The great salt debate: Is salt bad for you?

November 15, 2017

Is salt really as bad for you as some dieticians and health organisations suggest? Yes and no.

Like anything, too much salt can be bad for your health. But recent studies suggest that not getting enough salt in your diet can also put you at greater risk of developing certain health conditions.

Where does salt come from?

Salt is a widespread commodity that’s abundant in nature all over the world, though harvesting it can take some work.

Most of the world’s salt is found in the sea – about 26 million tonnes of it per cubic kilometre. This can be obtained by evaporating sea water to leave only the salt behind. Salt is also extracted from rocks through mining.

What is salt made of?

Salt (sodium chloride, NaCl) is a compound of roughly 40% sodium and 60% chloride.

Processed table salt may contain just these two minerals, but natural sea salt can also contain trace amounts of others, including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc, all of which are beneficial to health in different ways. Many salt products also contain iodine.

Is salt bad for your heart?

Despite numerous studies, there’s no clear evidence linking salt with heart problems.

High salt intake may be linked to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and strokes. However, not all studies agree on this point, and some have found that salt only makes a minor difference to a healthy individual.[1]

Other studies suggest that reducing your salt intake below the recommended daily amount could actually increase your risk of heart disease and heart failure.[2]

How much is the right amount of salt? The recommended daily intake for an adult is around one teaspoon, or 6 grams per day.

Does salt affect cholesterol?

Salt itself does not affect your body’s cholesterol level, but because foods that are high in cholesterol also tend to be high in salt, following a low-cholesterol diet can also mean reducing your salt intake.

You should check that you’re still getting the recommended daily amount of salt from other sources to avoid the health risks associated with a low-salt diet.

Is salt bad for your teeth?

Salt isn’t damaging to your teeth the way sugar is, but a high-salt diet can still impact on your oral health. This is because the sodium in salt causes more calcium to be lost through the urine. This can prevent your teeth and bones from remineralising effectively, causing them to weaken or teeth to become loose.

Some foods that are high in salt, such as potato chips, bread and pizza, contain starches that enzymes in your mouth break down into sugars. These can act on your teeth the same way other sugars do, and can increase your risk of tooth decay and gum disease if you don’t follow good oral hygiene.

Does salt increase your risk of disease?

There appears to be a link between high salt intake and stomach cancer. A 2012 review of seven studies, involving a total of over 268,000 subjects, found that people who ate a high-salt diet were 68% more likely to develop stomach cancer than those who consumed less salt.[3] This may be due to salt causing damage to the stomach lining or feeding bacteria that can cause gastric inflammation and ulcers.

Low salt intake has been linked with insulin resistance in several studies, and with an increased risk of mortality in people with type 2 diabetes.[4]

What food is high in salt?

As it’s important to make sure you’re getting the right balance of salt in your diet, it’s useful to know which foods are naturally high in salt and which have salt artificially added for flavour or preservation.

On average, most of our salt intake comes from eating processed and packaged foods, particularly processed meat, canned and pickled goods, soups, soy sauce and salty snacks such as chips.

Restaurant food also tends to be high in salt, and even some foods that aren’t typically associated with salt can sometimes contain a high amount, such as breads, cereals and cheeses.

What home remedies use salt?

As well as adding flavour, salt can be a handy home remedy when it’s used in moderation. Salt water helps to detoxify tissues in the body, and is often recommended for everything from sinus infections and sore throats to bee stings and bites.

Salt water can provide temporary relief for a toothache, sore throat or burned tongue and can help to remove bacteria from infected gums. However, home remedies should not be a substitute for seeing your dentist or other health professional.

Visit our dentists in Brunswick and Kew

If you need to see a dentist about any issue, get in touch with All Day EveryDay Dental to make an appointment at one of our Melbourne clinics.

Call us on (03) 9853 1811 or make a booking online.

Sources

[1] BMJ, 3 April 2013. Effect of longer term modest salt reduction on blood pressure: Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised trials (Online) 2013 (Accessed October 2017) Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23558162

[2] American Journal of Hypertension, August 2011. Reduced dietary salt for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (Cochrane review) (Online) 2011 (Accessed October 2017) Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21731062

[3] Clinical Nutrition, August 2012. Habitual salt intake and risk of gastric cancer: a meta-analysis of prospective studies (Online) 2012 (Accessed October 2017) Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22296873

[4] Diabetes Care, March 2011. Dietary salt intake and mortality in patients with type 2 diabetes (Online) 2011 (Accessed October 2017) Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21289228

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