Salt has been humanity’s seasoning of choice since 2700 BC—but in recent years, it’s reputation has suffered as health experts unearth more and more reasons why we should cut it out of our diets. But is salt really bad for us? How much is too much and in what ways can it actually benefit us? We’ve done some myth-busting research so you don’t have to!
Why do we think salt is unhealthy?
In recent years, doctors and health experts have linked salt-heavy diets to an increased likelihood of heart disease, high blood pressure and stomach cancer. Those are some seriously negative connotations, but it’s not all doom and gloom. In order to suffer from those health conditions, you would need to eat an enormous amount of salt-loaded products, like pizza, kebabs and fast food. All of that is, of course, bad for your health anyway. But cutting out salt all together is not the answer.
The difference between salt and sodium
There’s much confusion over the difference between salt and sodium and what each component means for our health. The words are often used interchangeably, however they aren’t the same thing. “Salt” is the word commonly used for Sodium Chloride which is table salt, and this is usually made up of chloride and sodium. The Honor Society of Nursing says: “Sodium is a substance that affects blood pressure and is the main ingredient in salt. […] It is the sodium part of salt that is necessary to maintain water balance in body tissues. However, too much sodium can increase fluid retention and elevate blood pressure in people who are sodium sensitive.”
So is it better for us to consume pure sea salt? Sea salt is made by evaporating sea water, but the end product will still include sodium. So it might be tempting to spend more money on fancy table salts, but ultimately the health benefits are the same. And, just like with any food, moderation is key.
By the way, this is also the case with sugar. Read here about how to escape candy cravings.
Why we need salt in our diet
Remember your parents used to say the ocean would help heal your cuts? Or that gargling salt water helps your sore throat? Salt has tons of healing properties that our body needs, and experts strongly advise us not to cut it out completely. Christiane Northrup M.D. is a Woman’s Health Expert and Wellness Speaker. Her research on salt has shown that too little could lead to resistance to insulin and an increased chance of heart failure. Not only that, but low-salt diets are associated with an increase in cholesterol and low blood pressure.
On the flip side, a healthy dose of salt in your diet will help you stay hydrated and will help your muscles repair faster after a hefty workout. Plus, eating a balanced diet with an adequate amount of salt will help you sleep better, increase your metabolism and support your nervous system – positive effects that benefit your sports routine.
Do athletes need extra salt?
People who sweat a lot don’t just lose water, they lose minerals too. That’s why many endurance athletes consume more salt than most. But does this make sense?
Prof. Dr. Ingo Froböse from the German Sport University in Cologne says: “In general, hobby athletes don’t have to worry too much about extra salt intake – because they don’t sweat it all out in their training sessions. But serious athletes who train hard for two hours or more should add salt to their diet to avoid possible loss of performance and cramps.
So how much salt should I eat?
According to WHO, adults should eat no more than 6 grams of salt per day. To put that into context, that’s around 1 teaspoon per day. So if you cook meals from scratch, then add no more than that amount to season.
However it’s important to be aware of hidden salt and sodium in most packaged foods that you haven’t made yourself. Did you know that, calculated per 100 grams, a frozen pizza often contains less salt than cornflakes? So does pre-made soup, a lot of frozen food, juices, pizzas, even salad dressing. Just make sure you check the back of your packet to find out the exact measurements – you’ll be surprised by what you find.
How much is too much?
When it comes to health concerns, the amount of salt we should eat all comes down to common sense. If you suffer with diabetes, a heart condition or high cholesterol, then following a low-salt diet will benefit you in the long run. However, if you lead a healthy and balanced life, full of exercise and tons of fresh food, then salt should be part of your diet. Using a pinch of salt as seasoning on your meals will not negatively impact your health; just make sure you watch out for those pre-packaged and processed foods so you can stay in control of your intake.
For more information on salt-rich foods, visit Healthline.com
And Urban Sports Club has tons of fitness and health partners who specialize in nutrition. Contact us for advice and tips on salt consumption and more.