There are lots of different kinds of salt: Himalayan pink, iodized, kosher, Celtic, sea, etc. They come from salt mines in the ground, or from evaporating the water out of salt water. What they all have in common is that they contain sodium. We are often scared into thinking that all sodium is bad for us. But actually, the role of sodium is important for many reasons.
“Sodium is an essential mineral and an important electrolyte in the body. It helps with fluid balance, and proper nerve and muscle function.”
In addition, there is some evidence that low sodium intake is linked to higher LDL and triglyceride levels as well as increased risk of heart disease and insulin resistance. So, salt restriction isn’t for everyone.
In food, salt is used to enhance flavour and also as a preservative. Salt helps to preserve food by drawing out the water that bacteria and mold need to grow. Hence, preserving the food from spoiling as quickly.
Our Salt Consumption
Would you be surprised to know that only 25% of our salt intake comes from the salt we add at the table? Most of our salt intake comes from processed foods such as chips, pretzels and salted nuts. Canned foods, pickled foods, boxed foods, deli meats, restaurant food, and fast food also add a lot to our salt intake.
Salt is actually about 40% sodium and 60% chloride. So, one teaspoon of salt (5,000 mg) contains about 2,000 mg of sodium.
How Much Sodium is Too Much?
Too much sodium on a regular basis can increase your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, stomach cancer, and kidney stones.
That one teaspoon of sodium is pretty much your entire days’ worth. People who eat a lot of packaged foods tend to eat too much sodium. In fact, 90% of American adults consume more than 2,300 mg per day, and the average intake is closer to 3,400 mg of sodium per day!
If you’re at high risk for the conditions above, then your limit should be about 1,500 mg of sodium each day.
Sodium and Blood Pressure
How does salt increase blood pressure? There is something called “salt-sensitive high blood pressure.” Here’s how it works:
The salt you eat gets absorbed quickly and goes into the blood. Your body recognizes that the blood is too salty, so water is pulled into the blood to dilute it.
More water in the blood means more fluid your heart needs to pump and more fluid pushing against the walls of your vessels increasing blood pressure.
It also sends more blood to the kidneys so the sodium can be filtered out into the urine. This puts more strain on your kidneys and other sensitive vessels in your brain and heart.
How Can Food Help?
If you have high blood pressure, you need to do more than just stop adding salt to your food (since this is not the primary source of our salt intake). The 2 key tips you need to do are to:
- Reduce processed/packaged food consumption and
- Increase consumption of potassium-rich foods (mainly whole plant foods such as vegetables)
If you are healthy and eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods, then you probably don’t need to worry about your salt intake. Feel free to add a bit of salt during cooking or at the table for flavour.
If your doctor has told you to reduce your salt or sodium intake, then do this by reducing your intake of processed foods and adding less salt to the food you make. And just as important is to increase your consumption of more plant-based foods. “Focus on what you get to add to your diet”
Some other ways that I add flavour to my food without the salt are by sprinkling dried dulse flakes (a sea vegetable) or using extra herbs and spices in my cooking.
For some more ideas, check out my new recipe book. These recipes will have you adding tons of delicious and flavourful vegetables to your diet without even realizing you’re doing it because the recipes are so tasty!