Is Salt Really So Bad For You?

By Ali Luke
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Perhaps April is the month for dispelling health and diet myths. After Mike questioning the mythical daily water requirement, I was interested to read a post on the Guardian’s food blog questioning whether salt really is so bad for you.Pamela reminds us in her post that:

Salt is also indispensable in bread baking and cheese-making. Your mayonnaise will be more stable if you salt the yolk first, and salt will help scrambled eggs stay softer.

I once made bread rolls and forgot to add a pinch of salt: I was shocked how different the result tasted – much more like the base of a sweet iced bun than like bread!

If you are worried about your salt intake – or your kids’ – the fastest way to cut excess salt is to cut out highly processed foods. Brightly colored branded snacks are often guilty culprits for all sorts of nasties, and as the BBC’s guide to salt points out:

Replacing salty processed foods with fresh foods is likely to be beneficial for reasons other than just salt. It is overall diet and lifestyle that matter, not just one component.

Are you watching how much salt you eat – or does the war on salt seem like just another health fad? Have you ever had any salt-related cooking disasters (either over-seasoning, or leaving it out altogether)?

(Photo by Mr DoeyBags)

35 Comments

  1. Rich

    For years the food police have waging war against food choice. After all the discussion in the sixties about “My body, my choice,” the nanny state has decided we are not smart enough to make wise choices regarding our own food intake. “They” start with aggressive propaganda campaigns, followed by regulations, followed with even more propaganda. I bake bread. You mentioned in your article how indispensable salt is to the production of bread and pickling and other cooking processes. Studies after studies have shown that our bodies need at least half a gram per day to survive and that about 2.4 grams is a healthy amount, which which is usually accomplished without actually adding too much salt from the shaker. But I find the the hysteria about salt alarming. It’s chicken little running around crying, “The sky is falling.” Recently other victims of this kind of propaganda has been MSG, fatty foods, transfats, peanuts, gluten. My recent favorite is the big dihydrogen monoxide (H2O) scare. I believe it was the city council of Aliso Viejo, California that considered banning DHMO in their city since reports showed that DHMO was appearing in alarming rates in our lakes, rivers, the ocean, and even in our tap water. Stupidity is rampant!

    Some people have certain dietary concerns, such as lactose intolerance, gluten and peanut allergies, egg allergies, etc., but the government’s concern for the health of a small minority of people should not keep the rest of us “normal” people from enjoying foods that are healthy for the rest of us.

    And of course, there is that old saying, “Everything in moderation.”

    Reply
  2. Pete

    Simplified health advice: reduce SFS in your diet. Sugar, fat and salt.

    Reply
  3. Ken27

    Salt is not bad for you. Your body knows how to dispose of excess salt through urine. The only people that should watch their salt intake is those with high blood pressure or heart problems. That is it.

    Salt’s demonization had its roots in the early 1970s, when studies seemed to show a link between sodium intake and high blood pressure. As a result, doctors made the general recommendation that everyone should reduce their sodium intake. But by the mid-1990s newer studies were calling those data into question, including the Journal of the American Medical Association’s 1998 meta-analysis of 114 clinical trials that did not support a general recommendation to reduce salt intake. Two years later, another study in the journal Hypertension concluded that “no single universal prescription for sodium intake can be scientifically justified.” In a more recent statement, the founder of the American Society of Hypertension, Dr. John Laragh, goes further: “Is there any proven reason for us to grossly modify our salt intake or systematically avoid table salt? Generally speaking the answer is either a resounding no, or at that, at best, there is not any positive direct evidence to support such recommendations.”

    For some reason, old outdated studies are trusted more than the recent ones that show that salt intake does not hurt you.

    Reply
  4. Johnny

    I think, if you abuse salt, like many things, it will eventually have adverse effects on your body, awareness and education of salt intake are the best ways for people not to cause themselves health problems, or aggravate existing ones. Monitoring how much salt you eat is very important, check packaging, watch how much you use while cooking, obviously don’t eat takeaway food regularly, but a lot of people are to ignorant and don’t really care and I am myself guilty of this occasionally. Places like subway for example offer quick tasty food and some of it they claim to be “healthy”, and it is on many levels, but even the healthy stuff struggles with salt content. If you buy a foot long turkey sandwich it contains 4.6 grams of salt, the daily limit is recommended as 6 grams, if you choose something a bit tastier like a meat ball foot long, the salt content is a staggering 8 grams, and then they have the cheek to ask if you want salt and pepper on as well, places like that try to have a healthy image, they advertise the low fat and low calorie aspects of their food, but salt never enters the equation for obvious reasons. Worryingly people eat at subway everyday, and that’s just one meal, imagine how much salt they tally up after breakfast and tea, plus snacks. Salt intake is an issue today, people would be fools not to acknowledge it, it isn’t the be all and end all but it is something I think many people need to re-think.

