Salt of the earth and worth your salt are idioms that show how valuable salt is. And yet, is the salt necessary in our food? By salt, we mean sodium mainly. The other electrolyte chloride is important and together with potassium, constitute the three major electrolytes in the human body. The electrolytes control the passage of fluids into and out of the cells and tissues in the body. This helps the cell to function properly and contribute to the metabolic activity of the body.
Function of the salt in body
Salt – sodium chloride – helps maintain fluid balance, helps your muscles relax, and helps send and receive signals through the nerves. When we have too less salt in our body, we die. Salt helps maintain the blood pressure. Salt found use in the olden for preserving food. When added to food items, it draws the water out and prevents the growth of bacteria. However, with the advent of processed and precooked food, the amount of salt that one eats has become too much.
As a nutrient, sodium takes part in numerous functions at the cellular and organ level. It helps maintain the acid-base balance of the body fluids and blood.
People who should restrict the salt intake in their diet
People who have slightly elevated or high blood pressure should reduce the intake of salt in their diet. Those who have crossed 50-51 years of age need less salt for their body function. Another set of people who need to restrict the salt is the diabetic patient.
How much salt is the right amount?
One must take a minimum amount of salt and preferably take it with the food. One teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium chloride. An average person not older than 45-50 years will need 3,750-5,750 mg of salt. This is 1,500 – 2,300 mg of sodium.
Action of excess sodium inside the body
When you have too much sodium in the body, it accumulates more water to deal with the sodium. Their water retention leads to bloating of the body. One will have this feeling after a heavy meal with lots of salt in it. You have extra fluids in the spaces surrounding the cells. At the same time, the volume of blood increases due to the extra water. The heart is made to pump more to drive all the fluids and blood. This increases the pressure on the blood vessels.
When you let this condition persist for a long time, the extra work and extra pressure will make the blood vessels stiff. The blood pressure increases and you have an increased incidence of stroke and heart attack.
This condition occurs when the sodium in the blood is above 145 mEq/L. The first indication is thirst, and when the brain cell shrinkage occurs, it may cause confusion spasms and muscle twitching. At severe levels, it could result in coma and seizures. Death due to excessive salt intake – people are given salt solutions as emetics after poisoning – or due to accidental ingestion mistaking salt for sugar is also known.
In this situation, the blood sodium level is below 135 mEq/L. Here the brain cells instead of shrinking will swell up. Since the brain cells are confined in a rigid space, the person will experience lethargy, confusion, and altered personality. When the blood sodium level falls below 115 mEq/L, stupor, coma, seizures, muscle twitching, and even death might result. This situation occurs when the person drinks too much water or does not include salt in his or her diet.
Health conditions that occur due to excessive salt intake
When the intake of salt is high, it can lead to several conditions in both the children and adults. However, this issue remains controversial since everyone has a different metabolism and body structure. People who are sensitive will experience increased blood pressure with increased risk of mortality. Here are some of the effects of not regulating your salt intake.
High blood pressure
We have studies that show a direct correlation between blood pressure and the amount of salt one eats. Thus, you can increase or decrease the blood pressure albeit by a small amount by changing the amount of salt one eats.
The amount of salt will determine the amount of fluid retention in the body. So, you can treat oedema by lowering the amount of salt one has.
When the sodium and fluid levels are excessive, the kidneys will not be able to eliminate them from the body. When the sodium and fluid levels increase in the body tissues and blood, you become uncomfortable as your blood pressure increases. This build-up of pressure will damage the kidneys. Since, the damaged kidneys will have a lower efficiency in filtering the wastes, the accumulation of salt in the body increases further.
Left ventricular hypertrophy
This condition is cardiac enlargement caused by higher intake of sodium. This is a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease even without considering the effects of blood pressure.
The correlation between stomach cancer and elevated levels of sodium is evident. Limiting foods that are high in sodium such as cured meats will help prevent the incidence of stomach cancer.
Important of taking potassium
The potassium and sodium have opposite effects. More sodium will increase the blood pressure and lead to heart disease. More potassium will help relax the blood vessels and push the sodium out. This will decrease the blood pressure. On an average, we consume about 3,300 mg of sodium, most of which comes from processed foods. The potassium intake is only about 2,900 mg whereas the intake of potassium should be higher than that of sodium. One should have 4,700 mg of potassium daily, that is unless you have kidney disease. In this case, increased potassium levels will affect your heartbeat. You get potassium from broccoli, spinach, sweet potato, plain non-fat yogurt, tomato, and milk.
Both low sodium and high sodium levels are associated with increased mortality. Substituting potassium for sodium in the diet is an easy alternative. But, this may not suit those who have renal problems. Make a change in your lifestyle and use more herbs instead of salt for seasoning your food.