Everyone, from your grandmother to your primary care physician, has probably told you to ease up on the salt shaker. Sure, just like everything else you consume, you should use salt in moderation. But as it turns out, salt isn’t the enemy we’ve chalked it up to be. “Salt has gained such a bad reputation in recent decades, being linked to conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and even stomach cancer. But it’s important to note that almost all studies have been done involving highly processed table salt and not natural forms of salt such as sea salt and Himalayan pink salt,” says Mary Dellene, a certified nutrition counselor, holistic esthetician, and body therapist. “Additionally, many of the studies have shown only a moderate health benefit on certain individuals when reducing salt intake and virtually no effect on others.”
Dellene and many other experts believe that sea salt, in its natural form, should actually be consumed liberally. The natural minerals have a significant health benefit. “Too little salt intake may be associated with low blood sodium, an increase in blood triglycerides or cholesterol, and a higher risk of insulin resistance,” she warns. So, if not salt, what should we stay away from? We talked to experts to find out.
It’s about sodium, not salt.
The real culprit is actually sodium, a component of salt. Americans are consuming far too much of the stuff. In fact, we consume almost 68 percent more than the recommended daily amount. What’s more, most people don’t even realize how much sodium they consume each day.
“The USDA, American Heart Association, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and American Diabetes Association all have sodium recommendations that range between a limit of 1,500 to 2,300 mg per day. [This] translates to about 0.75 teaspoons to one teaspoon because salt is both sodium and chloride (40 percent is sodium),” explains Gillean Barkyoumb, M.S., R.D., in Gilbert, Arizona. “The average consumption is closer to 3,400 mg of sodium per day, with much of that coming from processed foods such as baked goods, lunch meats, soups, pre-packaged pasta and cheeses, etc.” Believe it or not, processed foods account for a whopping 77 percent of sodium found in the average diet, according to a USDA report.
The Problem with Sodium
The problem with consuming too much sodium is that it causes the body to hold on to water. This, Barkyoumb explains, makes it difficult for the heart to work by damaging blood vessels or even the heart muscle. But it’s important to note that although most people consume too much sodium, we do need it to survive! “Salt plays an important role in our diets by providing this mineral, sodium. It helps balance fluids in our body. Our kidneys help control how much sodium we have in our bodies. But they can get overloaded when we eat too much of it,” she says. “Sodium will start to build up in the blood, and that’s when the health problems start to develop.”
How to Limit Sodium
If you crave salty foods often, you don’t have to overhaul your eating habits entirely. You can still enjoy your salty favorites once in a while. But try to keep your sodium content in mind each day. “If you have a huge cheese and ham omelet for breakfast, go easy on sodium for the rest of the day. Be sure to include lots of dairy products and fresh fruit and veggies that contain a lot of potassium, as this nutrient helps reduce your risk of high blood pressure and balances out the negative effects of sodium,” suggests Frances Largeman-Roth, R.D.N., a nutrition expert and the author of Eating in Color. “Also, the more you cook at home instead of dining out or using packaged products and use fresh herbs and citrus to flavor foods, the less sodium you’ll be eating.”