Is it a problem to eat too much salt?

Is salt bad for you?

We have all heard that eating salt is bad for you but how bad is it? 

  • Our bodies need salt also referred to as sodium.
  • Sodium helps prevent dehydration.
  • Sodium is an electrolyte that helps balance the bodies fluid levels.
  • Nerves and muscles also need sodium to function properly.
  • People crave salty foods.
  • Salty food can be addicting and it is easy to eat too much.
  • When we eat too much salt our bodies hold on to it making more work for the heart and kidneys. Some people are more sensitive to salt intake than others.
  • Too much salt increases the risk of osteoporosis according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Salt increases calcium loss in the urine.
  • Increased salt intake can affect the kidneys. Reference –Hiddo J. Lambers Heerspink Gerjan Navis Eberhard Ritz Salt intake and Kidney Disease Nephrol Dial Transplant (2012) 27 (9): 3435-3442.
  • Salted foods can increase the risk of stomach cancer. Reference –World Cancer Research Fund International 

is salt bad for youWhat is the recommended sodium intake?

  • The  World health organization recommends that adults consume no more than 2000 milligrams of sodium each day (less than a teaspoon).
  • Those who have kidney disease and high blood pressure should consume less.
  • For people with high blood pressure or diabetes, African Americans, and anyone who is age 51 or older, the daily recommendation by the American Heart Association is 1,500 milligrams of sodium.

Athletes or those who have rigorous jobs and sweat a lot will require a higher intake.



According to the  American Heart Association,

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

Americans eat more salt than the recommended daily amounts.

What if our salt intake is too low?

  • A physiological consequence of low sodium intake is activation of the rennin–angiotensin–aldosterone system (RAAS) which can lead to an increase in blood pressure. 
  • Some studies have shown increased LDL levels with low sodium diets.

Does salt intake increase the risk of high blood pressure?

  • There a number of studies that support that there is no decrease in blood pressure in people who are normotensive and were given a low sodium diet.
  • Some people are very sodium sensitive, meaning when they eat sodium they retain fluid and their blood pressure rises.
  • In this group of people and in those who already have high blood pressure, lower sodium intake can help decrease the blood pressure.

Does sodium restriction decrease mortality rates or the risk of cardiovascular disease?

  • It does not appear that eating a salt restricted diet decreases the risk of heart disease or death.
  • Reference -Dietary sodium intake and mortality: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES I) Alderman, Michael H et al. The Lancet, Volume 351, Issue 9105, 781 – 785
Does age matter when eating a high salt diet?
  • Dutch studies show that children who eat salt have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure as adults.
  • This was an older longitudinal study. Reference BMJ. 1990 Apr 7;300(6729):899-902. Sodium and potassium intake and blood pressure change in childhood Geleijnse JM1, Grobbee DE, Hofman A.

Is sea salt or Himalayan salt healthier than table salt?

  • Sea salt comes from water whereas most table salts come from underground mines.
  • Himalayan salt comes from caves.
  • Sea salts and Himalayan salts have not been processed so they contain more trace elements than table salt.
  • There are no scientific studies to show that Himalayan or sea salts are healthier for you. There may be more minerals but these minerals can be supplied through other sources.

What is in our table salt?

  • Our table salt contains a number of additives which help prevent clumping.
  • Iodine was added to table salt in the early 1900’s to help prevent thyroid deficiency.
  • Low iodine levels can affect your heart and increase the risk of mental retardation in children of women who were iodine deficient during their pregnancy.
  • Sea or Himalayan salt does not contain iodine.

Foods that have a high salt load

  • Smoked, cured, salted or canned meats and fish such as bacon, cold cuts, ham, frankfurters, sausage, sardines, caviar, and anchovies.
  • Frozen dinners
  • Canned vegetables and beans
  • bouillon
  • Salted nuts
  • Buttermilk
  • Processed cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Salted chips and crackers
  • Processed foods out of a box
  • Soy sauce and marinades
  • Bottled salad dressings
  • Salted butter or margarine
  • Pickled vegetables such as olives, pickles, sauerkraut.

What can you do to avoid highly salted foods?

  • Read labels on the food you are buying.
  • Drain and wash canned foods such as beans to reduce the sodium level.
  • Eating potassium-rich foods may reduce the risk of elevated blood pressure from salt intake. Reference -American Heart Association

Some restaurants are required to display the amount of salt in the food they serve, take notice of this information if it is available.

According to NPR, “New York City Health Department says chain restaurants with 15 or more locations must display a salt shaker icon next to menu items or combo meals that contain 2,300 milligrams of sodium or more.”

Note that salt substitutes may contain potassium. This is an important point if you are on a low potassium diet.

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