Like many foods and ingredients, salt in and of itself is not bad for you. Not only does your body require an appropriate amount of salt to function; salt is, of course, also used to preserve meat, for cleaning, and adding flavor to food, among many other benefits. Your daily requirement of sodium is used to maintain proper muscle function and for sending nerve signals. Unless you have or are at risk of developing certain health conditions, you should be able to follow the “everything in moderation” rule. However, if you are confused about the healthy or harmful aspects of salt in your diet, let’s go over the basics.
How Much Salt Do We Need?
The recommends a maximum of 2,300 mg of salt per day, and that the average adult should actually aim for 1,500 mg per day. Just to translate: 2,300 mg is 1 teaspoon, and 1,500 mg is 3/4 teaspoon of salt. You need about 500 mg of sodium per day for proper function (which is less than 1/4 teaspoon). Getting the minimum or average daily intake of salt is not likely something you need to worry about; a balanced diet will cover that. Also, most North Americans are consuming more than the daily recommended intake of sodium.
If you live or work in a hot environment and lose more sweat, it’s alright to have a different average from someone who may not be expelling as much sweat. If you are an athlete or regularly do high intensity exercise, you will also need more than the 1,500 mg/daily salt intake because you are losing salt through your sweat. This is why healthy sports drinks are designed to replenish the body with salt and other electrolytes lost during heavy exertion.
Regularly eating an excessive amount of sodium can strain your kidneys and lead to other problems. Most notably, a high sodium diet is often a sign of a high fat diet, which can contribute to high cholesterol, obesity and heart failure.
Who Needs to Limit Salt?
Now that it’s clear that salt is a part of body function and nutritional needs, let’s clarify who needs to pay more attention to salt consumption. If you have high blood pressure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, or are obese, you will want to follow a doctor-prescribed low sodium diet. Besides more serious health conditions like the ones just mentioned, you may also want to limit sodium if you suffer from chronic bloating or IBS, since the water retention caused by excess salt could be at play.
To be on the safe side, if you are diabetic, have high blood pressure, are over 50 years old, or are African American (all factors that are associated with excess-salt-related health issues), ask your doctor what your personal sodium intake should be.
How to Consume Less Salt
Most of the salt you consume in everyday meals is not from your salt shaker. The majority of salt intake comes from packaged food. The quick tips on how to lower your salt intake is to avoid red meat, packaged /processed food, and fast food. Also, learn to read ingredients and know what sauces or condiments may have unexpectedly high levels of salt (and likely sugar). Herbs and spices can be used to bring a rich and low-sodium flavour to your meals.
Of course, another way to ensure a healthy diet is to shift your focus to , rather than what to avoid. Fresh produce and meats will have less sodium because the food won’t be packed in salt and preservatives to last. Vegetables should make up half of your plate or portion for meals because not only is it a high source of nutrients, it is also low calorie and low sodium. To round out a vegetable-heavy diet, look for recipes that incorporate whole grains, fish and nuts, lean meat and poultry, and low-fat dairy. Don’t forget that potassium (bananas, potatoes, white beans) is a nutritional way to counteract excessive sodium.
We hope this has helped clarify your understanding of salt consumption, and provide you with a gauge of how much is good for you. If you want to be sure, do ask your doctor to give you a professional opinion based on your specific health condition and what would be a safe amount of salt to have in your diet.