Salt has been used as a preservative and to add flavour to food for millennia. However, with inventions like the refrigerator and freezer, we need less salt to preserve foods, and there are plenty of other great, natural ways to flavour our food, so do we really need salt?
Table salt is made up of a sodium chloride bond. We need sodium in our diet to live, and the majority of the sodium we intake is from salt. Unfortunately, most of the salt in our diet is from highly processed food that we shouldn’t be having.
Sodium is a necessary dietary nutrient. The body needs sodium to regulate blood pressure, osmosis equilibrium, blood volume, and pH levels. Problems arise when you have too much sodium, or if you don’t have enough.
Sodium is also an electrolyte. It helps ensure a constant electrical gradient across cell membranes. This affects nerve transmissions, muscular contraction, and other physical function, making it incredibly important, especially for activity.
So why does salt get a bad rap? Well, sodium binds to water, so the more sodium we have in our bloodstream, the more water there is in the bloodstream, increasing blood pressure, making the heart work harder. It’s widely believed and taught that high blood pressure is one of the main causes of heart disease, and can also lead to other diseases like kidney failure or stroke. While all of that may be true, it is far more complicated than that, and there isn’t a direct cause and effect between high sodium levels and heart disease. In fact, new research shows that too low of sodium levels puts you at a higher risk of heart disease than too much sodium.
It’s true that decreasing sodium intake will lower blood pressure, but the rates of decrease depend on the individual, and then we are still assuming that lowering blood pressure will reduce your risk of heart disease.
While high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, it isn’t the cause. In fact, studies have found that there is no visible correlation between the reduction of salt intake and the risk of mortality. The drop in blood pressure from decreasing salt is too insignificant.
The best ways to lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease is to be more active, and eat better foods (start by cutting out processed foods).
How active are you, and how much do you sweat? The way you answer these questions will help indicate how much salt you need. In general the more active you are and the more you sweat, the more salt you will need in your diet. That’s because sodium binds to water and other fluids in your body, keeping you hydrated.
A lack of sodium in you diet will make you less thirsty, which isn’t a good thing after a long workout session, because your body needs water to rehydrate. Athletes often need to have some sort of salt post workout to get their levels back up. If you’re going to be active for several hours you should have something to replenish your sodium during that active period.
Most people don’t have trouble getting enough salt in their diet, and it is easy to go over the recommended upper limit. According to Health Canada, adults should be getting between 1500-2300 mg a day of sodium. However, there has been a lot of debate about if these levels are too low. You should really worry less about how much salt you have in your diet and more about how you’re getting the salt.
Don’t feel guilty about enjoying salt. Salt tastes good. We have a designated section of taste buds on our tongue designed to taste salt. Also, salt cravings aren’t all bad either. Some people have more of a sweet tooth, while others prefer a salty treat. There will be times when we crave salt, and that’s okay. That’s because most cravings are our body’s way of letting us know it’s lacking something. If you’re craving salt, it may be your body telling you it needs more sodium. The trick is how you intake that salt. Instead of grabbing potato chips, try a feta and olive salad. You need to feed your cravings with good foods.
If your doctor tells you to reduce your salt intake, listen. Again, the best way to cut salt out of your diet is to minimize/eliminate the processed food you’re eating.
You should also choose sea salt or Himalayan salt for a more complex salt that can contain several other important trace elements. This is much healthier than your normal table salt, which undergoes heavy processing.
However, unless your doctor has told you otherwise, as long as you’re eating good food and maintaining an active lifestyle, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to add some salt to your food to flavour it to your liking.