Are you consuming too much salt? Well, if you are quite dependent on processed foods and takeouts, chances are you are consuming too much salt. The average salt consumption has risen significantly in the past few decades. With processed food and takeouts being the new norm, it’s quite difficult to keep our salt intake within the recommended limits.
But what is the recommended salt intake limit? How much salt is okay in a day?
For adults, the recommended amount of salt consumption that is considered safe by WHO is 5 g per day; which is about 1 teaspoon. However, the American Heart Association recommends being more aggressive with the salt restriction and suggests salt intake be kept at an upper limit of 2.5 g per day, with ideal intake of 1.5 g per day.
The reason for the aggressive control of salt intake by the AHA is that, we know we are consuming too much salt today without even realising it, as most things that come out of a package contain a lot of salt.
Secondly, our sedentary lifestyle is in general making us prone to many lifestyle illnesses. If you add excessive salt intake— it will further increase our risk of developing those illnesses even more. So, the combination of a poor lifestyle and too much salt intake can be deadly in the long term.
Based on these recommendations, here’s the conclusion:
1. The upper safe limit of salt intake is 5 g per day or 1 teaspoon— for everyone.
2. If you are at a higher risk of developing heart disease, hypertension and other lifestyle illness (i.e. family history of certain diseases or poor/sedentary lifestyle), and/or if you consume too much-packaged food/drinks and takeouts— you should target 1.5 to 2.5 g of salt (half a teaspoon salt) per day— as your consumption of salt is most likely higher than others.
People who consume home cooked meals using fresh ingredients have the upper hand here, as they can control how much salt goes into their body, as opposed to those who depend on food prepared by others or packed in a factory. So, if you prepare food at home, you don’t have to worry about calculating your salt intake, because it’s less likely to overdo salt in home cooked meals.
Packaged and processed food, in general, contain more salt, as salt act as a preservative and taste-maker. Takeouts and packed foods are, in fact, the reason why currently the average salt consumption per person is 9-12 mg per day— which is more than double the recommended value. Takeouts or the food that we consume outside tastes good because they contain a lot of salt and oil.
Why Low Salt Intake Is Recommended?
So, we all know too much salt intake is bad for your health and can lead to many illnesses over a long period. But what illnesses are we talking about? And how does high salt consumption cause these illnesses?
The main benefit you will get out of controlling your salt intake is lowered blood pressure levels. And that’s a huge benefit!
High blood pressure can result in other cardiovascular conditions and events, like heart attacks, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues.
In the modern times, the consumption of processed foods have gone up and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables have gone down.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in potassium, which plays a role in lowering the blood pressure. Therefore, going back to traditional way of cooking and eating a lot of fruits and vegetables is one of the simplest way to create a lifestyle that is good for our health.
Control of excess salt intake is an essential factor for long-term good health, as most processed foods and drinks contain a lot of salt in them, and they are usually consumed in huge amounts at once. It is way too easy to overdo salt in the current scenario.
What Are The Symptoms Of Too Much Salt?
There are some short-term symptoms that are temporary and some long-term complications that result from too much salt consumption.
The short-term, temporary and immediate symptoms include:
1. Water retention— you may notice swelling in your feet/around the ankle, or feel bloated.
2. Sudden rise in blood pressure— this reverts once the body manages to balance our high sodium. But a sudden increase in blood pressure may cause palpitation. High sodium intake will cause increased blood pressure in everyone— irrespective of age.
3. Increased thirst— The fluid from within the cells comes out to balance out the increased sodium level in the bloodstream. This triggers your thirst mechanism. If in case you feel that you have consumed too much salt, drinking a lot of water is a good way to help your body manage the sudden increase in sodium levels.
4. Fatigue, restlessness, difficulty sleeping and muscle weakness are some other symptoms you may experience.
The long-term effects include hypertension (which is non-reversible), heart diseases and increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.
Should You Quit Salt? Can You Live Without Salt?
Since we are saying too much salt is bad for your health, it’s also important to address the question what if you don’t consume any salt at all? Can you live without salt?
The simple answer is: No, you can’t live without salt. Your body needs sodium to survive. But, you don’t need to worry about not getting enough salt as there are some natural food sources— like egg, milk, some fruits and vegetables, and even water— that contain sodium in them as well. They don’t contain a lot of sodium, but your sodium intake on any given day would never be a zero.
