Salt, also known as table salt, kitchen salt, or rock salt, is a mineral made up of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride (1 gm of sodium is equal 2.5 gm of salt). Salt is essential to our life and we cannot live without it. Sodium is necessary for the movement of electrical charges in the nerves that move our muscles, helps us to regulate the blood’s water content, and serves to balance the acids and bases in the blood. Too little salt in the diet (less than 180 mg of sodium a day) can lead to dizziness, muscle cramps, electrolyte disturbance, certain neurological problems, and death. Too much salt in the diet (more than 500 mg of sodium a day) can lead to hypertension (elevated blood pressure), which is a major risk factor for a heart attack and stroke (cardiovascular and cerebravascular diseases are the first and third leading cause of death in the United States, respectively). Increasing evidence also suggests that the excessive sodium consumption contributes to gastro-esophageal cancer, left ventricular hypertrophy (cardiac enlargement) with heart failure, renal (kidney) disease, loss of bone mass, and edema (fluid retention).
It is estimated that one in three Americans will develop high blood pressure due to a high-sodium consumption, all because more than 95 percent of children and adolescents in America eat too much salt, putting them at greater risk for cardiovascular and cerebravascular diseases as they get older. The Institute of Medicine recommends 1500 mg of sodium per day as the Adequate Intake level and advises everyone to limit sodium intake to less than 2300 mg per day (the amount of sodium in 1 teaspoon of salt), so-called the Tolerable Upper Limit. In the meantime, the average daily sodium intake for Americans age 2 years and older is 3,500 mg, while most Americans consume 8,000 to 10,000 mg of salt a day.
Surprisingly, we are responsible for only 10 percent of the sodium intake (5% come during the cooking and 5% come from salt added at the table). Another 10 percent come from food that has natural sodium already in it. 80 percent of the sodium we eat comes from retail processed foods (65%) and foods served at restaurants (25%). The food industry is in love with sodium, because it is a great “taste enhancer” and excellent food preservative. It is also very cheap and extremely addictive. It’s not surprising that food manufacturers and restaurateurs pile salt into their products. The foods that contribute the most to our salt consumption are bread and bakery products (25%), meat products (21%), cereal products (17%), savory sauces and condiments (8%), and cheese (5%).
Salt is part of food processing and once sodium is added to processed and fast (“junk”) foods, it cannot be removed. The saltiest offenders are canned soup, canned tuna, canned vegetables, sausage, bacon, cold cuts, ham, hot dogs, cheese, cottage cheese, condiments, cooking sauces, soy sauce, salsa, spaghetti sauce, gravy, olives, pickles, anchovies, salad dressings, bouillon cubes, croutons, tomato juice and other vegetable juices, to name a few. Processed and fast (“junk”) foods are loaded with salt and the only way that a salt addict can successfully reduce the amount of sodium in the diet is by switching from processed foods to fresh foods. Drastically reduce you intake of processed foods and make fast foods a very occasional treat (once a month or less frequently) – never a part of the regular diet.
Biologically, salt does not ever need to be added, because sodium is naturally found in all foods. It is wise to never add salt to cooking or place it on the meal table. Instead, use herbs and spices rather than salt to add flavor to meals. When shopping for food, by all means read labels and select foodstuff with no added salt. If you have to use canned foods, be sure to rinse it with a liberal amount of water. Eat lots of fresh vegetables and snack on fresh fruits rather than salted crackers or chips. When eating out, always request that your food be prepared with no salt or only a little salt. Lastly, learn by heart that salt is called the ”white death” because of its link to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.