Is salt good or bad for your health?
Salt is a key ingredient in every meal cooked around the world. From being an excellent food preservative to extracting the inherent flavours within cuisines, salt is a highly versatile compound.
It is also critical to curbing the growth of common pathogens that could spoil food kept in humid conditions for extended periods.
While salt is not inherently unhealthy, there are significant effects associated with excessive salt consumption. This is because of the dietary habits that many individuals incorporate that come with hidden sources of salt.
Fast food is a major contributor of salt, which is why increasingly many families are cooking healthier meals at home to eliminate their risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
Why salt tastes so good
- Salt is sodium chloride, with some varieties being infused with calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc. Iodine is also commonly added to salt to help avoid iodine deficiencies in individuals as well.
- Essentially, salt is used as a binder and stabilizer in most foods, bringing together the multiple flavours present within each ingredient.
- It also brings out the inherent texture and flavour for generally bland carbohydrates, such as potatoes and bread.
- It promotes the development of colour in cuisines, by bringing out the natural compounds that process colours within foods.
- It is also used as a texturing aid, by strengthening common baked goods ensuring that they do not break away when heat is applied.
- Salt acts as fermentation control, extending the lifespan of most meals beyond their original limits. This ensures that you get to preserve the taste of what you are cooking the next day and extract its natural flavour profile.
- Salt also enhances the natural sweetness of cuisines by bringing out the inherent sugars that are present within foods.
Why salt is essential to our normal functioning
- Salt is an essential compound that helps with fluid balance, transmission of nerve signals, and healthy muscle functioning. You may start experiencing drowsiness, cramps, or impaired nerve functioning when not consuming enough salt in your diet.
- Salt also helps maintain the proper balance of water and minerals in the body, ensuring a state of homeostasis in the body.
- Salt also regulates blood pressure in the body, with chlorine serving as a vital ion that regulates blood pH and pressure. Our bodies excrete salt in the form of sweat, which is why it is important to regulate our salt levels when outside for extended periods.
- It also helps activate our salivary enzymes, which help our taste buds recognize the food that we are consuming.
Issues arising from excess consumption
We require a specific amount of salt everyday to ensure balanced functioning of hormones and regulating our cardiovascular health. A few grams a day is the ideal balance to ensure that you are getting enough salt in your diet. Individuals with heart conditions or high blood pressure problems can opt for 250 mg a day as well, to regulate their health better.
Our kidneys may not be able to hold onto the excess salt added into our diet, which is why people may experience bloating. The bloating is a result of excess water being retained in our body to balance the high amount of salt being introduced. This also means that there is additional fluid surrounding our cells, and the overall volume of blood in the bloodstream.
Over time, this could lead to heart vessel stiffening and problems with overall heart functioning. Heart failure is also a critical health problem that can arise because of excess salt.
Hypernatremia is also a real cause for concern, especially when consuming too much salt for extended periods.
Strategies to consuming balanced salt amounts
It is important to seek out products that are low in salt or are organic in nature. These products either use natural salts or focus on other seasonings to bring out the natural flavour.
Additionally, onions, garlic, and vinegar are essential flavour enhancers that can help you reduce your salt intake naturally.
A key strategy to balancing your salt levels is to add foods with higher potassium levels, such as sweet potatoes, greens, tomatoes, and kidney beans. These will offset excess salt intake and ensure a steady balance of minerals in the body.
It is also important to widen your flavour profile, by introducing different types of food to reduce your reliance on salt to bring out taste.
Salt is a necessary dietary element that is a common seasoning used across dishes of all types. Opting for high-salt cuisines should be a rare event, as excessive salt consumption has been linked to heart disease and high blood pressure problems.
It is important to balance our salt consumption to maximize its health benefits and ensure proper functioning of our body’s daily processes.
Salt is a healthy compound that can be easily misused, which is why it is important to track your intake regularly.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sanchit is an MBA based out of Mumbai. He is an avid outdoor enthusiast who loves to write about nutrition and lifestyle.