Published on April 7th, 2013 | by Joe Starks0
Know Your Substances: Salt
Salt makes our food taste better and brings out stronger flavors. Most of us can’t have a day without eating something savory to please our taste buds. In recent years though we see products appearing that have no salt in them, we hear of people that get serious illnesses from eating too much salt and the media goes crazy about our fat-salt addiction. But what is Salt really? Do we need any of it? Why do people get sick from eating too much salt?
What is Salt?
We use the term Salt usually to refer to table salt, which is Sodium Chloride. Salts in general are a huge group of chemical compounds with similar qualities. In this article we will discuss only about table salt and its effects of our health.
Salt, once ingested, dissolves into Sodium and Chloride molecules. Sodium is negatively charged and Chloride is positively charged, this simply means that Sodium has an extra electron, while Chloride misses one in its molecule. Charged particles like this are called ions. The body uses ions to keep a balance, usually having roughly as many negatively charged ones as there are positively charged ions. Ions tend to easily form bonds with the opposite type of ion, so they are good at moving through membranes by forming bonds with molecules in those tissues. This way the cells get the ions they need and excrete the ions they don’t want. With these ions, the body creates substances it needs to work properly. For instance, the Chloride found in salt is used to form hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which we need to properly digest food. Chloride has other uses too of course and so does Sodium. Eating salt help retain water in the body, which to some point is crucial for survival.
This is why we do need some salt in our food. However, many food types already contain salt naturally. Sea weeds are rich in salt, Cheese usually has salt added to it and most tinned/processed foods have some salt in them.
Why do people get sick from eating Salt?
There is quite a lot of scientific evidence showing that excess salt consumption can exasperate some diseases. Salt has not been proven to cause any of these ailments by itself. Some of these diseases are:
- High blood pressure. This is the chief danger from salt overconsumption. There is a positive correlation between increase salt intake and a rise in blood pressure. People who already have high blood pressure are recommended to eat less salt in their diets than healthy individuals.
- Stroke and Cardiovascular disease.
- Left ventricular hypertrophy.
- Edema. Decreasing salt intake eases the symptoms of edema.
- Stomach cancer. Even though the evidence is not yet as clear for this.
If you consume the daily recommended amount of salt you are not in danger of getting any of these diseases because of the salt. You can get all of these diseases from other causes though and in that case your physician might tell you to adjust your salt intake.
You can actually eat too little salt for your good, but it is hard to do in today’s society. If your salt consumption is too low you might get stomach cramps, fell dizziness and have a general electrolyte disturbance that in very extreme cases can even lead to convulsions and coma!
Salt improves our lives by making food taste better. It has many benefits for the body if consumed in moderation. If taken in large quantities, salt can cause numerous adverse effects and worsen any preexisting diseases you might have. Eating too little salt can damage your health and if you don’t eat any salt at all you may be in great risk.
Salt is plentiful in most foods bought in the super market, so usually it is harder to eat too little than too much. It is best to cook or buy food that has small quantities of salt in it and add more manually to adjust the food to your taste.
If you suffer from high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, edema or are in a risk group for stomach cancer you should take your Doctor’s advice on how much salt you should consume. Finally, beware of fast food and salty snacks which often contain twice or thrice the recommended daily mount of salt in only one serving.