How bad is salt for your health?

Doctors have been warning against monitoring your salt intake for years.  A high sodium diet has been linked to dangerous conditions such as high blood pressure and hypertension.  But there is another side to the same coin.  Our bodies do need a certain amount of salt to function properly and the body is sure to rebel if it doesn't get enough.

This is definitely confusing for many people.  Is salt good or bad for us? After so many warnings from the medical community about controlling our sodium intake, how could salt be good for us? First of all, it is important to make the distinction between sodium and salt.  Sodium is a mineral that is essential to all animals, and salt is a compound made up of primarily sodium and chloride.  Although salt usually only consists of sodium and chloride, it can be enriched with other minerals including magnesium, potassium and up to 84 others.

Sodium is a key molecule for body systems regulation, nerve impulse conduction, especially for muscle movement, thought processes and cell signaling.  Sodium is a major component of our blood and bodily fluids.  Consider how your tears and sweat taste for a moment, salty right?  A German study showed that a sodium deficiency in elderly people caused a nervous disposition, hallucinations, muscle cramps and hip fractures

Salt, and the numerous ions it’s made up of, are imperative to balancing pH levels in your body.  Mineral-rich salts such as magnesium and potassium, help your body’s water regulation, can have an anti-inflammatory effect, help with muscle contraction and relaxation and help form the building materials for strong, healthy bones.

But eating too many foods rich in sodium can still be dangerous. It is well documented that the consumption of sodium above the daily recommendation increases blood pressure and increases the risk for strokes and heart attacks.  It is also postulated that diets rich in high-sodium salt can create mineral balances that lead to other health problems.  A high-sodium diet can put undue stress on your kidneys, which if not functioning correctly can lead to increased blood volume, which makes your heart work harder, which increases the pressure in your arteries, until it snowballs out of control.  If these conditions exist chronically, it can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and congestive heart failure.

The biggest issue with salt consumption is that most of what we consume comes from processed foods, which are very high in sodium content, saturated fat, and other not so healthy ingredients.  Common foods high in sodium include bread, pre-prepared dinners, pizza, deli meats, bacon, cheese, soup, fast food.  So we are getting it from all the wrong places. As a general rule, less salt is probably better for your health, however, a healthy all around diet and lifestyle will have more long-lasting positive effects.