SALT IS DECLARED “WHITE DEATH” alternately with sugar – and a complete rejection of it sometimes begins to seem like a simple solution to all health problems at once. On the other hand, the amount of salt in the diet, on the contrary, is often overlooked when discussing proteins, fats, carbohydrates and calories. The solution, as usual, is somewhere in between: Variety, moderation and balance are important in a healthy diet. We understand why an excess of salt is dangerous, how its deficiency threatens, and whether there is the best and most useful salt.
What is edible salt
Edible salt – sodium chloride – consists of 40% sodium and 60% of chlorine, and the amount of sodium entering the body matters for health (or problems with it). But we get most of the sodium in the form of table salt, and mainly from industrial products: sausages, canned food, pickles, snacks, sauces, bread, cheese, carbonated drinks, fast food, and so on.
The general recommendation given by the World Health Organization is to consume no more than five grams of salt per day, which is about a teaspoon. On average, people eat different amounts of salt per day: from 0.5 grams for the Yanomami Indians in Brazil to 25 grams in Northern Japan, and in Europe, according to the same WHO, this is an average of 9-12 grams (that is, the notorious pound of salt eaten in less than five years). Moreover, such indicators can be achieved without touching the salt shaker.
What is its danger
Clinical studies have shown that there is a statistically significant, direct, progressive relationship between salt intake and blood pressure . Simply put, the more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure: the effect is dose-dependent. The best scientific evidence suggests that lowering sodium in the diet is especially important for middle-aged and older people and all hypertensive patients. The recommendations of the international cardiological associations are being updated, and the figures for the optimal pressure are getting smaller, so it is quite a reasonable measure to reduce salt intake for the prevention of arterial hypertension.
At the same time, people have different sensitivity to salt. Sodium has a stronger effect on blood pressure in some – while others, presumably, can be generally resistant, that is, resistant to such an effect. Even in observational studies it is difficult to correctly measure your blood pressure, because of the large number of factors , affecting it. Sodium sensitivity can be affected by age, ethnicity, gender, weight, and certain conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease.
Less salt is not only a possible prevention of myocardial infarction and stroke associated with high blood pressure. Too much salt increases the risk of stomach cancer; a large amount of sodium leads to the fact that calcium is more actively excreted in the urine – and this is a risk factor for urolithiasis and osteoporosis. In general, it is not for nothing that the favorite word of nutritionists is moderation.
Few is also bad
Sodium is necessary for the body – it plays a role in maintaining the water-salt balance and the transmission of nerve impulses. However, hyponatremia, that is, a decrease in the concentration of sodium ions in the blood, can develop not only due to serious diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver or heart failure. In people without chronic conditions, it can happen, “water intoxication”: if you drink several liters of water for a few hours, the sodium concentration to fall, which in turn may threaten the problems with the heart, kidneys and most dangerous complication – swelling of the brain. Hyponatremia can also occur during sports, when a person loses fluid and sodium for a long time with sweat, and only replenishes water . This effect can also occur in those who drink a lot of beer – so calling it an isotonic drink, by the way, is incorrect.
Why are we drawn to salty
Salt is a seasoning that makes everything taste better, if, of course, you add it in reasonable amounts. Forget to put a pinch of salt in bread dough or even sweet pie – and the taste will be less expressive. Before refrigerators came along, canning with salt helped preserve food, and it was literally worth its weight in gold. However, today, when seasoning is cheap, and you can buy it everywhere, we suffer from excess rather than deficiency of salt.
In addition to the dining room, there are many other types of salt – for example, sea salt, which often costs much more than ordinary salt. Salt can be an extraordinary gastronomic attraction and even a luxury item: Himalayan pink salt, fleur de sel from Brittany or Mallorca, black Hawaiian salt, wet Gerande salt, smoked and kosher salt and many others.
Sea salt and table salt vary in texture, taste, and processing. Sea water is obtained by evaporation from, of course, sea water, and stone is mined in deposits – salt deposits on the site of ancient reservoirs that have turned into salt lakes. Both sea salt and table salt are similar in composition and completely equal in terms of sodium content. You can give preference to one or another brand of salt because of its taste and texture, but you should not consider expensive salt with admixtures of other minerals more useful than regular salt. Trace amounts of potassium, iron, magnesium in salt do not affect anything except taste – and these trace elements are easy to obtain from other foods.
Salt as a source of iodine
Since salt is an affordable and cheap everyday product, it was invented almost a hundred years ago to enrich it with iodine so that everyone can get a vital trace element. Iodine is necessary for the synthesis of thyroid hormones, and if there is little of it in food and water, the thyroid gland grows and forms a goiter – so it tries to “capture” more of the necessary substance. With a moderate lack of iodine, which is called a latent deficiency, there will be no external manifestations, because the thyroid gland adapts to this state, but not completely. The most dangerous situation occurs when a woman lacks iodine during pregnancy and breastfeeding – this can lead to a delay in the cognitive development of the child.
To avoid iodine deficiency in children and adults, in many countries (but not in Russia) continuous salt iodization has been introduced . There iodized salt is not only sold in stores – it is prepared with it in restaurants and cafes, it is used in food production. If a person eats the recommended 5 grams of such salt per day, then even taking into account the loss of iodine during storage and cooking, 100-200 micrograms of iodine enter the body – just a physiological norm.
There is a myth that iodized salt reacts with foods, but this is not the case. Nowadays, potassium iodate is used to iodize salt: it is stable during storage and heating, so that modern enriched salt can be used even in baking. Additional sources of iodine are seaweed and fish, but there is not much of it in sea salt, because it is lost during evaporation and drying.
What to do
As a rule, most people should take a closer look at the amount of salt that enters their body with food – in order, if possible, to bring it to the recommended five grams. Adjusting the diet can help along this path: for example, reducing the volume of industrial food, which is always high in sodium, in it. To make homemade food tastier, salt can be replaced with spices, herbs, lemon juice, onions and garlic; if you buy salt for cooking, then it must be iodized. By the way, a person gets used to less salty food quickly: two to three weeks are enough for the taste buds to adapt . Among other things, there are salt substitutes with a high potassium content – however, it is worth consulting your doctor before using them .