One of the vital ingredients that can completely transform a recipe is salt; however, it is also proven that sodium present in the common salt we consume daily is unhealthy. The reason is that sodium is known to increase blood pressure levels, a common risk factor for stroke and heart diseases.
According to the NCBI (National Centre for Biotechnology Information), high BP (blood pressure) is ranked as the 3rd most crucial risk factor; about 25 percent of rural Indians and 33 percent of urban Indians are hypertensive .
Considering the health hazards caused by too much salt consumption has brought us to this question – how much salt do we really require daily to be healthy? What Functions Does Salt Play In Our Body?
While sodium in salt is maligned due to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, it also plays a vital role in the body. Sodium is dissolved in the blood to maintain blood pressure levels. It holds and attracts water, further maintaining the liquid portion of the blood.
Sodium also functions as an electrolyte that is critical for our cells to regulate several bodily functions that include blood pressure, hydration, and proper functioning of the muscles and nerves .
Necessary for Health
Despite its continued denigration, sodium is a critical nutrient for good health. It’s one of our body’s electrolytes, which are minerals that make electrically charged ions. A primary sodium source in most diets is added salt in the form of sodium chloride, which is 60% chloride and 40% sodium by weight.
Because salt is extensively used in manufacturing and food processing, processed foods account for an approximated 75% of total sodium consumed. Most of our body’s sodium resides in our blood and the fluid surrounding our cells, where it supports keeping these fluids in balance.
Along with handling normal fluid balance, sodium plays a critical role in normal muscle and nerve function. Our kidneys help regulate our body’s sodium levels by adjusting the amount that is excreted in our urine. We also lose sodium through sweating.
Dietary sodium deficiencies are extremely rare under normal conditions — even with very-low-sodium diets.
Linked to High Blood Pressure
It’s long been believed that sodium increases blood pressure — specifically in people with elevated levels. Many experts believe that the association between high blood pressure and sodium was first discovered in France in 1904.
Yet, it was not till the late 1940s that this link became prevalently recognized when the researcher Walter Kempner proved that a low-salt rice diet could lower blood pressure in 500 individuals with elevated levels .
Since then, studies have established a strong relationship between high blood pressure and excessive sodium intake. One of the most extensive studies on this topic is the PURE or Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology trial.
Investigating the urine sodium levels of more than 100,000 people from 18 nations across 5 continents, scientists found that those who consumed more sodium had remarkably higher blood pressure than those with lower intakes.
Using the same population, other researchers showed that individuals who consumed more than seven grams of sodium daily were at a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and early death than individuals who consumed 3–6 grams daily.
However, not everyone similarly responds to sodium. People with diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, and African Americans and older adults tend to be more sensitive to sodium’s blood-pressure-spiking effects.
If you’re sensitive to salt, restricting sodium intake is recommended — as you may be at a greater risk of blood-pressure-related cardiovascular disease.
What Happens When You Over-Eat Salt?
While salt may have a few beneficial roles to play in our body, there are also chances that too much consumption may be ruining your health. Too much consumption of sodium may mean you may go through symptoms like:
- Your brain may feel groggy
- Kidney stones
- Stomach ulcers
- Water retention
- Damaged arteries
- Hypertension or High blood pressure
How Much Salt Do You Need In A Day?
It is suggested to intake 2400 milligram salt in a day. In case an individual is deficient, then it is recommended to consume an additional 1.5 milligram per day. If not taken in proportionate quantity, it may lead to conditions like vomiting, cramps in muscle, nausea, dizziness, etc.
Also, it is highly suggested not to consume more than 5 grams of salt each day.
Our body regulates sodium levels to prevent the levels from getting too low or too high. Kidneys play a critical role in controlling sodium concentrations. Kidneys retain sodium when the levels are severely low and excrete it when the levels are abnormally high.
Individuals with kidney problems and high blood pressure must be wary of their salt consumption and ensure a healthy body function.
Should I Limit My Intake?
Individuals with high blood pressure who eat more than 7 grams of sodium per day should undoubtedly consume little. The same can apply if you have been instructed by your registered dietitian or doctor to limit your sodium intake for medical purposes — as in the case of a low-sodium curative diet.
However, reducing sodium intake doesn’t seem to make much of a difference for healthy individuals. Though health experts continue to push for lower sodium intakes, reducing sodium too much — below 3 grams per day — may negatively affect health.
Research shows that individuals who consume less than 3 grams of sodium per day are at a greater risk of early death and cardiovascular disease than individuals with an intake of 4–5 grams.
This raises concerns about whether the current sodium guidelines — ranging from 1.5 grams (1,500 mg) to 2.3 grams (2,300 mg) — are doing more harm than good, as a growing body of research indicates that these levels may be extremely low.
That said, with only twenty-two percent of the population from 49 nations taking more than 6 grams of sodium per day, the quantity of sodium that healthy individuals are currently ingesting is probably safe.
Sodium is a vital nutrient that our body requires for many critical functions. Health experts prescribe between 1.5 and 2.3 grams of sodium per day. Yet, increasing evidence indicates that these guidelines may be extremely low.
Individuals with high blood pressure should not exceed 7 grams per day, but if you’re healthy, the quantity of salt you’re presently consuming is probably safe. If you’re concerned about your blood pressure, there are several other, more important things you can do, such as optimizing your diet, exercising, or losing weight.