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Is Salt Bad or Not?

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The media changes its stories from one season to the other. A few years ago, tea was not good to drink due to its caffeine content. Now it is good due to its high antioxidant content. Ginko biloba was the potential cure for memory loss but now we find it also has side effects like increased bleeding and heart palpitations. What about salt?

How Salt Affects Your Body

Salt is a compound made of two elements, sodium and chloride. The kidneys regulate the amount of sodium in our bodies. When sodium is low, the kidneys hold onto it. When there is too much, the kidneys filter it out in the urine.

Naturally, sodium attracts water to itself. So, if there is too much sodium in our bodies, we begin to retain excess fluid which increases blood volume. This makes the heart work harder and increases pressure in the arteries and the organs at the end of those arteries like the heart, liver, or kidneys. High blood pressure (hypertension) develops and damages the arteries. Over time, if this process continues, we may develop congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, chronic kidney disease, edema (swelling) and eye disease ( watch here ). So, our bodies lose the ability to regulate sodium.

Purpose of Salt and Quantities Needed in Our Diet

Don’t forget, salt is important for us. Just like cholesterol, we are not able to survive without it. Our bodies need sodium to help transmit nerve impulses, maintain fluid balance and help with relaxation and contraction of muscles.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting salt intake to less than 6 grams per day (2,300 mg of sodium). People older than 50, blacks or those with certain health conditions (high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease) may be more sensitive to sodium’s effects. Therefore those individuals will need to consume less than the recommended dose.

Other Names for Salt

While shopping in the store be aware of products that contain salt but use a different name for it. Examples are: baking powder, baking soda, monosodium glutamate ( MSG ) sodium alginate, sodium saccharin (a sweetener), sodium nitrate or nitrite, or disodium phosphate. Also, look at the food label and see the amount of sodium content.

Help Yourself
1. Use low sodium products (avoid: ham, sausages, bacon and other meat products, smoked fish and meats, canned vegetables, most butter, margarine and spreads, cheese, bread and some breakfast cereals)
2. Remove or use less salt in recipes (use herbs instead)
3. Limit use of condiments (ketchup, mustard, relish, dips, salad dressings are often high in sodium)
4. Eat fresh foods and fewer processed foods
5. Watch out for salt substitutes
6. Try the DASH diet
7. Talk with your doctor if you have more questions or if you have any health conditions

Moderation, moderation, moderation!

Look at your parents…. Look at your future…. Look at what you are currently doing for yourself.

Add a Comment5 Comments

I agree Linda! Increasing the amount of potassium in the diet has been shown to help manage high blood pressure. Good point! I try to have a banana every day. :)

September 16, 2009 - 6:33pm

My opinion is that the ratio of sodium to potassium in the diet is more important than the absolute amount of sodium. See https://www.empowher.com/news/herarticle/2009/08/31/how-much-salt-too-much

September 16, 2009 - 9:04am
(reply to Linda Fugate PhD)

I agree with you Linda. I recommended in my article: moderation, moderation, moderation. The big organizations like the CDC or AHA do quantify their research findings which has its own purpose. Not one of us will ever really know how much salt we consume in a day. That is impossible. There are those individuals who use a lot of salt with their meals. By knowing an estimate number of grams/teaspoons, it might help them to visualize and recognize that they are using too much. This does not work for everyone but if there are any reasonable solutions in helping people to cut down on salt, those solutions should be used. Some people may connect with hearing stories from others, some like to quantify and visualize and some will never lift a finger to change. Spreading the word about a subject increases the chance for positive change. Thank goodness for Empowher.com!
Thank you for your contribution Linda!

September 16, 2009 - 8:21pm

Good tips on having a low salt diet! Yes salt in necessary for good health, but most people eating a western diet would eat far more than what is needed. Restaurant foods and processed foods are very high in salt.
It is recommended by the CDC (Center of Disease Control) that people consume only 1,500mg of sodium daily if; you have high blood pressure, are African American, and aged middle-aged and older. That's about 70% of the population! :)
You can read their recommendations here: http://www.my-blood-pressure.com/lower-salt.html
The CDC estimated that the average amount of salt consumed day is 3,436mg a day! So, as you said all in moderation.

September 15, 2009 - 7:03pm
(reply to Kellie - My Health Software)

Thank you Kellie for your insight and current website resource! Absolutely, the western diet provides more salt than we will ever need in a day. How unfortunate that it has become so hard to really know what is hidden in our food. That is why slowly choosing unprocessed foods is a good idea for all of us (especially for those who do not have time to research all the scientific/chemical names for sodium and other harmful substances).

September 16, 2009 - 6:56pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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