    Reply
  5. sammy

    hello can you eat salt a lot or suold i cutt off on it more plz tell me what i should do thank you

    sammy

    Reply
  6. David

    I just ordered some Himalayan salt from Saltworks.

    I plan on using 20 grams per day to rid my body of parasites and bad bacteria.

    It also lowers your blood pressure by way of not using table salt. Table salt is more like a drug than a natural mineral.

    Pour it on and live healthy.

    Reply
  7. Supplements Canada

    I find salt does make a noticeable difference in things such as soups, but I agree with the post that if people are really salt conscious to pay more attention to the processed foods that they are eating.

    Reply
  8. Supplements Canada

    I don’t even think I have white salt in my house. I can’t think of any food I cook that I have to add extra salt. So many foods have salt in them, what is the point to add more?

    Reply
  9. Judith

    Our bodies try to regulate all the minerals that we consume. Some peoples bodies do a better job with sodium than others. For many, if we eat a lot of salt we just pee the excess out. But for some high salt can cause problems such as high blood pressure.

    So it all depends on your personal physiology as to whether salt is bad for you or not.

    Reply
  10. Beth

    To add a different perspective, I am medically required to consume a great deal of salt, and there are others like me. I supplement the salt in my diet with salt pills and try to consume at least 8000 mg along with 4-5 liters of water every day. I have a condition called neurally mediated hypotension (NMH), similar to what is known as POTS or orthostatic intolerance. Basically that means my blood pressure is low often to the point of nearly fainting when I stand up. My blood vessels do not pump the blood to my brain, so my brain becomes oxygen-starved. The aim of the salt and water is to increase the volume of liquid in my blood vessels, thereby forcing by sheer volume blood back to my heart and up to my head. For me, it’s the only thing that keeps me upright.

    Salty chips, salty pretzels, salty soup, salt, salt, salt! Bring it on!

    Reply
  11. Spectra

    Fresh herbs are great! I also add flavor with garlic, onions (they add tons of flavor if you grate them up), and lemon juice.

    Reply
  12. Ali from TheOfficeDiet

    Great point about fresh herbs, Ren, fantastic alternative for flavouring. Black pepper and garlic are other favourites of mine!

    Reply
  13. ren

    i love to cook so i dont buy alot of premade foods and frozen dinners, i season appropriately with sea salt (iodised) and pepper, but adding fresh herbs packs some serious flavour so the need for salt is reduced.

    I’m not really concerned about how much salt i eat…

    Reply
  14. Spectra

    My mom went on a very low sodium diet when she was first diagnosed with Meniere’s disease to help prevent water retention that would aggravate the ear. I remember that she bought some very special no salt added bread at the bakery and I remember that it tasted OK, but it did get moldy VERY fast. Salt’s a natural preservative, so I remember that we had to keep the bread in the freezer.

    Reply
  15. Robert Mayer

    I was thinking about this too the other day. I think it’s just another fad that will lead to horrible effects on peoples’ health, just like how no-fat/low-fat diets kept good fats out of peoples’ diets. Sodium is necessary to live! Like other commenters have said, you will DIE if you don’t get any salt! Is being healthier (only in your demented mind) really worth the chance of dying because you eradicated salt?

    I for one will continue to put salt on my meat and other foods. I won’t, however, be making ramen noodles a main course like I did in college.

    Reply
  16. RooGrrrl

    I cut salt from my diet completely back when I decided to try Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live diet, and it was weird. My blood pressure (already low) got really low. When I was working, I would get dizzy whenever I stood up and I started getting really dehydrated because I wasn’t retaining any water. I started having more salt and the problem went away. I always said it was important to take things with a grain of salt!

