Why is excessive salt intake bad for our health?

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Salt is a chemical compound called Sodium Chloride, with the formula NaCl (Na-Sodium, Cl- Chloride).

Sodium chloride consists of 40% Sodium and 60% Chlorine.

What is salt used for?

Salt exists naturally in seawater.

The most familiar use of salt is as a vital element to the cooking and preparing of great-tasting food. We keep salt within reach in the kitchen and at the table as a flavor enhancer. Salt accents the flavor of meat, brings out the individuality of vegetables, deepens the flavor of delicate desserts, and develops the flavor of melons and certain other fruits. No other seasoning has yet been found that can satisfactorily take the place of salt.

Beside making food delicious, it’s believed there are more than 14,000 uses for salt.

Our bodies need salt, but not too much or too little.

Why do humans need salt?

Adequate intake of salt in the human diet is required to maintain good health. Sodium is a vital nutrient. It’s a major component of extracellular fluid, and is essential for maintaining the volume of the plasma.The maintenance of extracellular fluid volume is an important physiological function of the sodium in the body, particularly in regards to cardiovascular health.

Sodium and chloride ions also play an important role in the nervous system.These ions also help in nerve transmission as well as mechanical movement.

Chloride ions provided by salt are secreted in the gastric juice as hydrochloric acid (HCL) and HCL is vital to the digestion of food and the destruction of food-borne pathogens in the stomach.

If a true sodium deficiency occurs, mammals experience symptoms of hyponatremia such as brain swelling, coma, congestive heart failure, cardiovascular collapse following acute blood loss, and impaired sympathetic cardiovascular adjustments to stress.

Regulation of plasma sodium levels by the kidney

The kidney, when healthy, regulates sodium and water excretion using hemodynamic, neural, and hormonal inputs. This allows it to respond appropriately to a wide range of dietary sodium intake. Aldosterone, a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, helps regulate the balance of water and electrolytes in the body.

An abrupt increase in dietary salt can cause a redistribution of fluid from the intra- to the extracellular space. But after a few days, the kidney is able to compensate with extra sodium excretion to match the dietary intake. Therefore, healthy people are generally able to adapt to a wide range of salt intakes without a significant change in blood pressure.

If sodium intake drops too low, our metabolism shifts into a sodium-sparing mode. This stimulates the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone hormonal system, which in turn maintains osmotic balance and adequate blood pressure.

How much salt do we need?Indians consume about 3.7 grams of sodium, corresponding to about 9.3 grams of salt per day. This is nearly twice the amount recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The global average salt intake in 2010 was around 10 grams per person per day, corresponding to 4 grams per day of sodium, according to the study.

“Nearly all populations across the world are consuming far more sodium than is healthy,” said Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Harmful effects of Sodium : High or low salt diets are both harmful, earlier studies have found. The risk of heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure, and death from heart disease increased significantly when people consume more than 7 grams or less than 3 grams of sodium a day. As lower sodium levels decrease, triglyceride levels increase, which leads to increased insulin resistance and thus increased risk of heart disease.

The amount of salt you eat has a direct effect on your blood pressure.

Salt makes your body hold on to water. If you eat too much salt, the extra water stored in your body raises your blood pressure. So, the more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure.The higher your blood pressure, the greater the strain on your heart, arteries, kidneys and brain. This can lead to heart attacks, strokes, dementia and kidney disease.

Therefore, follow the below tips to cut the salt in your diet and reduce your salt intake :-

  1. Compare nutrition labels on food packaging when buying everyday items.
  2. Cured meats and fish can be high in salt, so try to eat these less often.
  3. Watch out for the salt content in ready-made sauces. Tomato-based sauces are often lower in salt than cheesy sauces or those containing olives, bacon or ham.
  4. Go easy on soy sauce, mustard, pickles, mayonnaise and other table sauces, as these can all be high in salt.
  5. Cook using less salt.
  6. Cut down on processed and packaged foods.

Here are some tips to help you shake the salt habit :-

  1. Add citrus to your meal for a pungent punch of flavor! Swapping in lemon or orange flavor instead of salt will brighten your meal without contributing to heart disease risk. Orange or grapefruit sections in salad or fresh lemon squeezed onto fish will add a tart, yet healthy spunk to your meals.
  2. Swap salt for spices:Oregano, black pepper, chilli powder, red chilli flakes, cinnamon, and cloves add tons of flavor to your meal without any salt.
  3. Zest your plate to life! Cutting back on sodium, but adding lemon zest to your meal can reduce your sodium intake by 50 percent! Try adding lemon zest to a marinade or rub for meats and chicken, salad dressings, or fish.
  4. Fill your salt shaker with a no-salt spice blend: Instead of leaving a salt shaker on your kitchen or dining room table, ditch the salt and create your own array of seasonings and spices or try one of the no-salt blends on supermarket shelves. Your family can have fun creating their personal favorite hot mixes.

These simple tips will provide a deliciously satisfying way to help reduce sodium without feeling deprived !

Please leave a comment if you have ideas about slashing sodium.

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