Do you know how much salt you are consuming? Pickle, papads, baked items, chips, store bought food.. salt is everywhere, making it difficult to gauge how much you are really consuming. Excess salt can damage vital organs like heart, kidneys, brain etc. Learn which type of salt is better for you and how to balance your salt intake while still keeping the food palatable.
Why is salt important for us?
Salt (chemical name – sodium chloride) plays an important role in the human body. Here are a few reasons:
- Metabolism - Every cell in human body needs sodium for performing its functions. Salt is one of the natural sources of sodium, others being fruit & vegetables. High levels of energy & immunity are the resultants of body functioning properly.
- Proper digestion - Salt stimulates production of digestive fluids & enzymes. It ensures right ph levels in stomach conducive to digesting food. If food is not digested well in stomach, it sits & rots, leads to indigestion, flatulence, bloating, etc.
- Inducing sleep - Right amount of salt in blood helps in producing a hormone called oxytocin, which helps you relax & reduce anxiety naturally. Also called happy hormone, cuddle hormone or love hormone, oxytocin helps you sleep better.
- Good skin health - Salt has many minerals which are good for skin. Chromium helps acne, sulphur helps eczema & psoriasis, iodine helps in better absorption of oxygen by skin cells, etc.
While salt is important, excess of salt or consuming the wrong type of salt leads to health issues. Hence, eat salt in moderation & eat nutrient rich rock salt or sea salt instead of refined table salt.
Why is excess of salt bad for you?
Excess of anything is bad & so is excess of salt. Eating a lot of spicy food? Eating a lot of processed or junk food? You may be overdoing it, understand why salt can be bad for your health:
- Kidney - Kidneys remove excess/unwanted fluid from the blood & into the bladder, to be excreted as urine. For kidneys to effectively perform this function, there needs to be a perfect balance between sodium & potassium in the blood stream. High salt intake disturbs this balance by increasing the amount of sodium. This puts strain on the kidneys & can lead to kidney damage in the long run.The excess sodium in the body also causes water retention in different parts of the body causing swelling.One gram of salt holds seventy grams of water.
- Arteries (High blood pressure) –
- The extra pressure caused by excess salt intake puts strain on the insides of arteries. To cope with the extra strain, the tiny muscles in the artery walls become stronger and thicker. Yet this only makes the space inside the arteries smaller and raises BP even higher.
- This cycle of increasing BP can ultimately lead to the arteries bursting or becoming so narrow that they then clog up entirely. When this happens, the organs of the body that were receiving the blood from the arteries become starved of the oxygen and nutrients they need. This can result in the organs being damaged and can be fatal.
- Heart – If the arteries leading to the heart burst or become completely clogged, the result is a heart attack.
- Brain – If arteries leading to the brain are damaged,
- At first, it may cause a slight reduction in the amount of blood reaching the brain. This may lead to dementia
- If they burst or become completely clogged, the result is a stroke. You lose the ability to do the things that part of brain used to control.
Do you eat a lot of salt?
The chemical name of salt is sodium chloride. Salt is 40% sodium & 60% chloride. Sodium is important to maintain water balance in body. But too much of sodium can lead to health issues such as blood pressure & kidney diseases.
Salt find its way into our body not only through the salt we put in the food we cook, but also through many other foods which contain salt & we don’t even realise. Here are a few:
- Mayonnaise & all sandwich spreads
- Tomato sauce, chilli sauce, soya sauce....all sauces!!
- Pickles & chutneys
- Biscuits, even the sweet tasting ones!!
- Ready-to-eat soups & foods
- Salad dressings
- Processed and canned meat
Salt has been used as a preservative for centuries & this is why processed foods are high in salt content.
The chemical compound of salt is sodium chloride. Apart from being used as a preservative, sodium is used for enhancing flavours. Some flavourings don't contain salt, but still contain large amounts of sodium. For eg: Soy sauce is used as a flavour-enhancing ingredient & it's very high in sodium.
Keep a close tab on the labels of processed foods you buy !! Most of them will contain ‘salt’ or ‘sodium’. Know what you put in your mouth. Salt creates a false appetite, no wonder these foods are high in salt!
How can you cut down on your salt intake?
If you want to cut down on your salt / sodium intake, these are the few things you can do:
- Avoid processed food
- Avoid eating pickles and papads as they are high in salt
- Increase intake of a wholesome variety of fruits & vegetables. You will naturally get the sodium your body needs & also your cravings for salty food will reduce.
- Reduce intake of table salt. Try to add flavour to your food through lemon, tamarind, pepper, thyme, rosemary, chillies etc.
- Gradually reduce the salt used everyday, soon even less salt seems enough
- Use naturally salty vegetables like celery, radish,mint etc in your salads.
- Add a little bit of salt on the surface of the dish after finishing the dish rather than mixing it through. Salt added to the surface of the dish hits the taste-buds first, so a little bit seems enough.
- If having combinations like rice-dal, roti-sabzi, idli-sambar etc, add salt only to one dish.
- In addition to quantity, pay attention to the quality of salt you use at home - Move away from highly processed refined table salt (which is high in sodium content) to mineral rich rock salt (sendha namak) or sea salt.
Know Your Salt - Which is The Best For You & Your Family?
Salt in its natural form is rich in many minerals. But as we process it for consumption, it keeps losing the mineral content.
The salt we commonly use at home is refined white salt / table salt. It is the most processed form of salt.
- The refining process strips off many minerals from salt due to exposure to high heat. Table salt is mostly just sodium chloride.
- Artificial agents are added to the salt. For eg:
- Anti caking agents are added to prevent salt from absorbing water from the air & clumping. Hence, these agents make the salt free flowing.
- Certain minerals like iodine, iron, etc are artificially added.
- Stabilisers are added to maintain the smell & texture of various constituents of salt.
As salt keeps moving away from its natural state due to processing, it becomes toxic for the human body. Hence, it leads to health issues such as high BP & damage to kidneys.
On the other hand, rock salt (sendha namak) & sea salt are less processed. In addition to sodium chloride found in table salt, they have additional minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine, manganese, selenium, etc. They are often free from or have less chemical additives.
- Eat salt in moderation as excess of salt is not good for health.
- Choose less processed sea salt or rock salt (sendha namak) over table salt.
- Eating a wholesome variety of fruits & vegetables will also give your body the minerals it needs.
Have more questions about salt? Read more in this FAQ about salt.
Recommended read / watch:
- Are You Eating the Right Quantity & Quality of Salt? - Luke Coutinho – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85bAmBCCS4M
- Table Salt vs. Himalayan Salt: Which Is Better? – Dr Josh Axe - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ul0q0_PTMvs
- Chapter – Health hazards of three white products. Book: Nature Cure. Author: Dr H K Bakhru
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