    Reply
  17. Spectra

    I’m not at all concerned about my salt intake. I exercise a lot, so I lose quite a bit of salt when I sweat. Plus, I don’t eat many processed foods, I drink lots of water and fluids, and I’ve got normal blood pressure. I think a lot of the whole salt thiing is over-rated. I would probably pick a food with more sodium in it over one with more fat/calories in it…it’s not high on my list of nutritional priorities.

    Some people are really sensitive to sodium, but I guess I’m not one of those people. Plus, if you have hypertension, getting more exercise will help your blood pressure more than just cutting down on salt. Also, if you want to help balance your sodium intake, you can increase your potassium…it helps get the sodium out of your system.

    Reply
  18. Dr. J

    Actually with a high salt diet, due to fluid shifts, it’s your heart that is working harder, but who’s counting 🙂

    Reply
  19. Perfection

    @ David:

    I don’t think that it’s necessarily true that you should cut down on the salt intake only when your doctor specifically tells you to. Also, I don’t agree with the your statement that a “salt restriction produces a slight reduction in blood pressure without any decrease in the frequency or severity of heart attacks.”

    Based on current science, a correlation has been shown relating dietary salt levels proportionally to strokes/MIs, heart attacks, and kidney disease. Basically, if you think about it, having a higher-than-normal salt diet just makes your kidneys work harder than normal at regulating a balance in your body. Is that such a good idea? Moreover, as a health science student, we are constantly encouraging people, regardless of whether they have HBP, to cut down on several things… salt intake being one of those things.

    And that’s my 2 cents worth… Phew!!!

    Note: I think the gist is to just try to maintain a health lifestyle. :p

    Reply
  20. Fitness_Fanatic

    My problem is not getting enough salt. My mother keeps telling me to sprinkle it on my food, and I keep forgetting. Nice problem to have, no?

    Reply
  21. David

    Salt restriction produces a slight reduction in blood pressure without any decrease in the frequency or severity of heart attacks. Probably not a good idea to restrict it unless your doctor specifically tells you to.

    Reply
  22. Red

    I like to carefully control my salt intake, so I don’t have any sodium in my food.

    Then I use a salt lick to imbibe the proper amount.

    Reply
  23. JimK

    I eat more salt than the deer who wander through my yard. When I die, they will be able to boil me and add the remnants to a box of Krystal and no one will be able to tell the difference. I get bloodwork done regularly, and never once has a single number that could remotely be attributed to high sodium intake ever been questionable.

    Some folks are born sensitive to sodium levels and some could lick it straight out of the ground all day and that’s just the way it is. Like everything else, the trick is find out what you are, and live your life accordingly.

    Health is a big picture for most people, not a contest to stare at individual pixels until those pixels are all we can see.

    Reply
  24. julie

    I don’t worry about salt. I have low cholesterol, low blood pressure, exercise tons, don’t drink soda. I think as long as you drink enough water to wash it through, and don’t use it to excess, it’s not so bad. Especially if you get other minerals like magnesium, potassium, etc., in decent amounts. I do use it in cooking, makes a huge difference. Usually sugar, too. My mom and sister are horrified, but being that I really don’t eat food that I don’t process myself, I’m getting much less salt and sugar than population at large. That being said, I don’t at all like excessively salty nor sweet food, which I have made in the past and thrown out. Now I just tend to err with the hot sauce, and have to eat food that’s way too hot.

    Reply
  25. psychsarah

    I once made muffins and forgot the pinch of salt in the recipe. They tasted absolutely terrible! I ended up sprinkling a teeny bit of salt on top before eating them.

    That said, I’m not big on salt. My mom never cooked with salt, so I don’t have a taste for it. I think there are people who need to be concerned (i.e., those with hypertension, those with kidney disease etc.) but for the healthy folks, avoiding the processed foods will do the trick in most cases I think.

    I think the hardest part for those used to processed foods is getting accustomed to the real flavour of food, and not the excess fat/salt/sugar/preservatives.

    Reply
  26. Puissance

    I watch my salt intake for sure. In one can of Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup, you can get more than 70% of the daily recommended sodium (salt) intake.

    Reply
  27. Judy

    I don’t worry too much about salt, at least not now. I focus on eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods, and think that it is the easiest, best way to avoid the whole salt/sodium issue. I think the bigges problem comes from eating the “Standard American Diet” full of processed and fast foods.

    I do have a family history of high blood pressure – so far I’m the only person over 25 without it – and I know it’s something I may have to watch out for. Usually my blood pressure is really good, and even while pregnant it averaged around 100/60, so I’m not concerned right now.

