Salt is an essential mineral which is needed for the healthy functioning of the human body. Most modern diets contain too much salt and this can lead to hypernatremia, or an imbalance of the amount of salt and water in your body.
Hypernatremia occurs when a person becomes dehydrated and the kidneys cannot cope with excess salt in the bloodstream.
The salt on your table is actually the chemical compound sodium chloride. Even though we can’t live without it, many studies show that too much of it is not good for our health. More than 90 percent of the salt we eat comes from our processed foods and prepared meals in restaurants, take aways and microwave meals, and not from the salt we sprinkle on our food.
“A very modest decrease in the amount of salt, hardly detectable in the taste of food, can have dramatic health benefits,” says Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.
She led a recent NIH-funded study which found that lowering our salt intake by only 3 grams (about half a teaspoon) could prevent as many as 92,000 deaths nationwide each year. There would be fewer than 120,000 new cases of heart disease, strokes would be cut by 66,000 and heart attacks cut by 100,000.
There are also around 6,000 cases of stomach cancer every year in the UK. ”Many people don’t realize that a lot of our salt comes from breads and cereals,” says researcher Bibbins-Domingo. She notes that more than 20 percent of the salt in the average American diet comes from breads, cereals, crackers, chips, and similar foods. Did you know that a bowl of cornflakes has the same amount of salt as a small packet of chips?
Salt can cause water retention, also known as bloating, as the body tries to dilute the salt with large amounts of water. This then causes bloating which is uncomfortable and may make you feel unattractive. The best way to reduce this bloating is to drink more water, which will help to flush the salt out of your system.
Generally people who are consuming too much salt tend to also be more thirsty, although this could also be caused by environmental or lifestyle factors, or by other underlying conditions like diabetes.
Excessive sodium has also been linked to other conditions like:
- Heart failure
- Kidney problems and kidney stones
- Gastric cancer
- Left ventricular hypertrophy
It is why the WCRF (World Cancer Research Fund) has called for a “traffic-light” system for food labeling – red for high, amber for medium and green for low.
The WCRF (World Cancer Research Fund) estimated that 14% of cases, around 800, could be avoided if everyone stuck to their 6g a day. Let’s all give it a try and improve our health!