To Salt or not to Salt

We are constantly told to stop using salt, it’s bad for you. But when I went to my nutrition and supplement training I was surprised to hear that we actually need it! We just have too much of it!

Salt – also called Sodium – assists with the regulation of the body’s water content. And yes if you have too much it will retain water in the body. Too much salt can also raise your blood pressure, which puts you at increased risk of health problems such as heart disease and stroke. But Sodium also supports the function of the nerves and influences contraction and relaxation of muscles. That’s why you are more likely to get a cramp when you have exercised heavily, because you would have sweated out a lot of your bodies salt content and now it’s missing.

The problem is that salt is in most things! Especially in preserved food. You don’t have to add salt to food to be eating too much – 75% of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods such as bread, breakfast cereal and ready meals. It is recommended that we consume 2.4g a day but we actually have more like 3.3g on average per day. Salt is also called sodium chloride.

Sometimes, food labels only give the figure for sodium. But there is a simple way to work out how much salt you are eating from the sodium figure:

  • Salt = sodium x 2.5

Adults should eat no more than 2.4g of sodium per day, as this is equal to 6g of salt (that’s about a teaspoon full).

So cutting back on added salt is only a small part of the solution. To really cut down, you need to become aware of the salt that is already in the everyday foods you buy, and choose lower-salt options. Fortunately the labelling is a lot easier these days. Most foods actually have it on the front of the packaging rather than having to sift through the various bits of information at the back. Look at the figure for salt per 100g:

  • High is more than 1.5g salt (0.6g sodium) per 100g. These foods may be colour-coded red.
  • Low is 0.3g salt (0.1g sodium) or less per 100g. These foods may be colour-coded green.

Be aware of effervescent vitamins and pain killers! If you routinely take an effervescent (dissolvable) vitamin supplement, or take effervescent painkillers when necessary, it’s worth remembering that these can contain up to 1g salt per tablet. You might want to consider changing to a non-effervescent tablet. I had no idea!

Sea Salt v Table Salt

Ever heard that it’s better to use sea salt than table salt? Just to clarify – all salt comes from the sea! Table salt is typically mined from salt deposits, remnants of older bodies of seawater that have since dried up and are long gone. It is processed to purify and strip it of all other minerals and contaminants, and then supplemented with anti-caking substances, such as sodium aluminosilicate, silicon dioxide, and magnesium carbonate. Table salt is usually about 98% sodium chloride, with about 2% by weight of an anti-caking agent.

Sea salt is crystallized from current bodies of seawater, either by open-air solar evaporation (usually more expensive sea salts on the market come from this evaporation method) or by a quicker vacuum evaporation process. Sea salt is either sold as unrefined or refined. Refined sea salt will be stripped of all minerals as well as table salt. Unrefined sea salts though will have trace minerals and elements, depending on the water source where it was taken from. The minerals add flavour and colour to sea salt, which also comes in a variety of coarseness levels. Sea salt and table salt have the same basic nutritional value, despite the fact that sea salt is often promoted as being healthier. Sea salt and table salt contain comparable amounts of sodium by weight. But I think the main advantage of using sea salt over table salt is that you end up using less because we tend to have sea salt in a grinder. Just simply because the granules are different sizes.

So what should we all do? Read the labels on food and add less salt to our food. Switch to a sea salt grinder. And taste your food before you put salt on it! I know there is people out there that add salt as a habit before even tasting the food. Now that’s asking for trouble! When we had Jana we started cooking with less salt and it really doesn’t take long for our taste buds to get used to less salt. You might even find you start to appreciate other flavours more. By the way it also works the other way. If you up your salt content you get used to that taste really quickly too!

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