Salt (sodium chloride) is composed of about 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Table salt is used in various food processing operations such as cooking, drying, smoking, curing, etc. It is often used as a food preservative, as bacteria cannot thrive in the presence of a high amount of salt. It is also used to enhance the flavor of foods and as a food stabilizer or binder. Iodine is often combined with table salt to help prevent iodine deficiency which is prevalent in some countries. Iodine, an important mineral, is used by the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones, which aid in tissue repair, regulate metabolism and promote proper growth and development. It is important to note that most of the salts in our diets come from commercially prepared foods (such as bread, pizza, cured meats, crackers, etc.) or food ingredients, not necessarily from the salts added during cooking or at the table while eating.
Most of the negative health implications of salt arise as a result of the sodium, which is a constituent. When sodium accumulates in the blood, it can lead to a condition called HYPERNATREMIA which is characterized by nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, confusion, intense thirst and ultimately, kidney damage. Too much sodium in your diet makes your body hold extra water as the kidney which is responsible for filtering out waste in the blood maintain a balance of electrolytes, such as sodium to potassium, to water. With more salt in the diet, the kidneys keep more water in the system, causing lots of undesirable effects, such as edema (swelling in places like the hands, arms, feet, ankles, and legs). Generally, more fluid means more blood coursing through veins and arteries which causes them to stiffen over time, and could eventually lead to high blood pressure. So, the more salt you eat, the higher your risk of having high blood pressure and the more the strain on your heart, arteries, brain and kidney; eventually leading to heart attack, stroke, dementia, kidney disease, etc.
How to know you’re eating too much salt.
- You have dry mouth and you’re always thirsty: This is one way of knowing if you have to cut down on your salt intake. Although, constant thirst can also be a sign of type 2 diabetes, so it is important to get examined by a doctor.
- You urinate too often: Frequent urination may also indicate that your salt intake is on the high side. Though, this also may be a sign of type 2 diabetes or other ailments.
- You get mild headaches frequently: Unexplainable, mild headaches can actually be as a result of an overload of salt in the diet which gives dehydration-induced headache symptoms. If symptoms persist after salt reduction, then you can consult a doctor.
- You have edema: When your ankles, legs, arms and feet begin to swell and you’re not pregnant, it is advisable to cut down your salt intake.
A simple way to reduce the amount of salt in your diet is to avoid processed foods and adding little or no salt to your meal. Also, it is important to look closely at nutritional labels and staying away from foods with high salt content, like bacon and large pickles.