Joseph R. Anticaglia MD
Medical Advisory Board
Throughout history salt has been prized for its use to preserve food and to add flavor to food. Today we take salt for granted because it’s readily available; it’s cheap and frequently iodized. However, there was a time, the opposite was true.
Sea water and rock salt are the two main sources of salt. The latter occurs when lakes or seas dry up. At one time, salt was difficult to obtain, arduous to transport, highly valued and used as currency. Even turf wars were fought over the control of salt deposits.
As Mark Kurlansky notes in his book, “A World History of Salt, ”… we have forgotten that from the beginning of civilization until about 100 years ago, salt was some of the most sought after commodities in human history."
Often referred to as table salt or by its chemical name, sodium chloride, humans need to consume these vital chemicals every day in small amounts to survive. Salt and sodium are words often used interchangeably although they are not exactly the same.
Why Do We Need Sodium?
Since the body doesn’t make sodium, we need this mineral on a daily basis from our food supply to keep us healthy.
- Fluids — Sodium works to maintain the right fluid balance in the body
- Nerves — It influences the transmission of nerve impulses
- Muscles — Sodium helps the relaxation and contraction of muscles
The kidneys work to maintain the right balance of fluids in the body. When there’s too much sodium in the body, the kidneys excrete it in the urine. When there’s not enough, they conserve sodium.
But when there’s a persistent buildup of sodium in the blood, sodium will attract water, the blood volume will increase and so will your blood pressure.
The problem most Americans face is that we consume too much salt. High levels of sodium are found in popular foods such as canned soups, pizzas, cold cuts, cured meats and many more processed foods. The salt shaker, although important, plays a minor role compared to the amount of sodium we consume in processed and restaurant foods.
Studies show a direct relationship between the overconsumption of salt, high levels of sodium in the blood and high blood pressure. Hypertension is a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease.
What You Can Do Concerning
- Weight control
- Food Labels — Processed Foods
- Restaurant Food
Restaurant food can be loaded with sodium. Scrutinize the menu, ask that salad dressings or sauces be put on the side so you can decide how much to use. Chain restaurants particularly pack their food with salt.
Weight control: Eat healthy food and, of course, not to excess. The less you overeat, the less sodium you will consume.
Food Labels: The American Heart Association (AHA) updated in March of 2018 their article called, “The Salty Six.” They emphasized six foods with high sodium content and the importance of reading food labels for their nutritional and sodium content. The six foods are:
- Breads and rolls
- Cold cuts and cured meats
Potassium: Eat enough fruits and vegetables per day which contain potassium to offset sodium’s effect on blood pressure.
The AHA and others recommend that adults not exceed more than 2300 milligrams (mgs) of sodium a day. That’s the equivalent of not more than one teaspoon of salt per day. Ideally, they recommend no more than 1500 mg of salt per day. Many of the above foods contain more than half of the daily recommended sodium.
It’s not unusual that many individuals are not aware of the amount of sodium in their diet. Processed and restaurant foods account for more than 70% of the sodium we consume. Excess sodium intake has been correlated with hypertension, heart disease and stroke. The latter two are among the leading causes of death in the United States.
Yes, sodium is needed for proper nerve and muscle function as well as working to maintain proper water balance. Yes the kidneys play a pivotal role in this balancing act. Yes, we have a role to play as well.
- Institute of Medicine. Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2010.
- He FJ, Li J, MacGregor GA. Effect of longer-term modest salt reduction on blood pressure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013.
- U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, U. S. Department of Agriculture; 2015 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
- CDC Sodium the Facts.
This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.