Plus, if your sodium intake is less on any given day, you’ll most likely crave for salty food— and that would be your hint to consume something salty. Hyponatremia (low sodium levels) never occurs in a typical scenario, as our body has its own mechanisms to balance out the imbalance. It usually seen when someone is extremely sick or has some endocrinal issue
Additionally, canned food, sauces and cheese contain high amounts of salt in them as well. Here we are not talking about completely quitting/eliminating salt; we’re talking about only reducing the intake, if high.
Just like high salt intake is associated with many health issues, low salt intake is also linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and increased mortality.
Low salt intake is also linked with increased insulin resistance in healthy individuals— one of the important factors leading to type 2 diabetes. Additionally, low salt intake is also linked with increased cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Therefore, going salt-free completely is not the way to good health either. Both high and low intake of sodium is not what we want.
You need a balance, and the goal should be between 2.5 to 5 g of salt per day, which is equivalent to less than 1 teaspoon per day.
Should You Consume Extra Salt If You Sweat A Lot, Or If You Workout?
No, you don’t need to consume extra salt/sodium if you sweat a lot or if you live in a humid place. You also don’t need to consume extra salt/sodium if you work out— for the majority.
Sodium is indeed lost in sweat, but the amount of sodium lost in sweat is not enough to cause any electrolyte imbalance in the system— in a typical scenario of high humidity and temperature. The amount of sodium lost this way can easily be compensated by the diet.
Similarly, most of us work out for not more than a couple hours each day. For the majority of us, the duration of the workout is mostly less than an hour. Again in this scenario, the amount of sodium lost in sweat can easily be recovered from the diet. You don’t need to increase the amount of sodium/salt in the diet, or need any kind of sports drink.
Sports drinks are casually consumed today, even though they are “sports drinks” that are created for a specific purpose and usually contain a lot of sodium in them (as a replacement). These are usually meant for people who are professional athletes and train for hours and hours each day. They are not meant for casual drinking, like soda, for regular people. Don’t believe me? Next time check the label and see how much sodium sports drinks contain.
This casual consumption of sports drinks can increase your total intake of sodium per day. So, you need to be mindful of that as well.
How Can You Reduce Salt Intake?
A few things that you can do here to control your salt intake are:
1. Read the label of the edibles and drinks you purchase from the supermarket.
2. Prepare meals at home as much as possible.
3. Ask the place you frequently get the takeouts from to put less salt in your food. This may not be possible in the larger chains of brands. So, try to find a restaurant that prepares traditional meals (of any culture). However, again, here you won’t know how much salt is being used in your food.
4. If you use a lot of sauces in your food or if you consume canned foods, avoid adding too much additional table salt to your dish. These foods and sauces are pretty high in sodium content already.
5. Try to buy fresh meat (rather than packed meat)— as much as possible.
6. Limit consuming junk food.
So, What Do You Need To Remember About Salt Intake?
In conclusion, salt is not the enemy, but both too much and too low salt intake is not good for you. The idea is not to quit salt completely but to consume it in moderation.
Keep your salt intake less than a teaspoon per day. This simple lifestyle change can prevent many health issues in the long term. If you prepare your food at home, you most likely don’t need to specifically measure your salt intake, as it’s very less likely that you are overdoing salt consumption.
If you consume a lot of packed foods, sauces, and canned food very frequently (or daily), then measuring your salt intake would be beneficial for you—as these foods already contain a lot of salt in them.
However, this doesn’t mean that you cannot consume canned food or sauce at all— you just have to consume them with a little caution. Occasional consumers don’t have to worry about too much salt coming from canned foods and sauces. Your body can handle occasional high sodium levels. Drink a lot of water and consume a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat.
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3 thoughts on “How Much Salt Intake Is Recommended Per Day?”
Absolutely correct. This post includes almost all the questions regarding salt intake. Thanks for sharing.
This is a very controversial topic. As a Nutritionist, I think the daily recommendation for sodium intake is unrealistic, especially in a food world where most grocery items has more than the daily recommended amount sodium. Very informative blog. Thanks for sharing.
That is the unfortunate thing that we are surrounded by food that are so high in sodium levels. It may be difficult for a lot of communities to stay within the recommended limit as a result. But at the end of the day you have all the food with too high in sodium and the studies that say these are amounts that can help prevent many disease. It can be a real challenge to adjust to reduced salt intake, understandably. Additionally, a little bit more or less won’t make that huge a difference to most. But at least people at high risk or with diseases that require salt monitoring should be strict with their salt intake. Home cooking definitely helps in this regards.
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