The Number One Reason You're Eating Too Much Salt and Why You Should Stop Now
In part 1 and 2 of this series we spoke about the history and uses of salt. It's time to talk about the problems.
Stop! Put those chips down and pull up a chair, because we're talking about salt and why your favourite snack - whether it's namkeen, french fries, or chips - will kill you. Bread isn't safe either. Neither is soup, meat, and nearly ALL processed food.
Yep, we're in for a fun, joy-filled ride as we break down the health risks of eating too much salt, and why just a few extra milligrams of sodium every day can considerably increase your risk of heart disease and death.
But, it's not all bad news, because you'll also find out how to manage your salt intake and why you need to keep an eye on it - whether you want to lose fat, improve your cardiac health, or just generally live longer.
Now let's conclude with some scary facts about salt, and why too much sodium is a recipe for disaster.
Everyone's Too Salty....Even You
Now before you say you don't eat too much salt, let's just clarify that you do. Yes, you do.
According to a 2009 study on global salt intake, unless you're from Cameroon, Ghana, Samoa, Spain, Taiwan, Tanzania, Uganda, or Venezuela, your salt intake is much higher than the safe recommended standards.
The study showed that people in most parts of the world consume too much salt. But even in the countries with low salt intake numbers, the study adds that the estimates were likely sub-optimal and non-representative of the reality, because of inadequate research methods.
In reality, the groups with the lowest salt intake in most parts of the world are tribes which have no table salt or added salt in their food. The group with the lowest recorded daily salt intake were the Yanomamo Indians, a tribe from Brazil.
On the flipside, parts of China reported some of the highest sodium consumption on a daily basis. This is estimated to be tied to large amounts of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), table salt, or other sauces like soy sauce, which contain as much as 1000 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon.
These numbers were calculated off of mean-sodium excretion recorded across subjects. In India, the average salt intake hovers at around 11 grams. This is more than double the prescribed daily amount of 5 grams of salt(according to the WHO.
How Much Salt Is Too Much?
Now what qualifies as too much salt? Is 1 teaspoon of salt a day too much? 5 teaspoons?
Where is the line where you go from the salt in your food giving it flavour, to the salt in your food giving you heart attacks and strokes?
The simple answer is around 2.4 grams of sodium a day or 2,400 milligrams, according to the American Heart Association. This equates to roughly one teaspoon, or 5 grams of salt daily.
One full teaspoon of table salt weighing in at six grams, contains approximately 2,300 milligrams or 2.3 grams of sodium.
So, on average, if you consume one teaspoon of salt a day, and that's all of your salt intake for the day, you'll be within the safe daily consumption limit for sodium. But life isn't so simple, and sodium sneaks into our dishes in a plethora of forms.
A study by the Harvard School of Public Health measured the average sodium excreted by over 10,000 adults from 32 countries and arrived at a mean sodium excretion of 4,000 milligrams. This exceeds the recommended 2400 milligrams daily intake.
However, this number is just an average, and many subjects in the study, like the Yanomamo people of Brazil, consumed under 300 mg of sodium a day, while others like residents of North Japan, consumed as much as 10,300 mg of salt daily.
Bread, sauces, cereal, and processed food of any kind, even ones that don't taste of salt, usually contain sodium. This is partly because sodium increases the shelf life of foods, and partly because it adds flavour to food. It could be listed as just salt or baking soda, baking powder, monosodium glutamate (MSG), or disodium phosphate, but it all contains sodium.
While the large amounts of salt in your food will increase its shelf life, eating large amounts of salt will reduce your own shelf life.
The Problems With Too Much Salt
The amount of salt that qualifies as too much varies from person to person, and often is different in different ethnicities. But, a general safe limit for preventing cardiovascular disease is around 2-2.4 grams of sodium per day, according to the WHO.
Frequently eating large amounts of salt in excess of your recommended daily intake leads to an increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular diseases, according to several studies.
The human body strives to maintain homeostasis and balance. When your sodium levels rise drastically, your blood sodium concentration also rises. This leads to your body pumping more fluid into your blood to balance sodium levels. This is why you also tend to be thirsty when you eat salty food.
This increased fluid leads to higher blood pressure. This is where the correlation between increased salt intake and heightened blood pressure comes in.
If you continue consuming excess sodium daily, the constant heightened blood pressure leads to the hardening of your blood vessel walls. Independent of the increased blood pressure also, studies show that excess sodium can lead to organ damage and higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
But even if you're not prone to heart disease or hypertension/high blood pressure, you could benefit from reduced salt intake. For example, from 2003 to 2011, dietary policy changes led to people in Great Britain eating on average 1.4 grams of sodium less daily, and this led to an overall decrease in heart-related issues and incidents of stroke.
Finally, chronic excess sodium intake can also lead to Chronic Kidney Disease, and aggravate existing kidney problems. Your kidneys are put under immense pressure to maintain your fluid balance and excrete excess sodium via sweat and urine.
This can lead to kidney disease, which if left untreated, can lead to problems like kidney failure. The average recommended sodium intake to prevent kidney disease is under 4 grams, and in people with kidney disease, it's around 3 grams for management, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
Long story short, too much salt can lead to a host of problems, and bringing your daily sodium intake within safe limits, will considerably help improve your health.
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