Why you need salt

Common salt is not just a flavouring agent but is also a vital nutritional ingredient

woman adding saltFor the proper functioning of our body, salt is crucial and therefore indispensable to human life. It helps in regulation of blood and other body fluids and maintaining nerve signals that are integral for the sustenance of life.

In the days when refrigeration was not available, salt was used to preserve perishable items because it cuts out bacterial growth. Its importance in adding flavour to any recipe is undisputed.

Interestingly however, salt also helps in heightening existing flavours, even sweet ones. It also helps in preparing other food products by processing raw ingredients. One such processed product is cheese. Apart from adding flavour and nutrition to various food items, salt has other uses in and around the house.

Why we need salt

The chemical name of salt is sodium chloride [NaCl] and it is these two elements—sodium and chloride that work together to ensure that our vital body functions take place smoothly. Sodium is the main component of our body’s fluids and it acts as a vehicle to transport nutrients inside the cell.

Sodium regulates blood pressure and fluid volume as it works on the lining of the blood vessels. It helps in the contraction of the heart muscles and proper functioning of the brain.

Chloride helps carry carbon dioxide to the lungs from the respiratory tissues. It also preserves the acid-base balance of the body. By preserving the electrolyte balance, salt ensures that there is adequate amount of water retention in the body so that we do not dehydrate.

Although most of us are aware of only the salt that is used for cooking, there are, in fact, other types of salt that also have various health benefits.

Salt variety

Common salt

This is the salt that we are most familiar with and is found in every kitchen [it’s also known as table salt]. It is prepared by refining and removing impurities, which gives it its charateristic white colour. Often, other chemicals are added to it to ensure that it is free flowing instead of lumpy.

Because of its refined quality, this salt is used in baking and preparations where measurements need to be accurate. A pinch of common salt added to warm water and used for gargling in case of a sore throat is an excellent home remedy.

Iodised salt

It is a type of table salt to which iodine has been added. When salt is refined to get common salt, the iodine content gets lost. Iodine is beneficial for our health as it helps avoid hypothyroidism. In order to compensate this loss, iodine is added externally.

Sea salt

This salt is available in both fine and coarse forms. It is obtained by evaporating sea water. It contains trace minerals like iodine, potassium and magnesium, which impart a fresh flavour to it. The minerals also bestow health benefits on sea salt. Because of its pronounced flavour, this salt is best used in salads and boiled food.

Rock salt

Less refined and grey or pink in colour, this is the chunky crystal salt used in ice cream machines. This salt is not refined and hence retains all minerals. Using this salt in salads and juices enhances the flavour. It also reduces acidity and improves digestion.

How much should you have?

  • Salt is important for maintaining our health but having too much or too little can be harmful. Restrict your salt intake to 5g or 1 tsp per day.
  • Not having enough salt can lead to low blood pressure and cause symptoms such as dizziness, blackouts and palpitations.
  • Salt consumption should especially be restricted by those suffering from high blood pressure and kidney disease.
  • Foods such as cheese pickles, shell fish and meat are high is salt content. So, go easy on them if you have been advised to limit salt intake.
  • Too much salt may also cause depletion of calcium from the body as a result of which we may have to battle with bone diseases like osteoporosis.
  • Having excess salt also causes water retention and should be avoided by those having oedema and women undergoing menopause.

Hence, when consuming salt you would want to consider the saying, “Take it with a pinch of salt” quite literally.

Veena Pai is a dietician at the Lilavati Hospital & Research Centre, Mumbai.


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