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Is Salt Good For You Health?

Is Salt Good for You?  

The past few decades have been a salt bashing. I’ve been telling my clients for the past decade to avoid using salt. “It will increase your blood pressure and can cause heart disease.” But what is the evidence? Should you reduce your salt intake as low as possible, or are there some benefits to adding a little salt? 

The first question you need to ask is how much salt do I need? This is difficult to answer and depends on a number of factors. The Recommended Dietary Intakes (RDI) provide a guideline of 2500mg of sodium a day. That is the same as 6g of actual salt, or 1 ½ teaspoons. It’s not a lot of salt and this is the upper limit of the RDI. 

I would always give my father in law a hard time about how much salt you need. He would tell me stories of working on the farm, feeling exhausted. Magically he would come to life after a lick of salt from a spoon with some water. Dare I say it, my father in law was probably right. 

The amount of salt you need depends on the amount you perspire. If you live in a hot climate or perform work that causes you to sweat, you may need more salt. 

This has been backed up recently by an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. What they found is that salt levels too high or too low had an increased risk of health problems. If the salt level was too high the rate of heart disease increased. If the salt level was too low, the rate of congestive heart failure increased, this is where the heart fails to pump blood. 

Interestingly the level of potassium was associated with fewer strokes. Potassium is found in fruit, nuts and vegetables amongst others. Chocolate is an excellent source of potassium, so if you are a chocolate lover you can smile. 

Whilst this information shows that one size doesn’t fit all. If you are highly active, work outside or in a particularly hot climate you are going to need more salt than someone who sits behind a desk in an air conditioned office. Salt is found in a lot of food. Most breads, crispbread contains high levels of salt. Sauces are generally high in salt, along with condiments and most spreads. 

As a general rule, the more processed a food, the higher the salt level will be. If you are looking at the nutrition information on the label, you should aim for the product with the least amount of sodium. I aim for less than 120mg per 100g which is considered a low salt food. 

If you are going to add some salt it would be best to used iodized salt. Recent studies are showing iodine deficiency is increasing. The problem is that we don’t cook as much these days, and the salt that is used in processed food does not contain iodine. 

My advice is everything in moderation. It is best to choose less processed foods and use low salt or salt reduced if possible. Use a small amount of iodized salt in your cooking, particularly if you perspire. 

Reference: Urinary Sodium and Potassium Excretion and Risk of Cardiovascular Events JAMA. 2011;306(20):2229-2238. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.1729 Martin J. O'Donnell, M.B., Ph.D., Salim Yusuf, D.Phil., F.R.C.P.C., F.R.S.C. et al
29 Feb 2012

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