We’re probably all well aware that salt is a known for being a big baddie in the world of healthy eating, but is it really as simple as that? Making sure there’s some salt in the diet is actually beneficial to us, and there is such a thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ salt, too.
Let’s have a look at the role salt plays in our health, and why it might not be as bad for us as we once thought.
Salt makes the body hold onto water, and that can cause weight gain and increase blood pressure – at least until the kidneys flush the salt out of the system. But it is believed that the effect of a salty diet on blood pressure is far more long-lasting, and can lead to hypertension, stroke and even death if unchecked.
The DASH-sodium study carried out in the USA in 2001 found that subjects on a lower sodium diet had significantly lower blood pressure than a control group. Studies like these are why salt is often put at the top of our list of ‘things to avoid’ in our diet.
Other more recent studies, however, suggest that a national decline in smoking and a general upsurge in healthy eating and food awareness clouds the waters and makes it more difficult to blame salt for health complications like heart disease.
Sodium – rather than salt specifically – is actually an essential electrolyte. An electrically-charged molecule, sodium along with potassium maintains electrical gradients across cell membranes – critical for nerve transmission, muscular contraction, and all sorts of other bodily functions. In essence, we need sodium.
Lots of foods contain naturally-occurring sodium, but most of the sodium in our diet comes from salt. Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, for example, go so far as to suggest that slashing your salt intake can actually be dangerous, since the body needs a certain amount of sodium. The kidneys will secrete an enzyme called renin if it’s starved of salt, and this can actually trigger hypertension.
Research published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism this year has linked low sodium diets to heart failure and type-II diabetes, citing low sodium-to-potassium ratios as a damaging equation.
A Healthy Compromise
So banishing salt from your diet altogether may not be the answer, but re-educating those tastebuds to crave less salt is a great idea. This will also encourage you to experiment and try out new seasonings and ingredients, broadening your kitchen repertoire in the process.
Be aware, however, that your sodium requirements may be different to that of others. An ‘adequate’ amount of sodium per day for an adult is 250 – 500mg, and the tolerable upper limit for daily sodium intake is generally agreed to be 2300mg. Those over fifty should try and cap their intake at 1500 mg, and people over 70 should consume no more than 1200mg. People on a low-carb diet, however, should be aware that regimes like these encourage the body to shed excess water and salts, so somewhere 3000 – 5000mg sodium per day is recommended to ensure that essential electrolytes are not lost. Consulting a dietician or nutritionist for more specific guidelines is always recommended.
Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy balance of salt in your diet:
1) Unrefined varieties of salt, such as sea salt and Himalayan pink salt, are known for being the healthier options for seasoning food. These types of salt also contain various trace nutrients. Don’t necessarily go salt-free, especially in the summer when electrolytes and other minerals lost through sweat need replenishing.
2) Experiment with other ways of seasoning your food. It’s not all about salt! Pepper, for example, is a simple but often overlooked seasoning for your cheeky bag of chips or bowl of soup, and lemon imitates the acidic bite of salt when squeezed over fish. Capers are wonderfully salty too, but all-natural and full of protein and goodness. Get to know your herb garden as well, and invest in a good balsamic vinegar, umami paste or soy sauce to bring a briny saltiness to your meals. There really is no end to the options for seasoning without salt, and it’ll encourage you to experiment further with tastes and ingredients.
3) Processed foods are absolutely packed full of salt – far more than is generally healthy, regardless of which studies you believe. So eat ‘real food’ whenever and wherever you can, and look at the sodium levels on packets before you purchase, bearing in mind your daily recommended intake. It’s not just your blood pressure that’ll improve as a result: ditching convenience food for fresh meals means giving up all those nasty additives and preservatives. You’ll give your blood and your organs the chance to detoxify whilst instantly lowering your fat intake without even trying. You’ll also be slashing your sugar intake and burning more calories, since processed food tends to digest more rapidly than whole foods.
4) Cured meats, cheeses, pickled foods like gherkins and capers and salted nuts are all good ways to get some sodium into your diet, though keep your eye on specific salt amounts – especially with foods where salt is added, like peanuts. Feeling thirsty? You’ve probably had too many salted cashews, delicious and moreish as they are…
Essentially, regulating your sodium intake is all about creating a balance and being aware of what you are eating and what it contains. . Having fun with your food and trying new things is another way to broaden your repertoire and cut down on added salt. Cut out ready meals as much as possible as these are among the main offenders when it comes to high-sodium diets. Don’t banish salt completely, but choose healthier salt options, and regulate your intake.
About the Author:
Ilona Wesle is a nutritionist and co-founder of MyDetoxDiet.co.uk, a leading expert in detoxing, cleansing and alkalising. With a shop and detox centre in Greenwich and a nationwide delivery service offering fresh, vegan, detox diets direct to your door, MyDetoxDiet.co.uk offers everything you need to detox your body and boost your energy. And if you are specifically looking for weight loss – then MyDetoxDiet.co.uk can design a nutrition plan to suit you. http://www.mydetoxdiet.co.uk