Among the many elements that are essential for life, salt is perhaps the most important of all. Natural salt is crucial for many biological processes. It also helps maintain fluid balance in the body. Many studies have been conducted on the amount of salt one should consume as part of their daily diet for good health. Less than adequate salt intake can result in weakness or even muscle spasms, while too much of it can lead to complications for the heart.
The World Health Organisation recently issued guidelines on daily salt consumption. According to these guidelines, adults should consume less than five grams of salt a day. This, however, is contrary to another study that says below three grams of sodium per day can increase the chances of heart attack and heart failure, leading to death.
With so much of research surrounding this element, there is much doubt about what is the right approach to including salt in our diet. This article is an attempt to bust some myths and bring the facts to the fore.
Myth: The main reason to be worried about salt intake is blood pressure.
Truth: This is not very true as excess sodium can lead to other health issues like gastric cancer, stomach ulcers, osteoporosis, muscle cramps, and decreased brain function. Salt intake may not be the direct cause of, but can contribute to a rise in blood pressure.
Myth: It is alright to drastically reduce the intake of salt.
Truth: Salt, being a major component of blood, is an important part of our diet. It aids in carrying nutrients into and out of cells and regulating blood pressure. It also helps in nervous-system function. The only criterion that decides the amount of salt one should consume is an individual’s sensitivity to salt.
Myth: It is important to add salt while cooking to ensure adequate salt in your diet.
Truth: Take note that a lot of our sodium intake comes from processed foods. Meats, canned food, ketchup, breads, biscuits, etc. all contain high amounts of sodium. It’s important to cut down on these as well. However, that does not mean one should consume these to get their daily share of salt!
Myth: No salt makes food bland.
Truth: There are plenty of other options to replace that added salt in your food. Herbs, spices, garlic, onion, lemon and lime juice, red and black pepper are few things that can make your food taste great. The fact is that it is not the salt in your home-cooked meals that has an impact but the processed foods that you consume.
Myth: It is all right for young people to not worry about their salt intake.
Truth: Excessive salt consumption makes the body hold onto extra fluid. This puts much pressure on the heart and kidneys, as well as the arteries, thus increasing the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure later. Though the metabolism in youngsters may be good, it is not a good idea to use that as an excuse to consume excess salt.
Myth: Table salt has more sodium than other varieties like Himalayan, Kosher, and sea salt.
Truth: This is not true as all of these contain almost similar amounts of sodium. There are no studies to indicate otherwise. These salts may however give that added taste to food. There are many who claim that these salt variants contain traces of calcium, potassium, iron, and phosphorus, but there is no evidence to the effect.
Despite all the warnings and myths about salt, it is not that bad after all. What then is the secret to eating salt? The answer in one word is moderation.
Cut down the size of your meals and the amount of salt that goes into it will automatically come down. Fill up half of you plate with vegetables or fruits that are cooked with minimal or no salt. As most fruits and vegetables are rich in potassium, this will shift the sodium-potassium balance in your system.
Working out helps offset intake of salt. According to a recent study, physical activity can help in lowering cases of blood pressure due to salt consumption, particularly in salt-sensitive individuals.
Although excess salt can still cause fluid retention, working out can definitely help in keeping the blood pressure in check.
(The author is head of Quantitative Health, Grow Fit)