Anything in excess is bad and consuming too much salt can be really bad for you.
Your body needs a little bit of salt every day for the sodium it contains. Sodium plays a significant role in the body. In particular, it regulates volumes of fluids in the body and aids the uptake of various other nutrients into the body’s cells. Also, the normal pH, or acid-base level of the blood is influenced by sodium.
As sodium cannot be made by the body, you need to provide your body with an adequate amount through the food you eat.
Excess sodium in the body, however, can be harmful to your health as it damages the kidneys. It also promotes water retention which adds to the water weight in the body.
The recommended amount of salt is no more than 5 grams a day (1 teaspoon of salt is about 6 grams). More than this is harmful for your overall health and can cause adverse reactions in your body.
Here are some of the reasons why you should limit your salt intake.
1. Damages Kidneys
Your body needs a small amount of sodium to maintain a proper fluid balance. But excess sodium can be damaging for your kidneys.
Excess salt causes your kidneys to retain water in order to dilute this electrolyte in your bloodstream to help your heart function properly. This places a load on the kidneys and affects renal function.
A 2002 study published in the Journal of Nephrology found that restriction of sodium intake is an important preventive and therapeutic measure in patients with chronic renal diseases of various origins, as well as those at risk of renal damage, such as hypertensive or diabetic patients.
Another study published in 2012 in Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation reports that even a modest reduction of dietary sodium in renal patients is associated with lower blood pressure, lower protein excretion in the urine and better outcomes.
Information on the impact of salt intake on the course of kidney disease is fragmentary, but points to the direction that high salt intake aggravates long-term outcomes.
Later, a 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology found that two weeks of reduced salt intake by patients with chronic kidney disease resulted in considerable drops in excess extracellular fluid volume, blood pressure and protein excretion in the urine. If maintained long-term, the effects could reduce a patient’s risk of progressing to kidney failure by 30 percent.
2. Increases Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease, and high salt intake is one of the leading causes of high blood pressure.
A high sodium level in the body causes a decrease in the synthesis of nitric oxide, an arteriolar vasodilator. This means that blood flow experiences more resistance because the blood vessels are not widened as much.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Renal Nutrition reports finding a small decrease (1.1 mm Hg) in median systolic but not diastolic blood pressure with reduced dietary sodium intake. The study concludes that sodium restriction in hypertensive patients reduces blood pressure, while noting that the long-term impact of reduced salt intake on blood pressure, mortality and morbidity remained to be defined.
Another study published in 2013 in the BMJ found that a modest reduction in salt intake for four or more weeks causes significant and, from a population viewpoint, important falls in blood pressure in both hypertensive and normotensive individuals, irrespective of gender and ethnic group.
A 2014 study published in Electrolytes & Blood Pressure shows that a reduction of dietary salt intake can decrease the number of deaths from hypertension, cardiovascular disease and strokes.
However, a 2016 study by McMaster University found that a low-salt diet may not be beneficial and may actually increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and death compared to average salt consumption. The study emphasizes that only people who need to worry about reducing sodium in their diet are those with hypertension who have high salt consumption.
3. Raises Stomach Cancer Risk
High salt intake is linked to a higher risk of stomach cancer. In fact, the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research confirm that salt, as well as salted and salty foods, are one of the probable causes of stomach cancer.
A high-salt diet may induce gene activity in the stomach bacteria Helicobacter pylori, making the symptoms more severe. High sodium intake may also make the cancer treatment less effective.
A 2009 study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology reports that limiting salt and salted food consumption is a practical strategy for preventing gastric cancer.
A 2014 study published in Cancer Treatment and Research also confirms a strong adverse effect of total salt intake and salt-rich foods on the risk of gastric cancer in the general population.
If you already suffer from a stomach ulcer or you are at a higher risk for stomach cancer, you should avoid adding salt to your food and opt for low-sodium options.
4. Weakens Bones
Excessive salt intake can also be bad for your bones. Too much salt can cause a loss of calcium from your bones. Calcium is a key element needed for strong and healthy bones.
As the bones lose calcium, they become weaker and can break much more easily. This can also increase your risk of osteoporosis.
A 2013 study by the Endocrine Society found that a high-salt diet raises a woman’s risk of breaking a bone after menopause, regardless of her bone density. This Japanese study reports that older women who consumed the highest amount of sodium had more than four times the risk of a nonvertebral fracture, or fracture at any site other than the spine.
However, a 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that while the association of high sodium intake and weaker bones seems logical, low sodium intake by itself is not likely to be beneficial to the bones.
5. Triggers Asthma
Asthma, which can affect both children and adults, can greatly reduce one’s quality of life. For managing asthma, diet plays a key role.
Salt intake can trigger an asthma flare-up. Also, as asthma patients are prone to have an increased risk for cardiovascular, renal, bone and other diseases, following a low-salt diet will also benefit them indirectly.
A 2010 study published in Physician and Sports medicine found that maintaining a low-sodium diet for one to two weeks decreases bronchoconstriction in response to exercise in individuals with asthma.
The study concludes that a low-salt diet can be considered a therapeutic option for adults with asthma. However, it should be considered as an adjunctive intervention to supplement optimal pharmacotherapy, and not as an alternative.
6. Leads to Edema
Salt can cause the kidneys to retain fluid, which can lead to water retention or edema. This retention occurs because the kidneys perceive that the body needs more fluid to compensate for the decreased blood flow.
Also, high sodium consumption can lead to an electrolyte imbalance, another cause of edema.
Although edema can occur in any part of your body, it usually affects the hands, ankles, legs and feet. The swelling in these body parts due to edema can affect your daily activities.
With a decrease in salt intake, you can easily treat edema.
7. Leads to Obesity
A high-salt diet is also linked to obesity, since people with higher sodium intake tend to consume more calories and have worse eating habits. Plus, sodium intake itself appears to be related to obesity.
A 2006 study published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases reports that increasing sodium intake produces a progressive increase in thirst. This leads to increased intake of high-calorie beverages, thus ultimately causing obesity.
Another study published in 2015 in Hypertension found that high salt intake is significantly related to higher body fat mass in both children and adults, after adjusting for age, gender, ethnic group and calorie intake. The study suggests that salt intake is a potential risk factor for obesity, independent of calorie intake.
Tips to reduce your salt intake
- Choose unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Canned and processed foods are usually loaded with added salt.
- When grocery shopping, read the food labels thoroughly and choose lower-sodium products.
- Avoid pepperoni pizza, white bread, processed cheese, hot dogs, spaghetti with sauce, ham, ketchup, cooked rice and flour tortillas, as they are typically loaded with salt.
- Instead of processed salt, use just a pinch of high-quality Celtic or Himalayan sea salt.
- Do not add lots of salt to foods when cooking. Instead, use pepper, herbs and spices to add flavor to your dishes.
- Do not keep a salt shaker on your dining table.
- Consume foods that are rich in potassium to help curb the effects of sodium on blood pressure.