Aug 29, 2014 / by Ann-Marie Giglio / No Comments

“You shouldn’t use so much salt!”

My guess is after generously sprinkling salt on your food at some point in your life, you may have heard the above line from a family member (usually your mother)…While those six words are generally motivated by love and best intentions are they well-founded?The answer is actually “yes” and “no.”

“Yes” because a recent Harvard study estimated that worldwide 2.3 million people die from excess

 sodium intake.  The “no” part?  I’ll explain in minute. First let’s take a look at what exactly “salt” is…Salt, a micronutrient, is a mineral that is essential to the health of humans and animals. “Salty” is one of the five basic taste sensations (the other four being sweetness, sourness, umami [a savory or meaty taste] and bitterness.)  It’s universally used as a seasoning, and has historically been used as a preservative.

Salt is 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride.  Both sodium and chloride are needed for the survival of human life.  Sodium is used by the body to control blood pressure and blood volume. It’s also necessary to make your muscles and nerves work properly. Chloride keeps life forms from completely drying up. It also aids in the digestion of food and helps our bodies combat infection (among other

things).Salt is found in vast quantities in the sea and on land in a crystalline form known as rock salt, or halite.  Some fruits and vegetables also contain low levels of salt.

How much sodium and chloride is required by your body each day?
It’s estimated that the body requires anywhere from 250 to 500 milligrams of sodium a day to perform its basic functions.  The minimum amount of chloride required each day is 700 mg.

What is the recommended daily requirements by the federal government?
2,300 milligrams of salt per day.  In 2010, the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion lowered this target number to below 1,500 milligrams per day (less than a teaspoon) for people who are vulnerable to the hazards of salt, including people over the age of 51, African-Americans of any age, people with diabetes, hypertension or chronic liver disease.

How much salt are most people consuming each day?

It’s estimated that the average American consumes 9 to 10 grams (9000 to 10,000 milligrams) of salt a day – or about four or six times above the “normal” recommended level.
How does all that salt get into your body?
In his book Salt Sugar Fat, Michael Moss refers to a study done by Monell Chemical Sense Center in Philadelphia. The study involved 62 participants.  What they ate and drank was carefully monitored and tracked for one week. The researchers spiked the salt shakers with a tracer that showed up in people’s urine to determine exactly how much of their salt came from the shaker.The results were:
Sodium occurs naturally in some food.  This made up a bit more than 10 percent of their overall salt consumption.  More than 3/4 of the salt consumed came from processed foods. The salt shaker only delivered 6% of their sodium intake.So in the overall scheme of things, while it’s important not to go overboard with the salt shaker, how much salt you use from the shaker is not a huge factor in your overall consumption.

What are the health consequences of consuming too much salt?
Hypertension is the number one consequence of high salt intake. Too much salt can trigger a sudden rise in your blood pressure which could lead to a heart attack or stroke.  With high blood pressure, your heart has to work harder to provide you with normal circulation.  Over time, this can lead to an enlarged heart and the weakening of your heart valves
Too much sodium also inhibits the absorption and utilization of calcium in your body which can lead to osteoporosis.  Excess salt can also lead to kidney damage and can trigger acid reflux, heart burn and long-term damage to your upper digestive tract.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, a high intake of sodium could also raise your risk of developing stomach cancer. And if that’s not bad enough, excess sodium has also been associated with cancer, asthma, obesity, and Ménière’s disease (a disorder of the inner ear that may affect balance and hearing.)…to be continued next week.