As many of us agree, salt is what makes food taste good, and its absence just turns otherwise delicious food into something bland. That is why we love putting salt in our food. However, how much salt is consumed by an individual can not only affect the taste of food but also the overall health of a person. Daily salt consumption is a topic of concern for many health organizations as people consume way too much salt than the daily recommended levels. For instance, figures relating to how much salt should be consumed is linked with sodium consumption. It is recommended that daily sodium intake should stay below 1500 mg and definitely not exceed 2300 mg.
However, dietary patterns and food choices reveal that how much salt is consumed is way in excess of these recommended levels. The average consumption of sodium is estimated at 3500 mg for individuals with much of it coming from processed foods. Salt is often equated directly with sodium. Sodium is actually a crucial electrolyte in the body and is naturally found in many different foods in trace amounts. However, most of it is taken from salt consumption. The thing to remember here is that salt is not only made up of sodium but chloride as well.
Is salt the same as sodium?
While 40% of the weight of salt comes from sodium the remaining 60 % comes from chloride. So when consuming salt, you will actually be eating way more salt than just sodium. It is important to keep this distinction in mind since sodium in recommended quantities is required for maintaining blood pressure and a normal balance of fluids in the body as well as for transmitting nerve impulses. Sodium in small amounts is also needed for proper contraction and relaxation of muscles.
How much salt do people need per day?
How much salt is healthy ranges between 1500 mg and 2300 mg for individuals between nine to fifty years of age. Once over the age of fifty, daily sodium recommendation drops to 1300 mg per day. And anyone above the age of seventy should limit their sodium intake to 1200 mg daily.
If understanding the recommended amounts is difficult with mg levels, then let us convert them into tablespoons to get a better idea of how much salt you should use. Basically, 1500 mg of sodium comes to about three quarters of a teaspoon or 3.75 grams of salt. 2300 mg of sodium equal one teaspoon or six grams of salt. But what we are actually consuming on a daily basis is far in excess of these numbers. It is estimated that a typical American diet contains about 3500 mg of sodium daily although many people are consuming well in excess of 5000 mg of sodium every day.
What can too much salt do?
Too much salt in the body can easily cause hypertension or high blood pressure. High blood pressure is typically associated with individuals being overweight, sedentary and consuming a diet high in sodium content. This condition is a precursor for other serious cardiovascular issues like strokes, heart attacks and heart failure.
With too much sodium in the body, the liver can have a hard time carrying out its cleansing functions and an abnormal accumulation of sodium can cause liver disease. Kidney stones are caused by a calcium buildup in the kidneys which is triggered by both high blood pressure as well as a high salt intake. And finally, high salt intake causes the body to retain water and individuals may find themselves suffering from issues like bloating or even edema.
In some cases a high salt diet has also been observed to cause stomach cancer.
How to cut back on salt
Include more fresh foods: Fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables have very small amounts of sodium in them that can meet the daily requirements for sodium consumption. In addition, fresh meat and poultry tends to be lower in sodium content than its processed counterparts. Look for poultry and meat that has not been injected with sodium containing solution.
Including more fresh foods in the diet also means staying away from processed foods and others that contain artificial flavorings and added seasonings.
Improvise recipes to go salt free: Cut back on salt when preparing meals at home. While it may be hard to go cold turkey, you can start by gradually reducing the amount of salt used in recipes and once you get accustomed to preparing meals with less salt, cut out the salt content even more. Continuing to do so, you will eventually reach a stage where you will not miss the salt in home prepared foods any more.
Use other spices and herbs instead: One way to add flavor to your meals when regulating how much salt is used is to include herbs and spices in the recipe. You can choose from an assortment of dried or fresh herbs and spices as well as zest from citrus fruits to add more flavor to the meals.
Use salt substitutes, but carefully: There are salt substitutes available for people looking to control how much salt they consume. But these substitutes or light salts may still contain a mixture of table salts or other similar compounds. A common error when using salt substitutes is to use too much of the product to get a salt like taste with the eventual result that you may still be including a lot of sodium in meals. So use with caution and good sense.
One option is to use small amounts of Himalayan salt considered one of the purest salts available without any added components. The recommendation for how much Himalayan salt per day rests at one fourth teaspoon that can yield 500 mg of sodium.
Images used via a creative commons license – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Image One by Leonid Mamchenkov – https://www.flickr.com/photos/mamchenkov/273149884/
Image Two by Larry Hoffman – https://www.flickr.com/photos/dinesarasota/4812611934/
Image Three by David Hall – https://www.flickr.com/photos/moonhouse/3148200718/