The intake of table salt provides 90% of the sodium in our diet. In healthy people, it is recommended to eat less than 5 grams of salt per day
Salt is the main source of sodium in our diet. Our body needs sodium for many functions. The main ones are the correct functioning of the cells and the regulation of the balance of fluids, electrolytes and blood pressure.
The intake of table salt provides 90% of the sodium in our diet. In healthy people, the WHO recommends eating less than 5 grams of salt per day (which is equivalent to approximately one teaspoon). However, according to the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition, an average of 9.8 grams of salt is consumed daily in Spain.
What type of salt and what maximum amount should we consume to take care of our health
Eating too much salt increases blood pressure at any age. In addition, its excess in the diet implies a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, gastric cancer and cerebrovascular accidents, such as stroke.
But we also know that we can reduce the risk of these diseases by improving blood pressure levels by reducing dietary salt intake.
What type of salt has the least sodium?
There are different types of salt on the market that we can choose from to season our dishes.
The healthiest is the one with the least amount of sodium. Depending on the extraction technique, geographical area, composition, texture or color, we can find different types.
Refined or common salt is the most used. It is composed of sodium chloride, between 97 and 99%. Being so refined it does not contain impurities and is poor in nutrients.
For its part, sea salt is extracted with the evaporation of sea water, it is not refined and has more trace elements and minerals. In addition, it is rich in iodine, which is positive for the body. Sea salt flower contains 10% less sodium than common salt.
Likewise, pink Himalayan salt also has less sodium, but it contains other minerals such as magnesium and potassium.
Celtic salt or gray salt is also low in sodium and rich in other minerals.
There is also the so-called light salt or low sodium content, which contain 50% less sodium.
Finally, the potassium salt has no sodium (or very little). However, although this type seems like a solution to excess salt, its use must be prescribed by a medical practitioner. It should only be used when you have certain diseases because it can cause too much potassium in the diet.
Is it enough to eliminate table salt?
Any excess salt is detrimental to health. Therefore, more important than choosing the type of salt is controlling its quantity. Not by choosing a salt with a lower sodium content than another we can add much more quantity in the dishes.
In addition, we must bear in mind that salt is not only present when we add it to cooking or dishes. There are also products rich in salt that can harm our health if we consume them in excess, even if we have reduced the salt added to the dishes.
In fact, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, more than 70% of the sodium in our diet comes from consuming packaged and prepared foods.
Among these foods we find the vast majority of commercial sauces and soy sauce. Concentrates for soups, precooked foods, salted meats and sausages, salted fish and preserves are also rich in salt. Nor should we forget salty snacks (chips, fried nuts, bagged popcorn, etc.).
Finally, we must avoid those products to which monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer, is added as an ingredient.
How to reduce the amount of salt without giving up the taste?
With all the information collected, we can establish certain recommendations to reduce salt in the diet:
- Avoid precooked and commercial sauces.
- Substitute snacks rich in salt for those that do not contain it, such as natural nuts, natural fruit, edamame, homemade hummus without salt, etc.
- Look carefully at food labels to avoid choosing those that contain added salt or monosodium glutamate.
- Replace cooking salt with spices and aromatic herbs. These will enhance the flavor of the food.
- Steaming, papillote cooking or roasting preserve the taste of food better than other techniques such as boiling, so it is not necessary to add as much salt to the dish.
But let’s remember that we can’t live without sodium either. It is possible to follow a diet without adding table salt or very salty products, since there are foods that contain sodium due to their own preparation, such as bread, cheese, etc.
However, very restrictive diets in sodium (or salt) without medical indication can have side effects. For example, they can cause sleep disorders, sodium deficit (especially in older people) and an increased risk of developing kidney stones.
For this reason, the amount of salt in the diet should be reduced and excessive consumption of foods that are sources of sodium should be avoided, but it should not be eliminated from the diet without the advice of a health professional.
*Celia Bañuls Morant is a senior researcher in Fisabio Endocrinology and Nutrition.
Neus Bosch Sierra is a Fisabio dietitian and laboratory technician.
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