First, let’s start by knowing what Salt is
Salt or sodium chloride (ClNa) is composed of approximately 40% sodium and 60% chlorine. Salt is the largest source of sodium in our diet (> 90%). But there is another small part of sodium that is also ingested through food, and that is added to food in manufacturing processes. They are additives, flavorings, or preservatives. (For example, monosodium glutamate, which is used as a flavor enhancer.)
In salt, the salty taste corresponds to chlorine (other forms of sodium or salts do not taste the same). The perception and learning of what is salty is formed over time depending on the intensity, nature, concentration of salt, and habits, which stimulate the receptors and this perception is variable and can be modified.
Why does the human body need salt?
Salt (sodium) is essential for life, but it can also be harmful to health if consumed in excess.
Our bodies only need small amounts of salt (sodium) to function properly. It is vital for:
• Control the amount of water in the human body, maintaining the PH of the blood.
• Regulate body fluids.
• Help the body to be hydrated, introducing water into the cells.
• Help transmit nerve impulses and muscle relaxation.
However, many people consume much more salt (sodium) than is needed for good health. This affects the kidneys, which are the major regulators of sodium in the blood, maintaining the balance of sodium stored in our body for optimal use.
An excess of salt cannot be eliminated by the kidneys, it accumulates in our blood, attracting water and increasing the volume of circulating blood. This causes the heart to need to work harder to move the blood and the pressure rises, producing high blood pressure, among other serious problems.
Salt intake recommendations
Why 5 grams?
Although the daily physiological needs vary according to age, sex, weight, physiological state (growth, pregnancy, lactation), level of physical activity, state of health, etc……… our body does not need to consume high amounts of salt.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and other international health institutions, after carrying out studies that prove the relationship between sodium needs, excess salt consumption, and cardiovascular diseases, recommend for the general population a healthy life and without prolonged efforts, the average consumption of 5g of salt per day, which is equivalent to a full teaspoon of salt ( coffee size) or 2g of sodium per day and that is guaranteed to be iodized salt*.
• Salt = sodium x 2.5 (To calculate the salt content of a food, multiply the grams of sodium indicated on the label by 2.5).
Replacing salt with a sodium and potassium substitute would prevent millions of premature deaths
Regular consumption of excess salt may seem harmless, but it is associated with various health risks that cause millions of premature deaths each year. The most common of such risks is high blood pressure, which alone is responsible for some 9.4 million deaths a year. Now, a new study from The New England Journal of Medicine, presented at the European Congress of Cardiology, ensures that patients with chronic kidney disease should limit the intake of both sodium and potassium.
The consumption of salt worldwide is very high, but not in the way that of potassium. Insufficient potassium intake can also hurt blood pressure. This is because when the amount of potassium is low, the body tends to accumulate it. The problem is that it also stores sodium, which in turn can lead to an increase in blood pressure, making the heart work harder and leading to serious diseases.
High blood pressure contributes to at least 40% of all heart diseases and strokes, which in turn account for 45% of non-communicable diseases.
Until now it was known that salt substitutes lowered blood pressure, but it was not known that they also lowered cardiovascular risk. According to the authors of this new work, if salt is replaced by this new compound, which replaces sodium chloride with potassium chloride, these two problems will be tackled.
The work, apart from teaching the essential health benefits of this change in eating habits, also clears up any doubts that could exist with these substitutes. ”We haven’t seen any danger in adding potassium to the salt substitute. Just remember that patients with kidney disease should not take it, but it is not recommended that they consume salt,” he commented.
Although sodium is found naturally in certain foods such as milk or meat, its content in ultra-processed foods and seasonings is significant. Keeping this in mind is also important to avoid exceeding your intake.
It is estimated that each year 2.5 million deaths could be avoided if global salt consumption were reduced to the recommended level. Less than 5 grams (slightly less than a teaspoon) of salt per day, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Led by clinical epidemiologist Bruce Neal of the George Institute for Global Health in Australia, the trial followed nearly 5 years of more than 20,000 people from some 600 Chinese villages with a history of stroke or poor high blood pressure control from five provinces and China—Hebei, Liaoning, Ningxia, Shanxi, and Shaanxi, between April 2014 and January 2015.
This is an intervention study in which the participants were supplied with a salt substitute for their daily consumption, at least 20 grams per person/day. The other participants continued with their usual salt intake. The mean age of the participants was 65.4 years, 49.5% were women, 72.6% had a history of stroke, and 88.4% had a history of hypertension.
During the investigation, half of the participants received a salt substitute, (low in sodium and high in potassium), to cover the requirements of both food preservation and cooking (approximately 20 grams per person per day ). Meanwhile, the control group continued to use salt for their diet as they always had.
During follow-up, more than 3,000 strokes, more than 4,000 deaths, and more than 5,000 serious cardiovascular events were recorded. After almost 5 years, the rates of stroke, major cardiovascular events, and death from any cause were lower with the replacement substitute than with salt.
For the group using the salt substitute, the risk of stroke was reduced by 14 %, total cardiovascular events ( stroke and heart attack combined) by 13%, and premature death by 12%.
The researchers note that their results confirm previous studies in China, which suggested that salt substitutions nationwide could save the lives of about 400,000 people each year — simply by preventing premature deaths related to the health effects of excessive sodium intake.
“Almost everyone eats more salt than they should. If salt were switched to a salt substitute globally, several million premature deaths would be avoided each year,” they conclude.