Take it with a pinch of salt?

‘A Proverb Is To Speech What Salt Is To Food’, (unknown author).

When you think about it, what exactly is salt to food? Is it something we need to flavour our food or is it an essential mineral our body needs to function like the well-oiled machine it’s supposed to be? Salt has had quite a bit of bad press over the years from the media so let’s find out more and have a heated debate!!

Why Salt is Bad For Us?

Too much salt in our diet, according to the NHS, (2018) can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke due to a rise in blood pressure. Salt, otherwise known as sodium, according to The World Health Organisation, (2012 pg 2) has a clear link to increased risks of “…..incidental stroke, fatal stroke and fatal coronary heart disease…..”, so their choice of language based upon research gathered suggests salt is very much a bad guy and we need to take serious notice of how much we are consuming.

What exactly is salt?

Consisting of Sodium, (40%) and Chloride, (60%), salt is the common name for Sodium Chloride. Our love affair with salt historically, began when we used salt as a means of preserving food by way of preventing the growth of bacteria that would spoil fish or meat.

Do we really need it?

Yes! Salt is needed to help balance the body’s fluids, (i.e. blood and cells), it promotes muscle and nerve function as well as stabilise blood pressure. Without salt we can become susceptible to Hyponatremia, low sodium which can cause confusion and fatigue. Salt is found naturally in some foods but we often add it to enhance the flavour. But with our fast paced, fast food lifestyles, we are taking on board too much salt and that is where the issue lies.

How Much Do We Need?

The powers that be tell us we should cut back on salt, consuming no more than 2,300mg a day, ideally less. That is as much as one small teaspoon a day, (WHO, 2012). Providing we are within this daily range we should be fine, (well obviously other factors need to be considered, such as age / genetics etc). In fact, reducing salt intake is one of the primary recommendations in anyone who has high blood pressure, (Weinberger, 1996).

Yes, We Know All That But, Is Salt Really Really Bad For Us?

Whilst the majority of research suggests salt is bad for us, there is new research emerging that is debunking this, with some studies suggesting salt restriction does little to reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes as we are led to believe, (Adler et al, 2014). Other studies have shown reduced salt intake can increase renin secretion by the kidneys, (renin is an enzyme that helps restore normal blood pressure). Too much renin in the body can increase risk of heart disease mortality, (Parikh et al 2007).   Whilst Konerman and Hummel, (2015) argue there is inconclusive evidence to validate the universal blanket, one size fits all advice of restricting our intake of salt as being healthy, suggesting this needs to be done on an individual basis.

What Type of Salt Is Best?

When I was little, salt came in a slim, white container from Walter Wilsons shop across the road to where we lived and it had a blue and red label, ‘Table Salt’. These days we have so many to choose from; Himalayan pink salt, kosher salt and sea salt.   

Himalayan Pink Salt is mined at the Khewra Salt Mine, near the Himalayas in Pakistan. The salt is extracted by hand, minimal processing ensures it is free of additives and thereby believed to be one of the healthiest salts to use. Some estimate it can contact as many as 84 different minerals and trace elements vital for the functioning of our body.

Kosher salt is used in certain Jewish culinary customs such as when Jewish law requires blood to be extracted from meat before it is eaten. Since Kosher salt is flaky with a rough feel, it is good at this process of blood extraction.

Sea salt is made by evaporating seawater and is mostly sodium and chloride, but caution is urged as the darker it is the more impurities and may contain heavy metals like lead, even microscopic remains of plastic waste.

Personally, I like to use Himalayan Salt, as it ‘feels’ healthier and looks pretty, (yes I’m a girl!). I also have Himalayan salt lamps, pendulums and a range of other salt items for the positive effects it is said to have on us spiritually. But more about that another day!

The jury is still out about salt, and again like all other things, it comes down to personal responsibility and a sensible attitude.

By Lisa Watson, 25.01.2020  

References

Adler A.J., Taylor, F, Martin N., Gottlieb S., Taylor R.S. and Ebrahim S. (2014) Reduced dietary salt for the prevention of cardiovascular disease in Cochrane Database System Review. 2014 Dec 18;(12)

Konerman, M.C. and Hummel, S.L, (2015) Sodium Restriction in Heart Failure: Benefit or Harm? In Current Treatment Options Cardiovascular Medicine 2014 Feb; 16(2): 286.

NHS, (20018) Salt: The Facts    https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/salt-nutrition/

Parikh, N.I., Gona, P., Larson, M.G., Wang, T.J., Newton-Cheh,C., Levy,D., Benjamin, E.J.,  Kannel,W.B. and Vasan, R.S. (2007) Plasma Renin And Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease And Mortality: The Framingham Heart Study in European Heart Journal, Volume 28, Issue 21, November 2007, Pages 2644–2652

Weinberger M.H., (1996) Salt Sensitivity Of Blood Pressure In Humans in Hypertension, 1996 Mar;27(3 Pt 2):481-90.

WHO, (2012) Guideline: Sodium Intake For Adults And Children. Geneva, World Health Organization (WHO)

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