Health organizations have been warning about the dangers of salt for a long time, claiming it is linked to a number of health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

However, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that salt may not be as bad for us as we have been led to believe. What’s more, too little salt may be bad for us too.

Should we be watching our salt intake, or like fat, does salt have an undeserved reputation?

Sea Salt, Table Salt, Himalayan Salt – What’s The Difference

Table salt comes from a mine. It has anti-caking additives to make it free-flowing, iodine to prevent goiter, and sugar to prevent the iodine from breaking down. Trace minerals are eliminated in the processing.

Sea salt is made from evaporated sea water. It retains trace minerals and elements such as calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Himalayan sea salt is mined and contains several more minerals not found in sea salt, including iron which gives it its characteristic pink colour.

The minerals found in sea salt and Himalayan salt are found in such small amounts they are unlikely to provide any significant health benefits.

So although these varieties vary in texture and taste, from a nutritional point of view they are quite similar. (1)

Is Salt Bad For Blood Pressure?

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that salt may not have as much of an impact on heart health and high blood pressure as once thought.

Studies done at McMaster University, published in 2013, show that salt consumption of around 2 to 3 grams per day has a very modest effect on blood pressure for most people. Individuals with a medical condition called “salt-sensitive hypertension” and anyone consuming upwards of 5 grams of salt per day will benefit from lowering their salt consumption. (2)

But for most people with hypertension and for most of the population, reducing salt consumption has minimal benefit, and is hardly worth the results you would hope to get for enduring a tasteless diet.

What’s more, there is no strong evidence linking reduced salt intake to a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes or death.

Do Our Bodies Need Salt?

All salts contain two essential minerals – sodium and chloride that act as important electrolytes in the body, helping with fluid balance, nerve function and muscle contraction.

Evidence is growing that suggests a low-salt diet can be harmful. (3) It has been linked to:-

  • Elevated levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Increased insulin resistance.
  • Elevated risk of dying from heart disease, heart failure and increased insulin resistance.

Potassium, Salt’s Healthy Twin

But what is often ignored is a recommendation to increase your potassium intake by eating healthy foods . Potassium is very effective when it comes to lowering blood pressure. Foods high in potassium include bananas, avocados, mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, legumes and dried fruit.

“A balanced approach is what is likely to have the greatest benefit in lowering blood pressure,” said Andrew Mente, author of a paper on salt published by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2014. (4)

How Much Salt Should We Consume?

Some health conditions make it necessary to cut back on salt, so if your doctor wants you to cut back on salt you should definitely do so.

But if you are a healthy person who eats mostly whole, single ingredient foods there is probably no reason for you to worry about you salt intake. It is estimated that only 25% of our salt intake comes from these sources. Feel free to use salt to season your foods or add it at the table to improve the flavour.

The remaining 75% comes from processed meat, snack foods and instant and canned soups. Even some un-salty foods actually contain surprisingly high amounts, including bread, cottage cheese and some breakfast cereals.

Can there be any doubt that we would all be better off cutting down on this sort of food anyway, and replacing it with fruit, vegetables and beans garnered with pepper, garlic onions and ginger?

Extremely high levels of salt can be harmful, but eating too little may be just as bad. As so often is the case in nutrition, the truth lies between two extremes.

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