The Dangers of eating too much salt

Many people consume excessive amounts of salt, also known as sodium, on a daily basis without knowing the potential health risks associated with salt intake. Read further to see if your health symptoms or conditions may be linked to your salt intake. You may be surprised.

The human body needs salt to function. Sodium, the main component of our body's extra-cellular fluids, helps carry nutrients into cells. It also regulates other body functions, like blood pressure and fluid volume. Our bodies cannot function without sodium (salt), but we only need a very small amount. The recommended daily amount is about 500 milligrams and we can go up to 2,400 milligrams, though it is healthier to stay around 1,800.

While a healthy kidney may be able to get rid of the excess salt, you may end up losing calcium. This can be especially harmful to women as the calcium loss may eventually be linked to osteoporosis.

About 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, our ancestors hunted for their food and needed to preserve the large amounts of meat they hunted. They found that salt not only cut away bacterial growth but it also added flavour. Salt adds and enhances the flavour of many foods and also aids raw ingredients to form into other food products. Cheese is a good example since it cannot be formed without salt.

Among most people today, eating or cooking with processed food has become the norm. Many scientists are concerned about the amount of salt in processed foods. Seventy-five to eighty-five percent of our sodium intake comes from processed foods. Sprinkling less salt at our table or cooking with less salt will not necessarily solve the problem. The reason for this is that there is a vast quantity of sodium in the bread, processed meat, canned vegetables and even in pizza, including food purchased at fast food chains.

Another potential danger to your body is dehydration, which is why a snail shrivels when you pour salt on it. Too much salt can cause vasoconstriction of the blood vessels. This condition makes your vessels shrink in size because the salt dehydrates your cells by forcing water out of them and making them narrower. When this happens, the blood has to work harder to force blood around the body and increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks and even strokes.

High-salt intake also induces insulin resistance and increases the risk of stomach and oesophageal cancers by damaging the lining of the throat and stomach. It can also aggravate asthma and contributes to kidney stones and cataracts. In postmenopausal women, too much salt has shown to increase the amount of bone minerals that are excreted through urine.

Have you ever been thirsty after consuming packaged snack foods (salty peanuts/chips)? Salt is sometimes purposely added to snacks to create thirst in consumers. Since many soft drink companies know this, they team up with the salty-snack industry to bolster each other's sales. In 1965, the merger of Frito-Lay and Pepsi-Cola was approved by shareholders of both companies. That is how PepsiCo, Inc was formed.

Here are some tips to reduce your salt intake:

  • Take stock of the sources of salt in your diet, such as restaurant meals, pizza, salt-based condiments, and convenience foods. Some of these are really loaded with salt.
  • Read the labels when shopping. Look for lower sodium in cereals, crackers, pasta sauces, canned vegetables, or any foods with low-salt options.
  • Canned foods, especially soups and baked beans are loaded with excessive salt.
  • If you think your meals are high in sodium, balance them by adding high-potassium foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Ask about salt added to food, especially at restaurants. Most restaurants will omit salt when requested.
  • If you need to salt while cooking, add the salt at the end; you will need to add much less. The longer the food cooks, the more the salty flavour is muted and at the end, the final taste is on the top layer.

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Page updated: 3 July 2013