Is Salt Really Bad For You?
You may have heard that cutting salt is a good way to reduce bloating and improve other health parameters. However, salt is crucial for your body, and cutting too much salt can cause dehydration, feeling faint and craving sugary foods. Keep reading to find out why salt is essential for you.
It’s no secret that salt is an essential component that your body needs to keep functioning properly. While many health organisations and experts have warned individuals of the dangers of salt, not many have delved into why incorporating salt in the right quantities is crucial for your health and long-term well-being.
Salt is a significant source of sodium in our diet. Fortified salts also have the benefit of coming with other nutrients like iodine, iron and folic acid. Having fortified salt is an excellent way of including other components in your nutrition as well.
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While salt has been touted as a villain in many diets, there are actually many health problems that are related to not getting enough salt in your diet. Not eating enough salt can have wide-ranging consequences for your health, and here is what you should know:
Why Does Salt Get Such a Bad Name?
The onset of processed foods and read-to-eat snacks have made it quite hard for the average person to control themselves, even in the best of times. However, many of these processed foods and beverages contain ingredients that are definitely not good for your body when over-consumed. Consuming an excess of even ‘healthy’ food items like nuts and seeds can lead to health problems when you’re not being careful.
Salt gets a bad rep because it is included in many foods and beverages in high quantities. Regularly consuming these snacks and beverages can lead to an imbalance of sodium in your diet. According to Harvard Health, an overconsumption of salt can lead to high blood pressure, increased chances of stroke and calcium loss from bones. Eating around 5 grams of salt daily is safe for adults, according to a 2018 report by The Lancet (USA). A lack of adequate salt consumption (including sodium, which is in salt), can lead to dire consequences for your health.
A 2012 study published in the National Library of Medicine shows that low-salt diets can increase blood cholesterol by around 2.5 per cent and blood triglycerides as well. Not having enough salt can also create a resistance to insulin, which can prompt diabetes, according to a 1999 paper published in the National Library of Medicine.
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Signs You Don’t Eat Enough Salt
There are many signs you are not getting enough salt, and when you watch your behaviour and diet carefully, you’ll be able to understand them better. Salt acts as a flavour enhancer and stabiliser, so it becomes an essential component for many dishes. An insufficient or extremely low amount of sodium in the body can lead to hyponatremia. It can happen when there is too much water in the body, which can dilute sodium levels, but also due to chronic alcohol consumption along with other conditions, according to Cleveland Clinic.
If you think you might not be eating enough salt in your diet, here are some signs to watch out for, according to Harvard School of Public Health:
- Excess vomiting and diarrhoea
- Sweating throughout the day
- Altered mental state/ confusion
- Increased heart rate
- Poor sleep quality
- Increased cravings for sugar
- Loss of energy and fatigue
- Muscle weakness and soreness
If you have severe symptoms that are making you unable to continue with your daily activities, it’s crucial that you seek medical attention right away.
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Salt For Hydration
Sodium, which is included in salt, plays an important role in your body. Sodium also helps manage fluid balance, so too little can mean that your body isn’t as hydrated as it needs to be. Dehydration can occur when you’re not eating enough salt, and this can show on your skin (dry or flaky skin), thirst and constant mouth dryness. Low sodium in your bloodstream can happen in the following ways, according to Mayo Clinic:
- Drinking too much water: Your kidneys can easily get overwhelmed when you are consuming large amounts of water in a short period. Too much water can lead to throbbing headaches throughout the day, constant urination, and fatigue.
- Exercise and health: Sodium is lost through sweat, and performing long endurance activities like running in marathons can easily lead to sodium loss. If you are excessively sweating due to a rigorous workout, your body can end up losing sodium through sweat (also known as salty sweat). When not properly taken care of, it can lead to excessive depletion of sodium.
- Specific medications: Taking diuretics, antidepressants and pain medication can interrupt normal hormonal and kidney functions which can impact sodium levels.
- Severe vomiting and/or diarrhoea along with dehydration: Your body can rapidly lose electrolytes like sodium during this time while increasing your antidiuretic hormones.
