Salt – too much or not enough?
It seems like everyone lately is talking about all the problems with sugar, but not many are talking about salt. While salt is an essential nutrient for our body to maintain its electrolyte balance, regulate blood pressure and support normal muscle and nerve function too much salt can have a negative impact on the body. Excess salt intake has been linked to high blood pressure, fluid retention and kidney problems.
On the other hand, low sodium levels in the blood can also give rise to a whole host of problems, so avoiding salt is not the answer. Low sodium levels are often a problem with the elderly and can result in confusion, lack of appetite, headaches, weakness and seizures.
Overall, it seems that our modern generation by and large have too much salt. Salt intake has been estimated to have increased by around 50% in the past 15-20 years, largely due to the increase in processed foods which are laden with both extra salt and sugar.
We All Know Sugar Makes Us Fatter – But What About Salt?
Research into salt intake over the past decade has often found a link with salt intake and obesity. A new study found that American teens who ate high levels of salt were heavier and had more inflammation in their body compared to those who ate less salt. It is easy to make the correlation between salt intake and processed foods which also contain too much sugar and processed unhealthy fats which can also lead to weight gain. However this new study found this link regardless of how much sugar and soft drinks were consumed. The teens ate on average 3,280 mg of sodium every day, more than double the recommended daily amount.
Why does salt make us fatter?
Salty food tastes better and stimulates us to eat more. Excess salt also makes us thirsty and that can increase consumption of high calorie soft drinks. While water is of course the best hydrating agent, many people don’t like plain water and they want to drink it along with added sugar and flavours, such as cordials and soft drinks. Interestingly, animal studies have also found that salt can make fat cells get bigger as well.
Getting The Right Amount and Right Type of Salt
So when we think about salt it is important to get the right amount and also the right type. It is hard to get an exact required amount as there is a difference of opinion amongst the medical and nutritional authorities, but we probably need to consume about 2000-2500mg per day (which is about 1 teaspoon or 6g daily). While that might sound like a lot, when you check the packaged food labels, you will see that we consume a lot of salt from everyday foods, on top of what we knowingly add to our food or cooking.
Not all salt is created equal and the quality of the salt we consume can vary considerably. Avoid the commercial salts that contain straight sodium chloride, many of which have the anticaking agents added to them. Instead try to source quality salt that has a full spectrum of nutrients and not just sodium chloride. Salt that comes from natural sources such as Himalayan or Peruvian salt offers much more than just sodium. Many of these natural salts, including the Australian Murray River salts (pictured right), have a pink colour due to the different array of minerals, such as magnesium and calcium. The Australian salts are also helping reduce salinity in the Murray Darling by extracting the salt from the brine waters.
Also, be careful where you get your Himalayan salt as due to increased awareness and high demand some Himalayan salts are now extracted from Pakistani salt mines and have been shown to be high in heavy metals, such as arsenic or cadmium, that are not good for us.
If you would like to find out what different gourmet salts have the highest levels of both nutrients and toxins, check out this report, put out by a USA company.