The Salty Truth

Salt – the villain of the food world! Or is it? You’ve probably heard horror stories about how too much sodium can cause heart disease and strokes – no wonder we avoid it like an ex’s calls. But is sodium as bad as it seems? Or beneath its seemingly evil exterior, is there an innocent mineral who just wants to help out?

Am I being a-salted by Sodium?

It is true that too much sodium in your diet causes your body to retain water. This causes bloating (food baby anyone?), but it can also put an extra burden on your heart, as it upsets your body’s fluid balance. This may seem like a major health no-no, but the truth is that it only slightly raises people’s blood pressure (something you definitely need to think about if you already have high blood pressure!). There’s been a long-held belief that reducing your sodium intake actually leads to a lowering of blood pressure and thus heart conditions. However, a study found that when people ingested sodium under the recommended 2300 mg a day, it didn’t have any effect on the likelihood of heart attacks, strokes or death. Of course this isn’t the same for everyone – it all depends on you as an individual.

Are there upsides to sodium?

To an extent, but don’t run out of your house and start hoarding all your favourite salty snacks. Your body does need sodium – it can’t function without it. It’s needed to balance your fluid; it helps nerves and even your muscles. Despite what some people may think, you can have too little sodium – and that’s really not good for you. Sodium is especially important for athletes, people who regularly workout or do manual labour, as you lose sodium through your sweat (try not to think about that next time you’re at the sauna!)

Even research is confused.

So research is contradicting itself – what else is new? Every research article needs to be taken with a pinch of… well, you know. The amount of sodium you should consume in a day varies greatly from person to person – not too much, and not too little (clearly Goldilocks was onto something). If you’re already at risk for hypertension or already have high blood pressure, then stick to a doctor’s recommendations for your intake. Other than that, don’t worry about it too much. Don’t go overboard, but you also don’t need to obsessively track your sodium intake. Phew – one less thing to worry about!

Sodium is great at hiding.

For those of you that do need to watch your sodium intake, it can seem like the worst game of hide and seek ever. Sodium is contained in lots of things, under different names – like the James Bond of minerals. Here are a few of its aliases:

  • Salt (the obvious one)
  • MSG (Often found in Chinese takeaways. Although not as bad for you as people once thought, certain people do react badly to MSG in large doses – think headaches and sickness)
  • Baking soda or powder
  • Any compound with ‘sodium’ in it (so you’ll have to check that list of unpronounceable names on the back of food packets!)

So (dium), there you have it. You don’t have to hear any more salt puns, I promise. All things considered, generally healthy people without prior risk of hypertension don’t have to worry so much about their sodium intake. Looking out for sodium is necessary for some (and if it is, stick to it!), but not everyone.

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