Salt? Better if it is just a little!
Both the flavor and the biological properties of common salt (sodium chloride) are mainly linked to sodium; each gram of salt contains about 0.4 g of sodium. Under normal conditions, our bodies eliminate 0.1 to 0.6 g of sodium daily. This quantity must be reintegrated with the diet. However, the addition of salt to foods is not necessary, since the sodium contained in nature in food is already sufficient to cover the body’s needs. Only in conditions of extreme and prolonged sweating can sodium needs increase. Every day the western adult ingests on average about 10 g of salt (i.e. 4 g of sodium), therefore much more (almost ten times) than that physiologically necessary.
Why reduce the consumption of salt?
Excessive salt consumption can promote the onset of arterial hypertension, especially in predisposed people. High sodium intake increases the risk for some diseases of the heart, blood vessels and kidneys, both through the increase in blood pressure and independently of this mechanism. High sodium consumption is also associated with a higher risk of stomach cancer, increased urinary calcium losses and therefore probably a greater risk of osteoporosis. Consequently, reducing salt intake can be an important preventive and curative measure for many people. Recent studies have confirmed that an average consumption of salt below 6 g per day, corresponding to an intake of about 2.4 g of sodium, represents a good compromise between satisfying the taste and preventing risks linked to sodium.
The main sources of sodium
The sources of sodium in the diet are of various kinds:
- the sodium contained in the natural state in food (water, fruit, vegetables, meat, etc.)
- the sodium contained in the salt added in home cooking or at the table
- the sodium contained in processed products (artisan and industrial) as well as in consumption outside the home. Among the processed products, the main source of salt in our usual diet is represented by bread and baked goods (biscuits, crackers, breadsticks, but also snacks, croissants and breakfast cereals). These are foods that are commonly not considered as possible salt carriers, but which instead contain more than we think. In fact, cereal derivatives are an important source of salt, because we consume them every day and in higher quantities than, for example, sausages, cheeses, fish preserves or French fries, which by far contain greater quantities of salt but are consumed in smaller quantities. Some condiments used in place of or in addition to salt are also rich in sodium. This is the case, for example, of broth nut (also in the form of granules), ketchup and soy sauce. It is therefore desirable to moderate the use of these seasonings.
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Reducing the amount of salt is not difficult
Reducing the amount of salt that is consumed daily is not difficult, especially if the reduction occurs gradually. In fact, our palate adapts easily, and it is therefore possible to re-educate it to less salty foods. Within a few months, or even weeks, these same foods will appear tasty at the right point, while those seasoned in the previous way will seem too salty. Spices and aromatic herbs can replace salt or at least allow to use a much smaller quantity, giving a specific aroma to food and improving its organoleptic qualities. Lemon juice and vinegar allow to halve the addition of salt and to obtain equally tasty foods, acting as flavor enhancers.
Various types of salt: which to choose
As mentioned, the food salt is made up of sodium chloride, which can be obtained from sea water (sea salt) or extracted from mines deriving from the slow evaporation of ancient sea basins (rock salt). From the “raw” salt, after a refining process that eliminates most of the other salts present, the “refined” salt (“coarse” and “fine”) is obtained containing only sodium chloride. Iodized salt is available on the market (both “fine” and “coarse”), which should not be confused with “sea salt” or “whole salt”. The iodized salt is simply common salt to which iodine has been added in the form of iodide and / or potassium iodate. It is not a dietary product intended for particular categories of individuals, but a food that should become commonly used. The World Health Organization recommend its use to the whole population, in order to prevent or correct that iodine deficiency. The iodized salt has the same taste and the same characteristics as the common salt, and can be used, indeed it must be used, at all ages and in all physiological conditions in place of the normal salt, but with the same recommended moderation for the salt not iodized. Another commercially available salt is the so-called diet salt, which contains less sodium, as part of the sodium chloride is replaced by potassium chloride. It can sometimes be recommended by the doctor to hypertensive subjects who have difficulty limiting their consumption of common salt.
In conclusion our suggestions
- Progressively reduce the use of salt both at the table and in the kitchen.
- Choose iodine-enriched salt (iodized salt) over ordinary salt.
- Do not add salt to baby food, at least for the first year of life
- Limit the use of alternative seasonings containing sodium (broth nut) ketchup, soy sauce, mustard, etc.
Season foods with aromatic herbs (such as garlic, onion, basil, parsley, rosemary, sage, mint, oregano, marjoram, celery, leek, thyme, fennel seeds) and spices (such as pepper, chilli pepper, nutmeg, saffron, curry).
- Enhance the flavor of foods using lemon juice and vinegar.
- Choose, when available, the low salt product lines (bread without salt, canned tuna with low salt content, etc.).
- Eat only salt-rich processed foods (savory snacks, potato chips in a bag, table olives, some cold cuts and cheeses) only occasionally.
- In moderate sports, it replenishes liquids lost through sweating with simple water.
Gemma Heather Taylor is a 28-year-old junior programmer who enjoys eating, travelling and yoga. She is a thinker and creative, but can also be quite skeptic to many subjects that today we give for granted. This led to Gemma constantly having to dig through piles of books to find answers to her wonders.