Salt, sodium, your health and high blood pressure!
Salt and how it can effect you.
There are lots of different kinds of salt: pink, iodized, kosher, sea, etc. They either come from salt mines in the ground, or from evaporating the water out of salt water and what all salts have in common is they contain the mineral sodium.
Salt has been a popular additive in food for centuries, both for flavour, and as a preservative. It preserves the food by drawing out the water that bacteria and mould need to grow so it doesn’t spoil as quickly.
When we talk about salt, most of us think of our salt cellar, or what we add to vegetables that we’re cooking but actually, 75% of our salt intake comes from foods we buy. These can include the obvious ones such as snacks like crisps, and salted nuts but also bread and biscuits, ready- made sauces, packet sauces, stock cubes, breakfast cereals, canned foods, pickled foods, boxed foods, deli meats, restaurant food, and fast food. In the same way that savoury foods often, surprisingly, have sugar added, sweet foods can often have some salt!
Salt vs. Sodium
Salt is actually “sodium chloride.” It’s about 40% sodium and 60% chloride; this means that one teaspoon of salt (5,000 mg) contains about 2,000 mg of sodium.
Sodium itself is not that bad! In fact, it’s an essential mineral and an essential electrolyte in the body. It helps with fluid balance, and proper nerve and muscle function. But too much sodium can begin to cause problems! Regularly getting too much sodium can increase your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, stomach cancer, and kidney stones.
That one teaspoon with about 2,000 mg of sodium should be pretty much your entire days worth but anyone who eats pre-made, packaged foods tend to eat far more than that. And, if you’re at high risk for those conditions, then you should probably restrict your intake closer to 1,500 mg of sodium each day.
Sodium and high blood pressure
You might be wondering what role salt plays in increasing blood pressure? And why it makes you thirsty?
When you eat salt, it quickly gets absorbed into the blood. Your body recognizes that the blood is too salty, so tries to dilute the blood with more water (i.e. with thirst signals to make you drink more). More water in the blood means more volume of fluid your heart needs to pump and more fluid pushing against the walls of your vessels. It also sends more blood to the kidneys so the sodium can be filtered out into the urine.
As you probably realise, increased blood pressure also puts a strain on your kidneys and other sensitive vessels, including critical vessels in your brain and heart.
Limiting salt intake can help reduce blood pressure.
Pro Tip: You can reduce high blood pressure by eating more whole foods, and more mineral-rich plant foods.
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 you can do this by reducing your intake of processed foods, adding less salt to the food you make, and eating more plant-based foods.