- Changes in hormonal levels: When your adrenal gland’s ability to produce hormones is affected (mainly by Addison’s disease), your body’s balance of sodium, potassium and water can be ruined.
Older adults are more at risk of dehydration from a lack of sodium in their diets, so if you start feeling excessively thirsty, think about how much salt you’ve been consuming regularly.
As stated by Dr. James DiNicolantonio, a cardiovascular research scientist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, salt is a hydration mineral, and not getting enough can affect our vitality, energy and athletic performance. Salt enables the body to hold on to water, and if you are doing a workout, having enough fluids before and after is crucial.
Better Sleep and Fewer Cravings
According to a 2011 study published in Science Direct, elevated levels of sodium can help suppress anxiety, but a lack of it can also lead to higher anxiety and an increase in stress hormones. Diets with low sodium can also increase your heart rate and prevent the body from being fully relaxed. A combination of all these factors can lead to a gradual decline in sleep quality, making it more likely that you suffer from sleep disorders like insomnia or interrupted sleep.
If your body constantly craves sweet or salty foods, it can also be due to a deficiency. You might be suffering from electrolyte imbalance due to lack of sodium. It can also lead to rising irritability. When our body is not receiving enough salt, we may require dopamine to be produced, and it can lead us to search for sugar for an immediate dopamine release.
Maximise Your Workout Performance
Exercising can take a lot of willpower, energy and dedication, and to maximise your performance at the gym, you have to monitor your salt levels. We can lose an average of half a teaspoon of salt per hour of exercise, and it can increase depending on the temperature you are exercising at, according to Dr. DiNicolantonio. Human bodies also lose iodine, chromium, copper, zinc and iron during working out, which all need to be replenished.
Hydrating yourself with salt, electrolytes and water is crucial to ensure that you don’t suffer from an imbalance of sodium, before and after your workout.
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Promote Healthy Digestion
Human bodies are extremely capable of regulating salt levels, and to promote healthy bodily functions, an adequate amount of salt consumption is needed. Restricting salt from diets has been shown to increase LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), according to a 2018 study published in Medicine Baltimore (USA).
Harvard Public School of Health further states that excess sodium can lead to strain on the kidneys, but the same can happen when there is too little sodium. With a low-sodium diet, many individuals may see higher insulin and glucose levels, which can lead to diabetic symptoms, as stated by a 2016 study published in Clinical Nutrition Research.
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Choose Healthier Salts
If you are looking to increase salt intake in your body for your health and exercising efforts, you have to ensure that you are getting the right type of salt. Many salt brands that are available today (especially table salt) are highly processed and can include anti-caking agents and other mixing agents. According to a survey undertaken by the South Korean government and Greenpeace East Asia, upto 90 per cent of table salt had microplastics in it.
Ensuring that you are consuming salt that is as uncontaminated as possible is the best way to increase the absorption of sodium.
Look for rock salts that can be commonly found in their whole, unprocessed form in many Indian cities. You can also look for fortified brands that utilise salt from reliable areas where the risk of pollution is less. Pink Himalayan rock salt and sea salt (from ancient oceans) is generally less contaminated. According to a 2020 study published in the National Library of Medicine on the mineral composition of pink salt found in Australia, it was found that compared to normal iodised white table salt, pink salt has more calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium and phosphorus.
How Much Salt Should You Consume?
According to a WHO Factsheet on Salt Reduction, having around 5 grams of salt per day for adults is adequate to reduce blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease risk. According to a 2019 study published in the National Library of Medicine, Indians consume an average of 11 grams of salt per day, which is more than twice the WHO recommended limit.
While salt is an essential nutrient, and you should watch out for signs that you are not getting enough salt, ensure that you are not overdoing it by loading up on processed foods. It can be challenging to gauge how much salt is in processed foods and beverages, so it is best to steer clear of them. Limiting salty snacks and processed foods and incorporating natural or mineral salts is the best way to regulate your salt intake.
Too much salt in your diet can lead to increased thirst, excessive bloating, an increase in blood pressure, and poor sleeping patterns. Ensure that your salt levels are stable when you are cutting out processed foods and monitoring your daily salt intake.