Low sodium diets (using low sodium foods) are highly publicized, but how much salt do we really need?
And what are the health effects of too much salt?
This page offers some interesting facts and figures to help improve your awareness of salt intake.
What is salt, and what is sodium?
The word ‘salt’ can actually refer to any pair of compounds (one acid, one base) that react together.
Table salt is made up of two molecules:
- sodium, and
These two elements bind together to make the flavor-enhancing salt crystals we all know so well.
Table salt is the main source of sodium in our diet.
In fact, a whopping 75% of the salt in our diets comes from processed foods, with the remainder being added at the table or naturally-occurring in foods.
By simply choosing low sodium foods – foods marked as ‘no-salt’, ‘low-salt’ or ‘low-sodium’ on food labels – you can drastically reduce your intake.
Low sodium products in Australia must have less than 120mg sodium per 100g of food.
Celtic sea salt is claimed be a healthier alternative for those who add salt to their food because it is less refined and contains many natural minerals (up to 80) which are essential for healthy bodily function.
How much do you need?
Our bodies only require about 200mg of sodium per day.
Most people in modern society consume too much salt; between 2500 and 4600mg per day.
For most people, the recommended daily intake of sodium should be
- a maximum of 1600mg = about 4g of salt = 1 teaspoon.
In fact, you should aim to eat less than 1000mg per day = about 2g of salt = ½ teaspoon and always choose no or low salt foods, if you have a family history or suffer from:
- heart disease
- kidney disease
- blood pressure disorders
- salt-sensitivity, such that you retain sodium (1 in 3 people).
To work out the sodium content in a food, multiply the salt content by 0.4.
Where sodium lurks…
Salt is most commonly added to the following food products:
- Tomato-based products; sauces, pastes, stir-in sauces
- Foods in brine like fish, olives, anchovies, preserved vegetables, pickles
- Cheese and butter
- Packaged, processed foods like noodles, chips and crackers
- Bread and baked products
- Junk food or take away foods
- Sports drinks,
- Preserved meats like salami, bacon, sausages and ham, and
- Baking additives like stock cubes, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda (also in antacid tablets and drinks like Ural) and monosodium glutamate (aka MSG or flavour enhancer 621, often found in Chinese take-away).
It’s important to understand how to read food labels and know where sodium and salt come from, in your diet.
Foods high in salt/sodium
Foods high in sodium contain over 120mg sodium per 100g of food, e.g.
Foods with medium sodium content contain 50 – 120mg sodium per 100g of food, e.g.
A list of low sodium foods
This low sodium foods list shows foods containing less than 50mg sodium per 100g of food, e.g.
The best low sodium foods are unprocessed, straight from nature to you.
If you are following a low fat low salt diet for hypertension or some other health condition, it can help to know how to read food labels so you can monitor your intake and to learn to recognize no-salt brands by sight.
Low sodium cooking becomes easier when you learn particular brand names of low sodium foods.
Fresh herbs can be a flavorsome salt substitute in healthy cooking.
Why we need sodium in the first place
In terms of health, we need some sodium to help regulate fluid balance in our bodies.
This is particularly important for the pH or acid base balance, and for nerve and muscle function.
However, regular salt use usually leads to excess intake.
Luckily, it takes about two to four weeks for your palate to adjust to lower salt foods.
Who needs MORE salt?
Sodium deficiency is very uncommon, but it can lead to muscle weakness and lethargy, muscle aches and cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, mental confusion, lowered blood and fluid volume, low blood pressure and altered heart function.
Some people may need more sodium than others.
These may include people who have hyponatremia, a condition caused by either abnormal consumption or excretion of dietary sodium or water, or by diseases that impair regulation of sodium or water.
This condition can occur in:
- Patients taking diuretic drugs and who also maintain a low sodium diet,
- Cases of severe, prolonged diarrhoea,
- Marathon runners (25 – 50 mile races) who lose great quantities of sweat and only consume pure water during the race,
- People with Addison’s disease, who have damaged adrenal glands.
Who needs to cut back
Most people eat too much salt and may benefit from a low sodium diet.
This is really important for people with health conditions that cause abnormal retention of water.
A low sodium diet is especially important for people with:
- High blood pressure (hypertension) – these people generally follow a DASH diet (dietary approaches to stop hypertension)
- Heart conditions
- Kidney (renal) disease
- Liver disorders, or
- Meniere’s disease.
For people with kidney disorders, an excess of salt can force calcium excretion and contribute to osteoporosis.
People with disorders related to either deficiency or excess sodium should regulate their salt intake with the guidance of a medical professional.