Salt: Good or Bad?
Health organizations have been warning us about the dangers of salt for a long time. That’s because high salt intake has been claimed to cause a number of health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease. However, decades of research have failed to provide convincing evidence to support this. What’s more, many studies actually show that eating too little salt can be harmful. This article takes a detailed look at salt and its health effects.
What Is Salt?
Salt is also called sodium chloride (NaCl). It consists of 40% sodium and 60% chloride, by weight. Salt is by far the biggest dietary source of sodium, and the words “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably. Some varieties of salt may contain trace amounts of calcium, potassium, iron and zinc. Iodine is often added to table salt.
The essential minerals in salt act as important electrolytes in the body. They help with fluid balance, nerve transmission and muscle function. Some amount of salt is naturally found in most foods. It’s also frequently added to foods in order to improve flavor. Historically, salt was used to preserve food. High amounts can prevent growth of the bacteria that cause food to go bad.
Salt is harvested in two main ways: from salt mines and by evaporating sea water or other mineral-rich water.
Read also: 7 Reasons Why Too Much Salt Is Bad For You
There are actually many types of salt available. Common varieties include plain table salt, Himalayan pink salt and sea salt. The different types of salt may vary in taste, texture and color. In the picture above, the one on the left is more coarsely ground. The one on the right is finely ground table salt.
In case you’re wondering which type is the healthiest, the truth is that they are all quite similar.
How Does Salt Affect Heart Health?
Health authorities have been telling us to cut back on sodium for decades. They say you should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, preferably less. This amounts to about one teaspoon, or 6 grams of salt (it is 40% sodium, so multiply sodium grams by 2.5). However, about 90% of US adults consume a lot more than that.
Eating too much salt is claimed to raise blood pressure, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
However, there are some serious doubts about the true benefits of sodium restriction. It is true that reducing salt intake can lower blood pressure, especially in people with a medical condition called salt-sensitive hypertension.
But, for healthy individuals, the average reduction is very subtle. One study from 2013 found that for individuals with normal blood pressure, restricting salt intake reduced systolic blood pressure by only 2.42 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by only 1.00 mmHg.
That is like going from 130/75 mmHg to 128/74 mmHg. These are not exactly the impressive results you would hope to get from enduring a tasteless diet. What’s more, some review studies have found no evidence that limiting salt intake will reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes or death.
Low Salt Intake Can Be Harmful
There is some evidence suggesting that a low-salt diet can be downright harmful.
The negative health effects include:
- Elevated LDL cholesterol and triglycerides: Salt restriction has been linked to elevated LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Heart disease: Several studies report that less than 3,000 mg of sodium per day is linked to an increased risk of dying from heart disease).
- Heart failure: One analysis found that restricting salt intake increased the risk of dying for people with heart failure. The effect was staggering, with a 160% higher risk of death in individuals who reduced their salt intake.
- Insulin resistance: Some studies have reported that a low-salt diet may increase insulin resistance.
- Type 2 diabetes: One study found that in type 2 diabetes patients, less sodium was associated with an increased risk of death.
Source – healthline.com