Salt has always been one of the major components of our food. Salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl).
Why do we need salt. Our body needs sodium for muscle contractions and electrical signaling in the nervous system. It is also involved in regulating body’s water content (fluid balance) thus controlling blood pressure and blood volume.
How much salt do we need. American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association (ADA) has kept safe consumption limit of sodium as 1500 to 2300 mg which comes to 3.75 to 6 grams (little more than one teaspoon) of salt every day.
Indians consume about 3.7 grams of sodium, corresponding to about 9.3 grams of salt per day. This is nearly twice the amount recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Side effects of excess Sodium
- Eating salt raises the amount of sodium in bloodstream reducing the ability of kidneys to remove water. The result is higher blood pressure due to extra fluid and extra strain on the delicate blood vessels.
- Over time, this extra strain can damage the kidneys – known as kidney disease. This reduces their ability to filter out unwanted and toxic waste products, which then start to accumulate in the body. If kidney disease is left untreated and the blood pressure isn’t lowered, the damage can lead to kidney failure.
- To cope with extra strain, tiny muscles in the artery walls become stronger and thicker. This makes space inside the arteries smaller and raises your blood pressure even higher. The damaging and clogging of the arteries leading to heart and brain at first may cause a slight reduction in the amount of blood reaching the heart and brain. This may lead to angina (sharp pains in the chest when being active) in heart and dementia (known as vascular dementia) in brain. With this condition the cells in the heart/brain does not work as well as they should because they are not receiving enough oxygen and nutrients. If you continue to eat too much salt then, over time, the damage caused by extra blood pressure may become so severe that the arteries burst or become completely clogged. If this happens, then the part of the heart/brain that is not receiving blood no longer gets the oxygen and nutrients and dies. The result is Heart attack for the heart or Stroke in the brain, where you lose ability to do things that part of the brain used to control.
Ways to reduce salt in your diet
- Avoid processed foods. Most of the salt we eat every day is “hidden”. Roughly 80% of the salt we eat is hiding in processed foods. Certain foods are particularly high in salt and it is best to try to avoid them or find a low-salt alternative for them. Some of them are:Tomato ketchup, soy sauce, mustard, pickles,mixtures, Tinned, packed and chiller cabinet soups, Gravy granules, Beef, chicken, Dried fish, Vegetable stock cubes, Curry powdersReadymade sandwiches, Microwave and frozen ready meals, breaded chicken products
Sausages, Bacon, Ham, Breakfast cereals, Biscuits, Bread
- Read the labels when shopping. Look for lower-sodium cereals, crackers, pasta sauces, or any foods with low-salt options. Aim for less than 140 milligrams per serving. Pay attention to serving size, too, as that can alter your sodium intake.
- Eat healthful foods.Stick to fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Make your own salad dressing. If you think you’ve eaten too much salt, consume fruits and vegetables that are high in potassium to balance it out. Foods high in potassium include apricots, avocado, bananas, milk, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, kiwi fruit, potatoes, spinach and tomatoes.
- Experiment with other seasonings, herbs and spices to add flavor to your food as an alternative to salt. Season vegetables with vinegar or lemon juice. Or, add flavorful vegetables like onions and peppers to low-fat meats.
- Add salt to food while cooking at the end because you will need less. The salt flavor leaves the food the longer it cooks and becomes less noticeable.
- Rinse the contents of canned goods, such as canned vegetables, before eating them.
- Avoid extra adding salt to foods while eating.
- At restaurants, ask about salt added to food. Many chefs will skip or cut back on salt if you ask.
One conscious effort now can help you enjoy food throughout life.