Salt is a crystalline compound principally made up of sodium chloride. It occurs naturally in sea water with the open ocean having approximately 35g per litre. Salt also occurs naturally as halite or rock salt.
It is the presence of salt that makes food palatable or increases its palatability. Salt is also used in food preservation.
Sodium is also naturally found in foods such as meat, milk and shellfish. It is also present in high amounts in processed foods such as processed meat, bread, snacks and condiments like Maggi, Royco etc. either of soy source or fish source.
Usefulness of salt in
The sodium in salt is needed for bodily fluid balance and muscle and nerve function. It is an electrolyte that allows the transmission of neural signals by the brain to the muscles and organs and vice-versa.
Neural signals are what control the voluntary and involuntary movements of muscles and transmit information emanating from sense organs such as eyes and tongues. They also regulate the release of hormones from the endocrine system.
Health effects of salts
It is essential that the salt we consume should be iodized or ‘fortified’ with iodine which is essential for healthy brain development in the foetus and young children and generally optimizes mental function.
Too much consumption of salt however causes the elevation of blood pressure and also cardiovascular diseases, stroke, coronary heart diseases and kidney stones.
On the other hand, too little salt consumption can lead to low level of sodium in the body which causes dizziness, confusion, muscle twitching and seizures. Sodium is about 40% constituents of salt.
It is recommended by The American Heart Association that daily consumption of salt should not be more than 2.3 grams of sodium or around one teaspoon and that 1.5 grams per day is enough to maintain good health.
But this according to the World Health Organisation should not be more than 5 grams per day for any adult to be in good health.
How to reduce salt consumption at home
This can be done by:
- not adding salt during food preparation.
- not adding salt during meal consumption.
- reducing salty snacks consumption.
- choosing to buy or consume products with lower salt contents.
- The salts lost in sweat is minimal so there is no need to add extra salt to our meals even on a hot humid day. Drinking a lot of water instead is rather essential.
- Sea salt, though of natural occurrence has the same health implication as manufactured salts. Since, they both contain sodium that has bad health outcomes.
- Salt added during cooking is not the main source of salt we daily consume. About four-fifth of salt intake comes from processed foods.
- Food does not need salt to taste good, only that it takes some time for our taste buds to adjust to less salt in the food. Once, this is achieved, food will be enjoyed the same way we enjoyed food with high salts.
- Though, when one reduces salt in the food consumed, it will initially appear as if that food has no flavour but after our taste buds get accustomed, food with less salt will start tasting good.
- It is not true that food high in salt would taste salty. This is because when other things like sugar are added, salty taste becomes masked.
- It is true that too little salts is not beneficial to health, but it is practically impossible for too little salt to be consumed daily, since there are many everyday food that contains salts.
It is natural for human bodies to get rid of excess salts in the body through the kidneys, but the increasing consumption of processed, restaurant and convenience foods has made it inevitable for many people to daily consume too much salt and sodium beyond what can be conveniently handled by the kidneys and consequently leading to associated adverse health effects.
This is further worsened if there is also an associated lesser consumption of fruits and vegetables and dietary fibre (such as whole grains). This is because their rich potassium contents are essential in maintaining a low blood pressure or reducing it.