Salt: A Little Bit Is Too Much
Everyone has heard the story of the King’s son who declared he loved his father as much as salt, only to get himself punished. Salt is that tricky pinch. You can neither do without salt nor can you go unpunished with a little bit extra. Small amounts of salt are essential for our health. Adults need less than 1g per day. Children need even less.
What Is Salt? How Much Is Fine?
Salt is table salt, otherwise known as sodium chloride. It is the biggest source of sodium in our diets. It relates directly to blood pressure. We do need some sodium in our diet to help regulate fluid in the body. But actually, we end up having too much of it.
The doctor recommends that we eat no more than 6g of salt a day, which is about one teaspoon. Currently, Indians are consuming 11g a day and that is not fine at all! W.H.O. believes that high sodium consumption (>2g per day, equivalent to 5g salt per day) and insufficient potassium intake (< 3.5g per day) contribute to high blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Reducing salt intake up to 3g/day can lower your blood pressure and the risk of disease.
Why Are We Going Over This Limit?
Foods don’t necessarily taste salty to be salty. Modern diet has gradually changed so much that we do not realise we are eating too much salt. That is because about 75% of the salt in our diet comes from processed foods – not just in chips, soups, sauces, pickles and chutneys but quietly also through everyday rotis, breads and cereals. Sweet foods also include a salty surprise. It is tricky trying to reduce our salt intake, as it is often already in the foods we buy.
How Can I Cut Back?
There are two stages to cutting back. First is the grocery stage. This means you check for labels on processed food packaging and buy low-salt variants if available. The second stage is at the taste acceptance level, and slightly more challenging.
Over a period of time, our taste buds also develop a ‘taste’ for a certain level of salt and unmindfully we get enslaved to it. If you cut back drastically and suddenly, you may at first find that your food tastes bland. But flavour doesn’t only come from salt. Apart from sweet, sour, bitter and salty, did you know about one more basic taste called umami? Fresh or dried herbs, mint, coriander, spices, black pepper, chilli, lemon, garlic, mushrooms all add great flavours. So you can reduce salt you eat, and substitute it with these other flavour enhancers and you won’t notice the loss as much. It only takes 3 weeks for our taste buds to adapt and become more sensitive to salt, so you get the same flavour impact from less salt.
Which Type Of Salt Is Better?
Invariably in this series of food-myths, we touch upon how advertisements and media campaigns affect the choices we make. The common salt is also the most commonly advertised food. Don’t be fooled into thinking that fancier types of salt are better for you. Whether it’s pink, black, rock, crystal or flakes, each of them is sodium chloride. So all of them have the same effect on your blood pressure as standard table salt and the 5g/day remains valid for all. There are however some useful tips:
Less refined salts might contain more nutrients than everyday table salt, but these will probably only be in very small amounts. If not included in your salt, these other minerals can be sourced from other foods in your diet. Bigger crystals taste less salty, so be careful not to add more quantity than refined salt. It’s the sodium that we really need to watch out for and so we must also monitor ingredients such as fish, soya sauce and raising agents such as baking powder and soda bicarb. They are already giving you sodium and you had better compensated by taking some salt away.
You may read the W.H.O. Guideline on dietary sodium and potassium.
Author: Ashutosh Pradhan
18th October, 2017
Image credit: Juhan Sonin
[Disclaimer & Publisher’s Note: This article is a part of an ongoing series clarifying common food-myths. Organic Annadata is a citizen-driven expert-led safe food movement. Links and references are provided wherever appropriate and possible. This movement is vendor-neutral, brand-neutral, ideology-neutral pursuit of a scientific model of modern nutrition. We believe in the concept of food-miles and some of the content may be modelled for certain target audiences, more particularly in the geographic influence zone of Organic Annadata. Like with every advice on food, health and nutrition, we recommend you to take the content as a broad guideline and refer back to us if you believe any of it is inaccurate. Your feedback will be appreciated, referred to the experts on-board and a decision taken regarding contentious content.]