This week is World Salt Awareness Week. You may find it quite surprising that a simple condiment like salt can have a whole week devoted to public awareness of its importance. To most of us, salt is an everyday, inconsequential, part of our lives; it’s something that we just sprinkle on our food, or add when we’re cooking, without a second thought. It can’t be unsafe, can it? It’s sold in shops and supermarkets everywhere.
Salt, also known as sodium, is a mineral compound. It forms a vital constituent of the human body and is an essential nutrient. We need an adequate salt balance within our bodies to function normally. Historically, human beings used to be more active every day; we carried out physical jobs or the tasks that required considerable physical effort. This meant we were more likely to perspire while active. This loss of sweat meant loss of salt from the body. It was therefore very important that we had a significant salt intake and we achieved this by adding it to our food. However, most of us are now employed in sedentary occupations. We don’t use such physical effort throughout our day so we don’t sweat out salt. This means that we need to take care with the amount of salt that we eat. The recommended intake for an adult is 6g of salt per day which is the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of salt.
You’re probably thinking that you don’t add 6g of salt to your food every day. However, we all eat processed foods in some way and there can be a considerable amount of salt added to such foods. Two examples of this are bread and some breakfast cereals. Also, some foods are naturally high in salt, for example, bacon, cheese, ham, crisps, and stock cubes. It’s important to check the labels on foods you buy for salt content – you may be surprised what you discover when you do this.
Why do we need to take such care with how much salt we eat? It’s because high levels of salt in the body put pressure on how the kidneys function and on the cardiovascular system which can lead to high blood pressure. High blood pressure is inherently a health issue and it can lead to other major health problems such as the risk of having a stroke (cardiovascular accident) or developing heart disease. High blood pressure is known to run in families and people with this underlying risk need to be especially careful to maintain a low level of salt in their diet. People who are on medication for the treatment of high blood pressure need to do the same thing. If you want to fully understand how consuming too much salt causes high blood, take a look at the British Heart Foundation YouTube video below. A 2020 review that included 616,905 people found that every 1-gram increase in daily sodium intake led to up to a 6% higher heart disease risk (see PubMed article link below). There is also an association between high salt intake and developing stomach cancer, although research has been unable to explain the connection as yet.
Health promotion advice recommends doing two things to reduce salt intake:
- Read the food labels on products before you buy and stick to low salt foods, as indicated by the green category allocation or sticker.
- Don’t add salt to your food, while cooking or on the table. Use other herbs or spices to add flavour, like pepper, vinegar, garlic or lemon juice.
Deciding to adopt these two practices is a simple way to improve your health and avoid developing disease.
‘Salt: the Facts’: on nhs.uk
‘Salt: Is It Healthy or Unhealthy?’ by Hrefna Palsdottir and Gabrielle McPherson on healthline.com
‘Salt and Health’ by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition on gov.uk
‘Dietary Sodium Intake and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis’ by Yi-Jie Wang, Tzu-Lin Yeh, Ming-Chieh Shih, Yu-Kang Tu, and Kuo-Liong Chien on pubmed.gov
‘Why is too much salt bad for you?’ by the British Heart Foundation on YouTube
‘Benefits and Risks of Salt Consumption’ by the New England Journal of Medicine on YouTube