Before we get to the point that salt is bad for you, we also have to mention that you actually need salt. The problem is people tend to consume way more salt than they need. So what do we need salt (sodium chloride) for? Well, our body needs salt to ensure its fluid levels aren’t high. Without salt, your body can’t function properly. The problem occurs when you eat too much salt—it’s dangerous.
So, how much salt is too much salt?
How much salt do you need?
We all know that sodium chloride, or salt, is unhealthy. Every day, we hear warnings about the harmful effects and dangers of salt. The reason for all those warnings is that too much salt can increase blood pressure, which is a common risk factor for stroke and other heart failures. There are several major health organizations, and they each have a different take on how much salt is enough:
- According to the United States Department of Agriculture, you need 2,300 mg of salt per day. (1)
- The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg of sodium per day. (2)
- The American Diabetes Association also recommends 1.500 mg of sodium per day, but leaves wiggle room for up to 2,300 mg.
- And the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends between 1,500 and 2,300 mg of salt per day.
Looking at those numbers, we can say for sure that there is a consensus that you should consume no less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day, and no more than 2,300 mg. Now, the thing you need to understand is that salt contains both sodium and chloride.
To give you a visual guideline, 1,500 mg of sodium is ¾ teaspoon (3.75 g) of salt per day. On the other hand, 2,300 mg of sodium equals 1 teaspoon (6 g) of salt per day. The problem is, most of us consume a lot more than the recommended dose. In the U.S., the average intake of sodium is about 3,400 mg per day. And most of that comes from processed foods. That being said, here are 8 signs your body uses to tell you to cut down on sodium.
Your body needs to compensate for the extra sodium you take by needing more fluids. As mentioned previously, salt regulates the amount of fluids in your body. But it goes vice versa, too. When you consume more salt, you’ll feel thirsty because your body is asking for more fluids. And just to be clear: it’s best that those fluids come from plain water. If you consume other fluids, and your body needs to draw water from other areas, you’ll feel dehydrated.
When your feet are swollen and you have puffy eyes in the morning, it’s a clear sign you need to cut down on salt. Salt helps your body retain water. And because you’re consuming too much salt, your body retains more water. The result is swelling in the arms, feet, hands, under the eyes, ankles, and other areas of your body. So cutting down on salt will help you cut down on water retention. And you’ll feel lighter. (3)
High blood pressure
We mentioned previously that salt can affect your blood pressure. A diet high in salt results in high blood pressure. Your blood pressure is determined by the balance of sodium/fluids in your body. When your body retains water, you’re not only swelling, but your blood pressure goes up as well. Your muscles will also be affected. Cut down on salt to reduce the strain on your blood vessels. (4)
Kidney stones aren’t a sign that you notice early on. The problem is, your salt diet will result in kidney stones that will start showing when it’s a tad too late. A diet high in salt results in more calcium in the urine. The combination of salt and calcium will result in kidney stones, as they are basically crystalized stones. And they form when there are excess crystal-forming substances in the urine (calcium being one of them). (5)
It’s all a vicious cycle. You eat more salt, and you drink a lot more water. As a result, you urinate more often. And because you urinate often, you lose a lot of calcium. We all know that we need calcium, one of the most important minerals for bone health. Calcium helps our bones and teeth stay strong. Because of frequent urination and loss of extra calcium, you’ll have achy bones and, eventually, osteoporosis.
Let’s just start by saying salt is not addictive. But as with sugar cravings, when you consume too much salt, your body will crave more. There’s no denying that salt tastes good. And your body will get used to the taste, and crave more to satisfy your taste buds. Both salt and sugar activate the same section of the brain—the pleasure section. Over time, your brain will associate the taste of salt, or sugar, with happiness. It’s a vicious cycle, and you need to stop it. (6)
As a result of the high blood pressure, you can damage the arteries that lead to your brain. That will make it harder for you to concentrate on your daily tasks. And the eventual result is a blood clot or dementia. Neither is good for you.
There hasn’t been any research yet that shows the clear connection between high sodium consumption and frequent headaches. However, there have been studies that show that people who consume between 1,500 mg and 2,000 mg of sodium per day have a 25% lower risk of a headache.
How to cut down on salt
Kicking the salt habit isn’t easy. And you don’t need to completely ditch salt. You just need to reduce it to a more manageable, acceptable level. Here are some tips and tricks you can use to get there:
- Always use fresh meats instead of packaged meats. Fresh cuts of meat contain natural sodium, but the content is much lower than the extra (hidden) sodium in processed meats. Manufacturers add sodium during processing. When a food keeps well in the fridge for days, it’s a clear sign it’s high in sodium.
- Consume more fresh fruit and vegetables (they contain natural levels of sodium, but it’s very low).
- When you buy frozen vegetables, look for a label that says “fresh frozen.” Also, make sure there are no added seasonings or sauces.
- Select spices and seasonings that don’t have sodium on their label. For example, use garlic powder instead of garlic salt.
- Start reading food labels; the sodium content is always listed. But be careful. Sometimes, manufacturers mask the high sodium content with high sugar content.