The Salt Debate - Do we really need salt?

Lets start with the science behind salt in the body…

Basically our cells already have a specific amount of salt in them and they can only hold onto so much.  Therefore if we consume too much salt the cells cannot retain it and the excess salt is distributed into the (inter-cellular) fluid outside of the cells.  If the salt outside the cells is higher than that inside the cells you then have what is known as a ‘Concentration Gradient’.  In order for the body to dispel the excess salt from the body it is absorbed by our body’s water content; thus causing dehydration.  

Short term signs that your body is dehydrated include headaches and fatigue and a sore throat could be caused by a dry mouth associated with dehydration, definitely not good feelings.
Our clever bodies use different methods of showing us we are dehydrated; urine colour is another great indicator, the darker the colour the more dehydrated you most likely are.

While it’s true that most people get far more salt than they need, it should not be overlooked that sodium (the main component of salt) is a nutrient your body needs to function properly. In fact, sodium helps:

•    Maintain the proper balance of fluids in your body
•    Transmit nerve impulses
•    Influence the contraction and relaxation of muscles

Therefore cutting all salt out of your diet could actually be dangerous … but consuming excessive levels can be damaging as well.  

So the old-school Greeks have a point!!!  Salt is good for you because it allows the body to retain enough fluids to hydrate the body, but and this is a big ‘BUT’ if you ingest too much, then it causes you to retain too much fluid, causing all sorts of health problem like high blood pressure, bloating and other nasty stuff. 
Your best bet is to strike a chord somewhere in the middle. 

How much is too much?

Salt was traditionally used as a preservative mainly before fridges existed; and even though pretty much every household has a fridge today curing (the term given to the use of salt as a preservation process for meat, dairy, fish and vegetables) is still massively used.  As years pass and lifestyles change the human consumption of salt has increased not only from cured foods but also because we live in a nation of junk food and ready meal lovers.  As the demand for salt laden processed foods has increased so has the risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that adults consume less than 5g of salt per day; 5g = 1 heaped teaspoon which in turn equals 2g of sodium.

How realistic is this?

According to the following average salt contents apply:

  • Average 32.5g bag of crisps = between 0.6g salt
  • Average slice of white bread = 0.4g
  • 1 slice of bacon = 0.7g
  • Average 30g serving of cheddar cheese = 1.3g
  • Average 30g serving of olives – 1.3g
  • Lightly Salted Throuba Olives – 30g = 0.5g (0.2g sodium)
  • Unsalted Throuba Olives – 30g = 0.1g of naturally occurring sodium - 0.25g salt
  • The Raw Greek Sun Dried Tomatoes - 30g = 0.18g
  • Average Sun Dried Tomatoes -  30g = 1g
  • The average serving of Vegetables = 0g

These are just a few food examples and it is shocking to see that with just a bacon sandwich with 2 rashers of bacon you have eaten almost half of your quota; add a packet of crisps and some cheese and your practically there.  It isn’t even worth mentioning processed ready sauces, stock cubes, fancy breads and fast food which can mean virtually reaching the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) in one meal!!!

I personally avoid all processed food and try to stick to homemade, wholefoods therefore adding some Sea Salt to my meals is, in my opinion, acceptable.  If like me you do add some salt to your meals try to opt for Sea Salt or another natural salt form. Sea salt has 72-92 minerals and trace minerals while refined table salt has only Sodium Chloride.  Plus Sea salt is not heated or chemically processed with anti-caking agents, bleaches and toxic conditioners.

The next time someone tells me that salt is good for us I can now tell them that:
"The average daily quota is 1tsp of salt and this is probably the equivalent of the total salt in one meal for someone who generously salts their food without trying it first."

Ha ha, put that in your shaker and sprinkle it on your dinner.

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