    We rarely add salt to our foods, don’t eat many processed packaged foods, so I think we’re probably doing okay. I keep thinking about getting “low sodium” versions of some of our foods, but I figure if I’m only eating soy sauce once a week, is the sodium in it really that big a deal?

    Reply
  28. Quito

    I think that this is a misleading post. There’s been strong evidence for over ten years that the link between sodium and hypertension exists in a (probably genetically-determined) population of people – maybe you have it, maybe you don’t.

    On the topic of saltless bread, take a trip to Tuscany sometime and try the local bread. Traditionally, it’s made with no salt. It’s good, although unusual if you’re accustomed to salty bread. From what I’ve read, the chances of you being sodium sensitive is 1 in 3.

    You can get used to having less salt. If you’re sodium sensitive, I think it is easier to get used to having less salt in your diet than it is to get used to being incapacitated by a stroke.

    If you have hypertension, don’t screw around – work on getting it under control.

    Reply
  29. Arlo

    Well, I wonder about salt.

    The biggest concern seems to be high blood pressure. Eat more salt and your circulatory system retains more water, putting pressure on that whole system and damaging it. My father was diagnosed with high blood pressure and now takes medication to make his body flush out any excess water his system is retaining.

    Now, I’ve been eating low carb for a month and a half or so, and the one thing that happens is you lose a great deal of your water weight at the beginning and it stays off as long as your carbs are restricted. So, I wonder how this affects the whole salt/water retention thing, if simply diet is doing what people take medication to do, to help high blood pressure?

    Now, I don’t use salt unless I feel it’s absolutely needed (why use something unless it is?), and then add to taste, but I wonder if salt is really so bad, especially depending on the kind of diet you’re eating. Too much salt is usually associated with pre-packaged fast or convenience foods, which you want to avoid anyway. If I’m eating mostly home-cooked meats and veggies, should I really be concerned about a few dashes of salt on my veg? I don’t think so.

    Personally, I think you’d be much better off focusing more on exercise (which is a double-whammy because it reduces stress), healthy body weight (for your type of body) and quitting smoking. 2c…

    Reply
  30. Cintia EUA

    I recently was told to watch the amount of salt on my diet and I tell you, labels can be so confusing. I can’t imagine life without salt, so I’m working on finding low salt seasonings out there. It’s hard to find processed foods that are low in sodium, so my best bet is to stick with fresh fruits and veggies and cut the processed foods.

    Reply
  31. staci

    my boyfriend loads salt on until his fries look like mount frosty fry- i one time was making a roasted chicken and oh my goodness, i must have used 1/4 cup of salt because it was like eating salt with some chicken! it was a disaster and we ended up ordering salads from the loop- i’ve since told people if it isn’t salty enough, you can add your own salt.

    Reply
  32. lynn

    i try to avoid frozen dinners which always seem to contain huge amounts of salt but if i am cooking i use as much as it takes to taste “right”. my blood pressure is fine but some of the frozen meals have the daily recommendation for salt in one meal and i cant see the need to eat that much in one sitting.

    Reply
  33. Heather

    I am not at all concerned with my salt intake.
    The research I’ve read suggests that unless you have or are at risk for hypertension, that you don’t have to worry about it… that is, it’s only a problem for salt-sensitive people.
    I don’t eat too much processed foods.
    Perhaps it’s because of my amount of activity I do (I sweat a lot) and water I drink, but my blood sodium gets low sometimes and I intake plain salt… makes me feel a lot better
    So yeah, definitely not worried.

    Reply
  34. Linds

    I’ve never seriously cut back on salt intake. I focus more on reducing the quickie-type meals. Reducing sodium is practically inevitable with that approach. Unless you happen to eat salt straight from the shaker, in which case I recommend getting a shaker with fewer and smaller holes.

    Psh. Most of the time I even forget to add salt when I’m cooking.

    Reply
  35. Lady G

    Great post! I have long believed that all the hype about cutting down on sodium is mis-placed. For one thing, if you don’t have enough salt you’ll die (even if it’s pretty unlikely that you wouldn’t, but if you drink too much water you can flush your salts out and die!)

    I strongly believe in exactly what the post said – the important thing is to eat fresh, healthy, unprocessed foods. Then, not only are you controlling your salt intake, but you are more nutrients and fibre. Go fresh food!

    Reply