The Role of Salt in Our Every Day Diet

The commentary on the amount of salt we consume fluctuates. You need sodium; salt can be harmful. A low-sodium diet is a good thing; eating less salt won’t necessarily change your life. What’s the deal? Salt has a bad rap, and with good reason, but sodium is a necessary component to overall good health. Salt and sodium are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t one in the same.

Sodium is a mineral naturally occurring in all manner of things we eat and drink, even vegetables and drinking water. The amount of naturally occurring sodium in food is typically quite low, with the average apple containing only 1mg to 2mg, and only in the skin at that. Our body uses sodium to keep everything inside running as it should by maintaining proper blood pressure through stimulating nerves and muscle fibers – including those in the heart – and blood vessels. Sodium also helps the body maintain an appropriate level of fluids, and to absorb nutrients.

Salt is a chemical compound consisting of sodium and chloride that naturally occurs as a mineral in sea water. Generally, the salt we use to season and preserve food is collected in a variety of ways dependent on the process of evaporation using both natural and sodium-enhanced sources of water.

An excess of salt in the body can accumulate in the kidneys at a rate higher than they are able to flush it normally. Your body kicks into a higher gear to flush the sodium, causing your blood pressure to rise, in turn straining your heart and blood vessels.

High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – is reported by Health Canada as being linked to an increased chance for stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease. Health Canada reports there have also been links between a diet rich in sodium and the development of osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and an increase in the severity of asthma.

Some salt in our diet is necessary, but it’s so readily accessible that it’s really easy to more than double the maximum recommended daily intake. Health Canada reports that Canadians consume 3400mg of sodium every day, whereas the recommended daily intake for adults aged 14 to 50 years is 1500mg, with decreased levels recommended for all ages older and younger. Salt is added as a preservative for pre-prepared food, and is a widely-adored seasoning. How often do you reach for the salt shaker on the dining table? It’s easy to become desensitized to the flavour, enabling us to add more without realizing just how much salt we’ve ingested.

While reducing the amount of salt you eat may reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure, a sodium-reduced diet alone won’t necessarily help you if you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Prescription medication is often required in addition to dietary changes, and those dietary changes may include recommendations to increase more foods rich with potassium or other nutrients. Consult your doctor before making adjustments to your diet to be sure you’re acting to support your specific health care needs.

If you would like to learn more about how sodium effects your overall health, book an appointment with a naturopath at Wilson Health Services by calling 519-624-8000.