Most of us have heard at some point that, to improve our heart health, we must reduce our salt intake. This may be hard to believe now that the latest research shows that a low-salt diet does not reduce high blood pressure. So is salt really that bad for you? Or is it all about the type of salt you consume? Could your genes reveal your ideal salt intake?
Since the beginning of time, humans of every culture have used salt in one form or another. However, they did not use the refined table salt that we now find in abundance. Instead, they used salt from the sea.
We now know that the type of salt you consume does make a world of difference to your health. Moreover, salt can provide a range of different health benefits.
Refined Table Salt vs. Sea Salt - The Good and The Bad
What is Refined Salt?
Refined salt is produced from sea salt. It starts as a ‘real food’ and becomes processed into‘fake food’. Unfortunately, through this refining process, manufacturers strip salt of all its minerals.
The Refining Process of Table Salt:
Manufacturers use a number of additives (including aluminium) to dry the raw sea salt and heat it to temperatures of about 1,200 degrees. This process alters the salt's chemical structure. The stripped iodine is then replaced with potassium iodide in potentially toxic amounts. The salt is then stabilised with dextrose, which turns it purple. Finally, it is bleached to make it into the white substance that we know. Remember this next time someone passes you the table salt!
Sun-dried sea salt, on the other hand, is laced with marine life, organic forms of iodine, and many essential minerals. This type of salt stays in the body and continues providing nutrients for several weeks.
What Sea Salt Provides:
Aside from seasoning our food, sea salt provides sodium, chloride, iodine, and a variety of other essential minerals to our body.
Every bodily fluid contains sodium. It is needed for many biochemical processes including adrenal gland function, cell wall stability, muscle contractions, nerve stimulation, pH balance, and water regulation.
Chloride works in concert with sodium and potassium to regulate pH in the blood. It aids in the passage of fluids across cell membranes. Chloride is the basis of hydrochloric acid, which is needed to digest protein. Chloride also activates enzymes that digest carbohydrates and is necessary for the proper growth and function of the brain.
Trace amounts of chloride can also be found in celery and coconut.
Iodine is needed for many biochemical processes including fat metabolism, mental development, muscle function, the production of sex hormones, and thyroid function.
Iodine is found in most foods from the sea including fish broths, kelp, and seaweed. It is also found in butter, asparagus, artichokes, dark green vegetables, and pineapple.
The Hidden Salt Problem
The problem with salt is similar to the problem with sugar. Refined salt is cheap and provides benefits only to the food industry.
Most of the salt that people consume is not voluntarily added to their food in the form of table salt. It is actually already present in the processed foods that we eat, and a lot of the time in foods that you would not expect. This is why it is always important to read the labels and do your due-diligence before consuming any product.
You would be surprised on how quickly you could reach your daily sodium requirements by consuming processed foods. In addition, it would not be the good type of sodium.
This is critical when you realise that we spend over 80% of our grocery funds on processed foods in the UK.
The food industry uses salt to prevent spoilage and kill bacteria in processed foods. It also adds flavour and disguises unwanted tastes. In the long term, it makes consumers addicted to the sodium, and they end up consuming even more of it. A vicious cycle that benefits processed food manufacturers and the food industry.
When Does Salt Becomes Dangerous for Your Health?
Being Salt Sensitive:
Salt sensitivity is a measure of how your blood pressure responds to salt intake. People are either salt-sensitive or salt-resistant. Those who are sensitive to salt are more likely to have high blood pressure than those who are resistant to salt.
Why Does Salt Sensitivity Matter?
Salt-sensitive individuals are at higher risk for high blood pressure and
cardiovascular disease. They have a lower survival rate if they live an unhealthy lifestyle or have a high-sodium diet.
How Does Salt Sensitivity Work?
Sodium homeostasis in the human body is regulated largely by the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system. This system operates mainly in the kidney and in vascular smooth muscle cells. Variations in this system due to genetic background, age, race, gender, and medical history cause the kidneys of salt-sensitive individuals to handle excess sodium less efficiently.
Why Is a Low Salt Diet More Important for People Carrying Certain Gene Variants?
People with certain genetic variants are more sensitive to sodium intake. One variant of the ACE gene makes carriers more likely to develop hypertension when they follow a high sodium diet. This variant is found in over 50% of Africans and Caucasians, and in about 40% of Asians. Three variants of the NOS3gene found in 20-50% of different ethnic populations, make carriers more sensitive to sodium. Dietary sodium restriction has been proven to reduce hypertension in these populations.
5 Things You Should Do If You Are Salt-Sensitive:
People who are salt-sensitive should pay more attention to dietary sodium in order to reduce their risk for high blood pressure and related cardiovascular diseases.
They should monitor their sodium intake and completely remove table salt. They should also limit high-sodium foods and increase high-potassium foods in their diet.
Salt-sensitive individuals should follow these five simple practices:
1.Eat more vegetables and fruit.
They are generally low in sodium and high in potassium.
2.Eat more fresh foods and fewer processed foods.
Fresh foods contain less added sodium than processed foods that are intended for longer shelf life.
3. Avoid eating large portions of baked goods.
Many people underestimate the amount of sodium contained in baking soda or baking powder. When shopping, read the nutrition facts label and choose foods that are low in sodium. Most processed foods today have low-sodium versions available.
4. When eating out, ask that no salt be added to your food and order lower sodium options when available
5. Do not add salt to prepared food, and try to avoid it as much as possible ultimately
Is salt dangerous for you?
You can find out if salt is dangerous for you by analysing individual aspects of your health here.