Ordinary table salt is composed of two simple ingredients – sodium and chloride – and is sometimes unfairly judged as bad for us.
Sodium is necessary to human health in that it helps maintain the body’s fluid balance, nerve transmission, muscle contraction and other functions. It hasn’t been definitively proven that a low salt diet has positive impact on heart disease, and yet many health agencies and professionals still recommend limiting sodium. Some health professionals say that salt restriction can have an adverse effect on your health.
Let’s look at some of the common misconceptions about salt and sodium:
- Salt intake only effects blood pressure.
False: Some studies show that excess sodium has been associated with other health issues such as gastric cancer, stomach ulcers, osteoporosis, muscle cramping and brain function.
- Salt effects everyone the same way.
False: Most people are either salt sensitive or salt resistant. Your personal level of salt sensitivity can be caused by a number of factors including genetics, race/ethnicity, age, body size, and your overall diet.
- Your salt intake will be low if you don’t add salt in cooking or at the table.
False: Most sodium we take in come from processed foods, not the amount of salt added in cooking or at the table. Processed meat, canned soup, tomato and pasta sauces, bouillon, and bread are just a few of the foods to watch out for – most food that comes processed or prepared is high in sodium. Many processed foods now offer lower sodium choices.
- No salt means bland food.
False: There are many herbs and spices you can add to make your food more flavorful instead of salt. Some suggestions are garlic, onions, lemon or lime juice, red or black pepper, fresh or dried basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, cilantro – this list of possibilities is almost endless. The Internet is a great resource for low salt recipe ideas.
- Working out helps reduce salt sensitivity.
True: Exercise does have an effect. One study shows that physical activity was shown to significantly lower salt sensitivity of blood pressure, especially in salt sensitive individuals. It’s important to remember that excess salt can still cause fluid retention which puts pressure on your organs and arteries, but might not increase blood pressure.
Some things to keep in mind about salt – the salt sensitivity issue is the underlying reason that many studies have shown conflicting results about the impact of sodium on the health of the general population. Some people don’t experience changes in blood pressure or water retention when eating salt while others do, depending on their salt sensitivity.
How can you tell if you’re salt sensitive? There is no established medical test for it but you can watch for symptoms such as water retention.
A general guideline for most everyone is to eat a healthy diet, low in processed foods, high in fruits and vegetables, and lots of home cooked meals. And, always check with your doctor about what’s best for you.
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