How much salt?
We all need the sodium and chloride
found in salt. Along with potassium, sodium helps maintain the balance
between water inside and around the cells, keeps blood volume normal
and also controls the acidity balance in the body. Few people need to
eat added salt (except tropical regions with moderate temperatures),
since both sodium and chloride are found naturally in many foods. All
sea foods are rich in these elements, as are meats, eggs and milk.
Some vegetables are also adequate sources.
Most people eat too much salt and
their kidneys must get rid of the excess sodium. This requires water
and the thirst experienced after a particularly salty meal is designed
to make us provide the kidneys with the extra water they need to
excrete excess sodium from the salt. The kidneys also look after
sodium balance at the other end of the scale. If we take in too little
sodium, the kidneys will conserve it very efficiently.
Babies have great difficulty
excreting salt and even a formula milk that is made up too strongly
will contain so much sodium that it puts an enormous strain on their
immature kidneys. Babies do not inherently like salt and turn up their
noses at their first salted foods. However, most adults keep giving
salted foods to children and their taste buds become used to the
Eating heavily salted foods is also a
cause of stomach cancer —this is the most common form of cancer in
the world. Stomach cancer has decreased dramatically in Western
countries since people began to preserve food with refrigeration and
freezing instead of by salting.
Salt and Blood Pressure
The kidneys do a good job of getting
rid of excess sodium but after years of effort they can fall down on
the task and start to retain it. The extra water in the blood then
causes small blood vessels to become overly sensitive to signals
that cause them to contract. The heart must then work harder to force
blood through these narrow stiffened blood vessels and blood pressure
rises. Not everyone is equally sensitive to the effects of excess
sodium, but since we cannot yet predict who will become
salt-sensitive, it makes sense for everyone to cut back on salt.
Daily needs for sodium
Adults should aim for a sodium intake
between 1000 and 2300 mg a day. Since about 40 per cent of salt is
sodium, this equates to about 2.5-6 grams of salt a day. Children
under 12 years of age should eat a little less than this. One to three
year-olds should be having 300-1200 mg of sodium and those under 12
months 140-280 mg a day. Babies under 12 months should not have salt
added to their foods. A slice of bread with a thin spread of yeast
extract could fit into an infant’s diet, as long as salty breakfast
cereals and other salted foods were not a regular part of the diet.
Prepared baby foods have no added salt. It is best for everyone to
avoid salt in cooking and at the table and to choose unsalted
processed foods where possible. However, there is no need for most
people to go to extremes of avoiding bread or yeast extract or even
the occasional anchovy.
Once our taste buds become used to
the flavor of salt, the liking for it tends to stay. If you decide to
reduce the salt in your diet, you need to allow about three months for
your taste buds to adjust and gradually learn to like the natural
flavor of unsalted foods. Salt certainly adds flavor to foods - it
adds the flavor of salt.
Try micro waving vegetables without
water, steaming them or stir-frying them briefly either in
concentrated chicken stock or in a little oil. You will find they
retain so much of their original flavor that salt becomes obsolete.
When making stews or casseroles,
use less liquid. This leaves more flavor in the meat and vegetables so
that little, if any, salt is needed. Herbs and spices, lemon juice and
various vinegars can also give flavor without recourse to salt.
Where is the salt?
Almost everyone knows that anchovies
or potato crisps are salty. But few people realize how much salt comes
in some breakfast cereals, savory biscuits, certain breads or in
foods such as cheese. There is nothing wrong with having a few of
these foods and if bread is the only salted food you eat, this will
not cause any problems. But when every fast food and most prepared
foods are laden with salt, the total does become excessive.
No added salt? Salt-reduced? Salt
In response to changing palates, many
food manufacturers are reducing the added salt in their products. Now
for the confusion! “No added salt” means just that. The only
sodium present is that found naturally in the food. Bread with no
added salt would have only the sodium from the flour, milk powder (if
used) and any grains that have been included.
“Salt-reduced” means salt has
been added but in smaller amounts than in the regular product.
Salt-reduced breads have 30-60 per cent less salt than that in regular
“Salt free” is an old-fashioned
term once used for foods without added salt. As almost all foods have
some naturally occurring sodium; the term “salt-free” is inaccurate
and is no longer used.
Different Types of Salt
Many people pay more for ‘sea
salt’ or ‘vegetable salt’ assuming they are somehow superior.
All forms of salt are sodium chloride and should be used in moderation.
Some vegetable salts have a strong flavor (usually from celery
extract) so that you can use less of them than regular salt. This may
help reduce overall salt intake a little.
These products are mostly potassium
chloride. Some have other additions to try to take away the bitter
after-flavor, which about 50 per cent of people experience from
potassium chloride. No human population has ever eaten potassium
chloride, so we have no long-term safety guidelines. For those who
have certain kidney problems, potassium chloride may be harmful. It is
probably better to gradually give up using salt and let your taste
buds enjoy the natural flavors of fresh and well-cooked foods.
few years ago, many mineral waters had a high sodium content. Most
have now changed. Look for those brands with less than 70 mg