21. October 2019
What amount of salt is healthy?
Before salt was be extracted on an industrial scale, it was so rare that it was called “white gold”. Nowadays, salt is a comparatively cheap raw material that is processed in large quantities in our food to make it tasty. Since our taste buds get used to a certain amount of salt, we need ever larger amounts to achieve the same enjoyment effect.
In Germany, according to a study by the Robert Koch Institute, women consume an average of 8.4 grams of salt a day, men even 10 grams. The World Health Organization however, advises against the consumption of more than 5 grams of salt a day. This corresponds to about 1 teaspoon. We therefore consume far more salt than is beneficial to our health.
Many people underestimate their salt consumption because they themselves add only 25% of the salt they consume to their food. 75% of the daily amount of salt comes from industrially processed food. Large amounts of salt are contained in bread and rolls, meat and especially sausages, processed dairy products and cheese. Salt can also be found in ready meals, fast food and snacks as well as in crisps and savoury biscuits.
You can recognise the salt content in packaged foods by the sodium content indicated. This value must be multiplied by 2.54 to determine the actual salt content.
When we talk about salt, we usually mean table salt, i.e. pure sodium chloride (NaCl). This salt is a technically purified product. Natural salts (see “Which salt is thr healthiest”) contain many other minerals and trace elements that are extremely important for our organism.
After consumption, NaCl lingers in the organism in a dissolved state as Na ions and Cl ions. These ions have a great influence on our water balance, the nervous system, muscle functions, digestion and bone formation.
Excessive salt consumption therefore has many negative effects, e.g. on inflammatory processes, changes in the intestinal flora and our immune system. In salt-sensitive people, excessive salt consumption also leads to high blood pressure.
However, an insufficient intake of salt also has a negative effect on our health. According to the latest studies by the Boston University School of Medicine, a salt intake of 2.3 grams should not be undercut.
Consequently, salt consumption is like many other things in our lives:
Dose venenum facit – The dose makes the poison.
The "white gold" contains many minerals and trace elements that are extremely important for our organism.
Possible signs that your salt consumption may be too high:
- Your sense of taste has changed: Processed products have a n inherently high salt content. Consume too much of this and you may find freshly cooked food bland.
- Do you often suffer from unexplained headaches? Too much salt can cause the blood vessels in the brain to dilate and cause pain.
- Too much salt binds water in the body and can have various effects, like weight gain, feeling bloated or swelling in the joints such as the ankles of the fingers and feet.
- Do you wake up thirsty in the morning? You may have eaten a lot of sodium the night before. Excessive salt consumption drains the body of a lot of fluid.
As mentioned above, high blood pressure can be a consequence of too much sodium in the body.
Which salt is healthiest?
The question of which salt is the healthiest is determined by the way salt is extracted. The following differentiation must be made:
- Sea salt is obtained from sea water that dries in artificially created basins by sun, wind and heat. It contains all minerals and trace elements of the sea, but increasingly also its impurities (microplastics, heavy metals).
- evaporated salt is formed by the evaporation of brine. Brine is saline water from underground lakes, which, in addition to pure common salt (NaCl), also contains other healthy mineral and trace elements (potassium, calcium, magnesium, selenium, zinc). These so-called secondary salts would incrust the production facilities and thus reduce their performance. For this reason, these mineral and trace elements, which are important for humans, are removed.
In addition, the evaporated salt is mixed with chemicals to prevent clumping, including aluminium.
It is marketed under the name table salt and is used in the food industry, restaurants, pubs and canteens.
- rock salt is the result of the evaporation of earlier seas. It is mined in underground tunnels, crushed and bottled without further refining. Apart from NaCl, it contains all original minerals and trace elements and is therefore the healthiest salt.
When choosing your salt, make sure that you buy untreated, natural and unrefined salts without preservatives.
How can you reduce your salt intake?
- avoid industrially processed food.
- season your dishes first with spices and herbs and if necessary round off the taste with only a pinch of salt.
Do athletes need more salt?
Particularly runners know this: white edges on the running shirt which indicate that the body has lost a lot of fluid in the form of sweat (sodium) after the strenuous exercise. Intensive training on warm days can lead to a loss of 3000 milligrams NaCl per hour, measured against the recommended daily amount of 2300 milligrams this could become problematic without a compensation. This is because because salt plays an essential role for hydrogenation and regulates the fluid level in the body. High salt losses during sports activities such as running are associated with a number of problems. These can range from harmless cramps to hyponatremia (water poisoning).
For athletes, the right amount depends on a number of factors. (weather, physiology, fitness level, intensity of the workout, etc.). Runners who sweat a lot naturally lose more sodium than those who do not sweat much. For recreational or amateur athletes, it is sufficient to take a salted snack or a sports drink with around 200 milligrams of sodium per quarter litre after physical exertion, for example if they sweat profusely. This helps the body to regulate its fluid level optimally.
Top athletes often use a salt test to determine the amount of sodium they need. In extreme situations, such as a marathon or triathlon, athletes should consume sodium halfway into the race (taking into account the external circumstances). A sodium deficiency is a possible cause of cramps, which can be caused by a disturbed impulse transmission of the nerve cells by too little sodium.