Salt is everywhere. Alongside sugar, it’s a go-to ingredient for brands to bolster up the taste factor of their products. In 1982, TIME magazine published a cover featuring a salt-shaker emblazoned with the words “A New Villain”, setting in stone the widely held belief that salt is dangerous for your health and will, inevitably, give you a heart attack. And yet, salt continues to persist in every meal, every snack, every McNugget and every Michelin-star côte de boeuf.
‘Sodium’ and ‘salt’ are often used interchangeably, but salt is made up of both sodium and chlorine. While sodium level is what causes the fuss about possible raised blood pressure, salt in itself is crucial to life. The average human needs 1g of salt per day for good nerve and muscular function plus regulation of fluids in the body. Trouble is, most of us can’t even envisage only eating 1g of salt per day, especially when the average Brit consumes around 8 grams – way beyond what we need to function and even in excess of the recommended 6g daily limit. But how much of an effect does this really have on our health?
In the fitness world, a trainer or nutritionist will advise that you limit your salt intake because too much sodium can cause water retention, making you feel bloated and holding ‘water weight’ in your body that can be misleading if you are trying to lose or gain weight. But the crux of the salt debate revolves around its possible relationship to heart disease. Some studies have suggested that excessive sodium in the diet raises blood pressure, increasing risk of heart failure, while restricting salt intake can lower blood pressure to reduce the risk. This has meant that patients with heart failure are invariably advised to drastically limit their salt intake.
The issue is still highly contested, as some argue that the difference in blood pressure across differing salt levels is too marginal to be definitely cause-and-effect. We get over 75% of the salt in our diet from processed food, from cured meats to baked goods, and these salty foods are often also high in calories, trans fats and sugars. We can’t necessarily know that it is specifically the salt that causes all of the trouble.
Simply put, controlling just salt levels alone is tricky so there are too many variables in the research to be totally conclusive that salt = bad. In fact, native cultures with high levels of naturally occurring salt in their diets don’t exhibit the same degree of heart issues as Western populations!
This doesn’t mean to say that salt is fine for anybody to have in any amount. Each person benefits from an intuitive, nutritious diet focused on moderation. It is always best to follow the advice of your GP depending on your personal health needs, but a good start is to limit processed foods and eat as naturally as you can to fuel your body to its full potential.
Why not try our personal metabolism screen – designed to identify exactly which foods you should be eating based on your personal requirements and allow you to make the best choices for each meal.
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