Don’t Pass The Salt!

Salt is increasingly regarded as the new hidden villain behind many an illness

Wit is the salt of conversation, not the food.

William Hazlitt

SaltSugar has been regarded as white poison for long. But, health experts say that there may be a new white poison that’s just as bad for our systems. It is salt.

In fiction, as well as real life, salt has captured the imagination of people over generations. On numerous occasions, salt has been glorified in classical literary works.

In Shakespeare’s King Lear, when princess Cordelia proclaims that she likes her father as much as salt, he banishes her from his kingdom for many years. It is only later that he comes to understand the depth of meaning behind her words, and of course, the true value of salt!

Salt is associated with emotions such as loyalty, humility and good taste. We cannot survive without salt. Common salt, or sodium chloride, keeps the body’s muscles and nerves in working order; it enables us to digest food, and also helps maintain proper water balance.

However, health experts and doctors around the world today are increasingly concerned with our practice of high salt intake.

Hidden salt content

You may not be in the habit of sprinkling salt over your food, or even adding it to your meals, but if you’re fond of snacking, or your family eats out often, then this article holds relevance for you.

Today, in the era of fast-foods and even faster lifestyles, our daily exposure to salt has increased manifold. Most pre-packaged, or vacuum-sealed, foods use salt as preservative. While we may not be aware of it, much of our day-to-day diet may contain high hidden salt content, right from microwavable meals to packaged popcorn, pickles, ketchup, and even pre-processed red meat.

Salt is, of course, a necessary ingredient in the preservation of such foods. It ensures that they don’t spoil, and they retain their flavour. Even butter and cheese are salted. So, without your knowledge, you could be imbibing a great deal of salt than your body needs, simply because salt is the cheapest and most widely used additive.

Salt plays an important role in our bodies. Along with another micronutrient, potassium, it helps regulate the fluids in our system. As we sweat, our bodies lose salt rapidly. This can cause our blood pressure to plummet. If you’re very active, or have low blood pressure, reducing salt in your diet is not recommended as excessive loss of salt can make you dizzy. However, most of us have the opposite problem as we lead sedentary lives and end up imbibing excessive salt. This exposes us to several health risks, some of them serious.

How much is too much?

The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, in the US, for instance, recommends an approximate daily intake in the range of 1,100-3,300 mg of salt [sodium] for healthy, active adults. The American Heart Association recommends that for every 1,000 calories of food consumed, your sodium intake should be 1,000 mg; it should not exceed the 3,000 mg limit. However, the average intake of sodium, today, with the advent of fast-foods and pre-packaged meals, is usually around 5,000 mg!

A noteworthy fact is that one tablespoon of common salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium. This makes it quite simple for us to overshoot our requirements — with just a couple of extra teaspoons of salt!

New white danger

Why is salt now increasingly regarded as the new white poison? Simple. The ill-effects that salt excess can cause are truly significant.

If your system is suffering from an excessive salt overload, your body will begin to retain water. This may lead to urinary infections, kidney problems, kidney stones, and even stroke.

Even minute amounts of salt can permeate your system, causing your blood pressure to increase steadily. Also, excessive salt creates deposits along the inner lining of the arteries, which, in turn, inhibits the flow of blood. This causes the blood flow through the body to become laboured, leading to high blood pressure. Over a period of time, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease and stroke. Excess salt in diet can also lead to excessive calcium loss and the risk of osteoporosis. A high intake of salt can significantly increase the risk of stomach cancer.

Experts say that it is best to regulate your own and your family’s intake of salt, even if you don’t necessarily have a history of heart problems, or hypertension.

In other words, limiting, or restricting, your salt intake is a good, healthy practice.

Excess Salt: Signs

  • Puffiness of face and limbs
  • Bloating or swelling due to water retention. In some women, this happens around their periods, or during pregnancy – it is a sign to limit, or restrict, your salt intake
  • Pain or mild irritation during urination. This may suggest a host of ailments, ranging from urinary infections to kidney disease. However, if you rule them out, and symptoms still persist, you may still be damaging your kidneys, thanks to excessive salt intake.

Managing salt overload

If you are prone to salt “excesses,” take the following steps to put yourself back on the path to wellbeing.

  • Drink plenty of water to wash away salt, or toxic, build-up in the body
  • Avoid pickles, crisps, packaged, or tinned, food
  • Eat fresh foods and avoid fast-foods
  • Add plenty of fruits and vegetables to your diet, since they act as natural diuretics. In other words, they control blood pressure and re-hydrate our system
  • Do high-impact exercises that will cause you to sweat excessively. You can rid yourself of the excess salt in the body through sweating
  • Sauna treatments, or steaming at home, will also help flush out toxic build-up due to water retention
  • Read food labels in detail to identify their hidden salt content. With this, you can either avoid or limit your intake. Often salt is listed as sodium chloride and not just as salt; so, be wary of its presence when you read food labels.
Kamala Thiagarajan
Kamala Thiagarajan is a Madurai-based journalist. Her writing interests encompass a host of genres including travel, health, entertainment and lifestyle. She is a full-time freelance journalist who works from her home in Madurai, South India. With 20 years of experience in journalism, she has over four hundred articles in print in leading magazines across the globe.


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