The legend of the king's daughter who declared to her father that she loved him like salt is a testimony to the important presence of this mineral in our lives. Food without salt is perceived by many as food without taste and therefore we add it to almost every meal we eat, and this fact raises a number of questions. On the one hand, table salt, despite it being associated with an increase in blood pressure, is a vital component that our body that could not function without, and new studies on sodium intake have even found that salt causes increased calorie burning.
On the other hand, the industrial and processed food we consume every day adds very large amounts of salt to our diet and endangers our health. So what should we do? Is salt really a dangerous substance that should be minimized as much as possible or is it an important component that we need provide our bodies with? The answer to this question is given in brand new research we’ll talk about below.
Sodium chloride, known as a cooking salt, is a healthy and essential mineral for the body, which helps, among other things, various organs such as the heart and kidneys function, transmits nerve signals, and regulates fluid in the body and many other processes. The sodium we need to get from an external source, that is, the food we consume, and the state of lack of sodium is dangerous for us and may endanger life as in cases of dehydration or excessive consumption of liquids, which disturb the balance of salt in the body. An equally dangerous, but much more common, phenomenon is the surplus consumption of salt known as one of the "evils" that accompany industrial and processed food that the Western world consumes in large quantities.
The salt that is added to the food we buy is intended to enhance flavors and smells, acts as a preservative that prevents expiration and is used to create fermentation processes, as in the case of cheeses and pickles. Foods that seem to us to be "innocent" like bought bread, cheeses, salads, and even foods we think we need to add salt to, already come with a high sodium content. By the way, just as with sugar, our sensitivity to salt decreases as we consume more of it, so to feel its taste we often feel the need to add more and more of it to our food.
According to the World Health Organization, 99.2% of the world's adult population consumes more than 6 grams of salt per day, which is the daily recommended amount (not to be confused with the amount of sodium - a chemical element in salt – with a recommended daily intake of 2.3 grams), therefore we can definitely coin this excess an epidemic. By the way, 6 grams of salt is about one teaspoon, and we all know how fast a teaspoon of salt is added to our plates, not considering the amount added in the factories. The question is why is excess salt dangerous to our bodies and what is its effect on our health? - and here the opinions are divided.
The main concern that arises from excessive salt consumption is the association found in various studies between salt consumption and increase in blood pressure. As you know, high blood pressure – the pressure blood places on the walls of the arteries in which it passes - is one of the main causes of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and kidney failure. Excess sodium has also been linked to the development of kidney stones, edema and bone loss (osteoporosis). The relationship between salt and blood pressure is probably due to the fact that sodium pulls water from the blood vessels in the body and increases the pressure on them, but new and multiple studies have begun to contradict this connection and present surprising findings.
In a study of salt intake on more than 2,600 participants, participants who consumed less than 2.5 grams of sodium a day had higher blood pressure than those who consumed higher amounts of the mineral. These findings may be explained by the conclusions of another study that found that even people who adhere to a low-salt diet and those who consume a diet with excess salt have a high risk of developing heart disease, so the relationship between salt and blood pressure and the recommended amount of sodium intake is not as straightforward as we once thought. Another important part of the study was that potassium, calcium and magnesium intake, combined with sodium, led to a decrease in blood pressure.
A new study from 2017 on salt intake and the effect of sodium on the body shatters other myths we had about this complex issue. After many years of being accustomed to thinking that eating salty foods makes us thirsty and being served pretzels or peanuts at a bar to make us drink more, we were mistaken. The findings from the study, conducted on a small number of Russian cosmonauts, indicate that what we feel is actually increased hunger. The researchers, who increased the amount of salt given to some of the subjects, found that although the latter received the same amount of calories as their peers, they reported a stronger sense of hunger. The researchers also tested the effect of sodium on mice and found similar findings that an increased-salt diet caused the rodents to consume much more food.
Another interesting finding in both studies was that the higher the salt intake, the greater their amount of urine, although they drank less water and did not report increased thirst. The reasoning behind these findings is that humans, like camels, know how to extract water from their bodies by dissolving fat and muscle tissue. When we consume too much salt, the body strives to remove it, so the level of glucocorticoids that affect metabolism in the body increases and causes the breakdown of fat and tissues that become liquid and remove the excess sodium from the body. That is to say, salt causes increased metabolic activity and calorie burning - which explains the sense of hunger reported by cosmonauts.