Since February is Heart Health month, I wanted to post something about how salt affects your health! There has been a lot of talk recently about different kinds of salt and their healthy benefits, and then you hear about how you should be staying away from it. So which is it?
What is Salt?
Salt is Sodium (40%) Chloride (60%). These are both two minerals, and are both electrolytes. In a nutshell electrolytes regulate the flow of water in and out of the cells and sparks nerve impulses. They make sure our cells are hydrated so we don’t shrivel up and die, and the nerve impulses help keep our bodies functioning. Think of your involuntary muscles that keep your heart beating, your lungs opening, and even the electrical impulses in the brain. Electrolytes are very important. Which is why replenishing electrolytes after/while sweating for an hour or more from exercising or being in the heat for hours is so important.
What about specifically salt? What does it do?
- Muscle Contractions, losing sodium through sweat or fluid can cause cramps in athletes
- Maintains Nerve Function
- Regulates Blood Volume
- Regulates Blood Pressure
- Carries and Electrical Charge
- Essential for Nerve Impulses
- Essential for Fluid Balance
But with anything, too much of even a good thing can be bad.
There are some who can increase their salt intake and it does not effect them. Then there are some of those who with the slightest increase of salt increases their blood pressure and wrecks havoc on their body.
Salt & Blood Pressure
Keeping in mind there are some that are more sensitive to salt than others for various reasons, an excess of salt naturally will cause more water to be retained in your blood, increasing your blood volume. Increased blood volume increases the pressure and can make it harder for your heart to pump. The extra stress on the heart and blood vessels can then lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.
Also note that it’s not just salt that is a factor in blood pressure and heart disease. Fat intake and cholesterol levels are the major concern, but in a person with high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, salt can be like adding another log on the fire.
Are There Certain Salts That Are Better Than Others?
There has been a lot of talk about different salts. Pink Himalayan salt, Celtic salt, Sea Salt, and so on. “They” say these salts are better for you than regular table salt. Let’s take a minute to compare.
- Table salt is processed and does have some anti-caking additives.
- Table salt has iodine added to it which in needed for thyroid health.
- Himalayan, Celtic, and Sea salt are less refined and processed and contain a small percentage (2%) of other minerals like calcium and potassium.
- Because the more natural salts are usually bigger flakes and they don’t have additives, you don’t have to use as much and it is “saltier”.
- However, it’s the same amount of sodium chloride.
There are some benefits to Himalayan, Celtic, and Sea salts, but it might not be as big of a benefit as you might have thought it was when we are talking about it’s affect on the heart. Just because it’s said to be “healthier” it doesn’t mean you can have more of it because it’s pink. It’s still sodium chloride.
Just like some people are more sensitive to different types of caffeine, some might react better to certain types of salt. But chemically speaking, sodium chloride is sodium chloride. With that being said, I am all for the more natural variety of things. There is a reason why other minerals and chemicals are together in their original state, why strip them of it? At the same time, don’t be scared of table salt.
Recommendations & Lifestyle
Salt, or sodium chloride is still very much needed in your diet and plays vital roles in your body. The recommended daily intake of sodium a day is 2,300 milligrams (mg). Those with heart complications and specifically high blood pressure the RDA is no more than 1,500 mg. And realize that sodium is not just in salt, it’s in other foods as well, it’s a mineral.
Sodium helps your cells to hydrate and retain water. Too much can cause pressure in your circulatory system which makes it harder on your heart which can then start to cause damage or add to the damage already there. If your system already retains too much water or you already have cardiovascular complications, then a low sodium diet is something you should look into.
Salt is not the cause of heart problems, but it does affect it. With the foods that are widely available now, most being processed, and more people not cooking and buying already prepared foods, we can easily meet our 2,300 mg and especially our 1,500 mg limit. If you do cook at home, what can we do to help reduce the amount of sodium?
Here are a few ideas on how to cook with less sodium. Check out these herbs, spices, wines and vinegars to add while cooking instead of salt.
- Carrots: Cinnamon, cloves, dill, ginger, nutmeg, rosemary, sage, white wine
- Corn: Cumin, curry powder, parsley, chili powder, paprika
- Green Beans: Dill, lemon juice, marjoam, oregano, tarragon, thyme
- Tomatoes: Basil, dill, onion, oregano, parsley, pepper, lemon juice, chili powder, red wine, balsamic vinegar
- Fish: Curry powder, dill, dry mustard, lemon juice, paprika, pepper, garlic powder, white wine
- Chicken: Poultry seasoning, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme, mustard powder, garlic powder, curry powder, lemon juice, chili powder, cumin, white wine, red wine, balsamic vinegar
- Pork: Garlic, onion, sage, pepper, oregano, Italian seasoning, rosemary, chili powder, white wine
- Beef: Marjoram, nutmeg, sage, thyme, red wine, balsamic vinegar
If you are not dairy-free you can always sprinkle parmesan on just about anything, which has a small amount of sodium, or you can use nutritional yeast on just about anything too.
Trying to find low-sodium options now can help to always keep your sodium levels down to an appropriate level. Then when you have that salty pretzel or have a side of salty chips on the weekend, it won’t be so bad. If you have heart complications and need to watch your sodium intake, please educate yourself and check out the DASH diet if you have not already. It’s a low-fat, low-sodium diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Check out more information about it here.