Salt is a mineral that’s vital for the human body, but how much salt is too much? It’s widely known that approximately 500mg of salt daily is all that you need for your muscles to function, your nerves to conduct impulses, and to maintain your natural balance of water and other minerals. Although this confirms that the human body requires a certain amount of salt to maintain its functionality, you typically don’t need to worry about supplementing your diet with salt. Why? Because salt is everywhere, and rather than worrying about getting enough, most people should be worrying that they’re consuming too much of it.
According to the U.S. FDA, the average person consumes a whopping 3400 mg of salt every day.
Salt is the primary food preservative and has been for centuries. As the agricultural revolution spread across the continents and humans began hunting less, our diets evolved to include less game, which was rich in sodium, and we started eating more grains. Supplementing our diets with added salt became a necessity. Additionally, curing foods with salt became a way to ensure families had enough to eat year-round, especially in climates where growing was sometimes impossible due to rainy or dry seasons.
Salt became increasingly difficult to procure and increased in value. In ancient times, salt was just as important as gold. However, contrary to myth, it never surpassed gold’s value.
So, if salt is so casually over-consumed by so many people, is it really that bad for you? What are some of the side effects that can come from eating too much salt?
Which Organs are Most Impacted by a High-Sodium Diet?
Sodium is one of the chemical elements found in salt. Most of our daily sodium intake comes from pre-packaged foods. However, the food and beverage industry has taken steps in recent years to reduce the amount of salt added to items like canned soup, frozen meals and pre-made sauces and salad dressings.
Watching your sodium and salt intake is important for several reasons.
Your entire body can be negatively affected by a diet with high amounts of sodium. Your kidneys especially bear the brunt of the salt overload, but eating too much salt also increases your risk of aneurysms, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and heart complications. Consuming too much sodium can even cause a loss in bone density, and there is some evidence to suggest that too much salt can damage your liver.
If you regularly eat foods that contain high amounts of sodium, or are in the habit of adding extra salt to your food, you might notice some physical symptoms such as:
- Bloating, especially in the face, fingers, feet and ankles. (Some people report feeling ‘puffy’ or ‘swollen’.)
- Frequent urination.
- Excessive thirst.
How Salt Affects Your Blood Pressure
When you eat a meal that contains a lot of sodium, your body holds onto water in an effort to flush it from your body. This excess water ends up in your bloodstream, meaning a greater volume of liquid is being pushed through your body, which puts a strain on the walls of your blood vessels and on your heart, which has to work harder to pump it through. The result is a rise in blood pressure.
Retaining water doesn’t just impact your appearance, it also impacts your health.
According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it doesn’t take long for this change in blood pressure to occur. In as little as 30 minutes after eating a salty meal, your blood pressure can rise because sodium is inhibiting your blood vessels’ ability to dilate.
It won’t take too long for your blood pressure to return to baseline, but if you’re constantly eating meals that are too salty, this chronic rise in blood pressure results in a condition known as hypertension. Hypertension is referred to as ‘the silent killer’ and greatly contributes to your risks of developing heart disease or of having a heart attack, stroke or aneurysm.
Sodium and Calcium
Researchers at the University of Alberta have discovered a link between how calcium and sodium and excreted from the body. Both nutrients appear to be regulated by the same molecule. According to Dr. Todd Alexander, the lead investigator in this research, “when the body tries to get rid of sodium via the urine, our findings suggest the body also gets rid of calcium at the same time.”
Your body does not try to hold onto extra sodium. It takes what it needs and then expels the rest as waste, through the urine. The calcium that goes with it is pulled from your bones, and while sodium levels can always be topped up via diet, as we age it gets harder and harder to hang on to calcium. We start to excrete more quickly than we can absorb it. The result is a loss of bone density. Our bones become more brittle and this leads to osteoporosis, which increases our risks of suffering a major bone break from a simple fall.
Salt and Your Kidneys
Finally, the organs that are arguably most affected by a high-sodium diet are your kidneys. Your kidneys are your body’s natural filtration system. Their job is to remove waste and excess fluid (such as the water your body hangs onto when it has too much sodium) from your blood and send it out via the urine. In order to function properly, a delicate balance of sodium and potassium needs to be maintained. If this balance is off due to high sodium intake, it alters the kidneys’ ability to function properly. Less water is removed and your kidneys have to work harder, leading to a decline in kidney function.
As we’ve already seen, a salty diet also increases the amount of calcium in your urine. When calcium combines with oxalate (a compound found in some foods, including salt) it forms a hard mass called a kidney stone. Kidney stones are usually not dangerous, but they are incredibly painful. Your body gets rid of them by passing them out of the kidneys, through thin tubes called the ureters and out through the urine. Occasionally, if the stone is too big to pass, it gets stuck on its way out and minor surgery is required in order to break it into smaller pieces.
The Bottom Line
A salty diet can negatively impact your health in many ways that are easy to miss until it’s too late. Hypertension, for example, is commonly referred to by doctors as the silent killer because it can sometimes go undetected without regular checkups and physicals. However, there are some signs and symptoms to watch out for that can clue you in to the fact that your diet might contain too much salt.
If you frequently experience bloating or swelling of the face, fingers, toes or ankles, especially in the morning, that’s a very common symptom of high levels of sodium.
There are many things you can do to limit your sodium intake and flush excess sodium from the body.
The first and most obvious is to drink plenty of water, especially after eating a salty meal. Get regular check-ups to monitor your blood pressure levels. Avoid pre-packaged and processed foods as much as you can. Most of our daily sodium intake comes from packaged foods we buy at the store, often in an effort to save time cooking from scratch. If you do buy something pre-made, read the label carefully. 5% DV (daily value) per serving is considered a low amount of sodium.
Unfortunately, some people are genetically predisposed to be more or less sensitive to the taste of salt, which can make it difficult for them to determine if what they are eating is too salty. A DNA test from CircleDNA can tell you whether or not you carry the gene that might make you what’s known as a ‘supertaster’. With that information, you can make better, more informed choices about how you season your food. CircleDNA reports include hundreds of reports on your health and wellness based on your unique DNA, so you’ll find out much more about yourself than just whether or not you’re a supertaster. With a CircleDNA test, you’ll also find out what the optimal diet type is for you, based on your genetic makeup.