for low sodium products but very often this has little effect on overall salt intake. Awareness is needed and it’s important to clearly understand where the salt in our diet actually comes from, and the guidelines. Currently, in the UK the maximum recommended amount of salt is 6 grams per day. This is the maximum, not a target; understanding this difference is important!
Ultimately, in the UK, unless you are regularly training heavily then the chances of you becoming deficient in salt are extremely rare and so it makes sense to do all you can practically to limit the amount of salt in your diet. It may come as a surprise but only about 10% of salt in your diet comes from the salt you add to your food once cooked and during cooking, another 10% occurs naturally, and a whopping 80% of the salt that the general population in the UK comes from processed and restaurant foods. This is why simply stopping adding salt to your food during and after cooking has very little impact on your overall salt intake, and why it’s often frustrating when someone with high blood pressure doesn’t see a difference when they stop adding salt to their food.
If you don’t have hypertension, then the chances are you’re unaffected by the salt in your diet. If you exercise regularly and eat lots of salty foods your body will likely adapt to this. If you don’t usually eat a lot of salt and then have a very salty meal you may experience some water retention but that’s all.
The take-home message should be that, so long as you don’t eat a lot of processed foods and get some exercise then your salt levels are likely to be fine and adding a little salt to your boiled eggs won’t hurt.