Common salt or sodium chloride is an omnipresent ingredient used for seasoning purposes in our everyday foods. It is available in a range of diverse forms and particle sizes depending on the proposed utilization. Along with its culinary usage, salt is also used as a food preservative.
The salt/water ratio is critical for the metabolism of our body. Salt facilitates sending signals in our nerves and muscles and helps sustain the fluid content inside and outside the blood cells. The salt concentration in a solution used by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) to cleanse wounds is same as is present in the human blood i.e. 0.9%(Sodium Chloride. Dietary salt exists in various forms: unrefined salt, refined salt also known as table salt and iodine fortified salt.
Salt offers a variety of health benefits detailed as under:
Iodine Deficiency -Iodized salt is one of the most common sources of dietary Iodine. Iodine deficiency refers to the insufficiency of iodine mineral in the body which is vital for the manufacturing of thyroid hormone. It is a very important part of our diet as the body does not produce iodine itself.
Without adequate iodine, thyroid enlarges in an attempt to keep up with the body’s demand for thyroid hormone. This may result in serious conditions like development of goiter or hypothyroidism. The body also requires thyroid hormones for appropriate development of brain and bone structure during pregnancy and early development years of young children. If the expectant or the lactating mothers are iodine deficient, the children can suffer from mental retardation. Adequate intake of iodized salt can prevent such deficiencies and their fatal results.
Oral Rehydration Treatment – Salt is essential for sustaining the hydration levels of the body. It is extremely vital to maintain the electrolyte balance for the smooth functioning of the human system. These electrolytes majorly entail magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium. For people who work outside and especially involved in an effective workout, it is crucial to recover both salt and water shortage occurred through perspiration. When the body is dehydrated and diseases like cholera and diarrhea weakens the system, doctors advise to use a blend of water, sugar and salt to compensate for the lost fluids. This solution is as effective as Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS).
Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Health – It has been proved that dietary salt determines the blood pressure of the body and has an impact on the cardiovascular health which is primarily the strokes and incidence of heart attacks. High blood pressure or hypertension is a threat for such events. Inadequate intake of salts like calcium, magnesium, sodium can cause health concerns. Controlling the intensity of salt intake often affects the blood pressure.
Low blood pressure (reading below 90/60) can be treated by consuming more salt and hydrating fluids. This will help boost the volume of blood in the arteries, resulting in a rise in blood pressure. If the blood pressure rises too high (reading above 140/90) then many other organs like eyes, kidney and brain are also at risk. Along with poor exercise regime, malnutrition and hereditary risk, salt intake also contributes to the high blood pressure. Eating excess salt ends up retaining too much water in the body which can aggravate the fluid upsurge related to the heart failure.
Diabetes – Healthy levels of insulin is required to maintain a fit body. Diets with low salt can weaken the body’s sensitivity towards insulin. This reduces body’s capability to metabolize glucose, providing poor levels of energy to liver, muscles and nervous system possibly leading to Type2 diabetes.
Intravenous saline IV solution- Patients suffering from serious conditions like heart failure or acute diarrhea are given medication intravenously. When it is not possible to consume anything orally, saline IV solution is given in the hospitals to bring back the optimum hydration levels of the body cells.
Pregnancy – Pregnant mothers are required to ensure a healthy diet in order to keep their own body and the developing baby healthy. Along with other dietary needs, adequate salt intake is recommended by the doctors to maintain good health.
Hyponatremia –Hyponatremia is a condition in which the body suffers from shortage of sodium (salt) in the fluids present outside the cells. This can be caused by over-rehydration with water, perspiration or diarrhea and is also known as water intoxication.
To maintain a healthy blood pressure and smooth functioning of nerves and muscles, the body needs adequate amount of salt (sodium). When this optimum level of sodium falls, water enters in the cells to compensate. This results in the imbalance of water to salt ratio in the body causing swelling in the cells because of excess water.
Barring the brain cells, this swelling is not a threat for most of the cells because the brain cells are restricted inside the skull frame. This swelling in the brain cells leads to Hyponatremia.
Heat stroke or sun stroke – Heat Stroke is a condition which is caused when body’s heat regulating system falls short. This can occur both by being out in the hot sun for a longer duration as well as overheating in the surrounding environment such as work areas etc. The body fails to release heat sufficiently in order to attain its normal temperature. As a result, the body temperature becomes too high posing a threat to the major organs. In an attempt to cool itself down, the body produces more sweat through sweat glands losing the essential salt (sodium) and water.
Elderly people and small babies are at greater risk of heat stroke as their body thermostat lacks efficiency. Prevention of heat or sun stroke is always advisable by keeping the body hydrated and taking adequate salt in order to maintain the electrolyte balance. A person suffering from heat stroke can be treated by offering water or fluids that contain sugar and salt.
Cystic fibrosis – Cystic fibrosis is caused by a malformed protein that prevents the optimum movement of salt and water in and out of the body cells resulting in very sticky, salty sweat. This can be tested by diagnosing the salt content of the perspiration. In cystic fibrosis, the body loses more salt than usual. Infants suffering from cystic fibrosis need extra salt as both the infant milk as well as breast milk is low in salt content. The salt content should be cautiously increased only post discussion with the specialist.
Dental hygiene – Painful bacterial infections like trench mouth can cause ulcers in the gums which can be soothed using salt water rinse. The rinse can be prepared by mixing 1/2 teaspoon of salt mixed with 1 cup warm water. It helps to reduce swelling and soothe sore gums. As a preventive oral hygiene measure, cleaning the teeth with a mix of 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and baking soda in 1 qt. warm water helps clean plaque, whitens the teeth and keep the gums healthy.
Sore throat- Pharyngitis or sore-throat can be alleviated by repeated gargling with a cup of warm water mixed with ½ teaspoon of salt.
Muscle Cramps: Muscle cramps can occur due to various reasons such as alcoholism, exercise, medications etc. Intake of fluids and drinks which contain salt can be helpful in providing relief.
Chronic rhinosinusitis: Health benefits of salt include treatment of symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis. Research study indicates that use of nasal irrigation using saline or salt water helps in treating nose and sinus problems.
Other: Soaking tired feet in warm water mixed with salt helps in relieving the pain. Salt is good for skin exfoliation as it removes dead skin particles.
How much daily salt intake is good?
Doctors recommend not more than 6 grams of dietary salt (i.e. 2.5 grams of sodium) intake on a daily basis. This makes it approx. 1 teaspoon salt a day. A good amount of about 75% is already present in processed meals, breakfast cereals and breads. Babies less than one year should not consume more than 1 grams of salt whereas, the recommended salt intake for young children changes as they grow big.
Some food labels only display the sodium content present in the food item. However, you can calculate the salt content by using an easy formula and find out how much salt you are eating in disguise of sodium. Salt content in the food item = 2.5 * (sodium content)
It is always advised to check nutritional information on the food labels of the pre-packed food to find the exact salt content.
If the amount of salt per 100 gram serving is more than 1.5 grams i.e. 0.6 gram sodium, then it is considered as high salt content.
If the amount of salt per 100 gram serving is less than 0.3 grams i.e. 0.1 gram sodium, then it is considered as low salt content.
Some of foods with high salt content are tomato ketchup, mayonnaise, pickles, anchovies etc.
Salt can either benefit or harm an individual depending on their age and condition. One needs to be cautious about its usage in order to maintain a healthy body as both excess and shortage of salt has their respective consequences