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Salt in Your Diet and Your Health

If you take two highly toxic chemical elements - sodium (chemical symbol Na) and chlorine (chemical symbol Cl) and combine them, you get NaCl, or common table salt. NaCl is something that we can't live without. However, it seems that most of us are getting too much of this white powder. Campaigns to reduce the salt or the sodium in your diet are now becoming popular


Human blood has a salt content of about 0.9%. Although our bodies cannot function without salt, our daily requirement falls within a narrow range

It is the salt in your blood that helps control blood pressure. As the amount of sodium from salt in your blood increases, the blood volume increases because sodium attracts and retains water. Your heart then has to work harder to move the increased volume of blood through your blood vessels. This creates increased strain on the arteries and high blood pressure. There is mounting evidence that shows there is a direct relationship between excess salt in the diet and the incidence of heart disease and strokes.

It has been noted that the salt content of our foods has been increasing over the years. Many food manufacturers say they have added salt to their product to enhance the taste in response to consumer demands. However, some health and advocacy groups suggest that consumers have developed an unhealthy craving for the salt because of the unregulated addition of salt by so many food manufacturers.

According to some estimates, North American consumers are getting three to four times as much salt per day as they need; the average Canadian consumes about 3400 mg of Na /day in the form of NaCl. Even if you don’t have a salt shaker on your dinner table, you could be still be getting too much salt. Every food contains some salt. Salt is added to many processed foods for taste, and in some cases it serves as a preservative. Even foods that you would not expect to have salt in them can be major sources of salt. Bread, processed meats, processed vegetables and tomatoes and vegetable juices are the major sources of salt in our diets.

Checking the nutrition facts panel on most processed foods is a good place to start to see how much “hidden” salt you are eating. Food composition tables often provide sodium levels; so when checking composition tables or recommended daily intake statements it is necessary to understand whether the recommendation is for salt (sodium chloride) or for just sodium.

Today there are many types of salt being sold. The traditional white table salt is now competing with expensive sea salts that come in many colours. The colour of sea salt is due to minor impurities such as minerals, so the health concerns about table salt also apply to sea salt.

It is believed that reducing salt in the diet is the most cost effective way of reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease. Cutting down on salt is an easy way to improve your health.


Get excess salt out of our diet
CMAJ 2009,180:263

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