Published:  12:19 AM, 18 July 2018

We need salt in our diet - but not too much

We need salt in our diet - but not too much

Valencia Higuera Medically

Often, doctors suggest eating less salt to lower sodium intake because most Americans get too much without even trying. While it's a good idea to keep an eye on the amount of salt in your diet, don't avoid it entirely, as this mineral plays an important role in how your body functions. Here's a look at why you need salt in your diet:

Helps thyroid function properly

Your thyroid plays an important role in metabolism. But for your thyroid to work properly, your body needs the mineral iodine, which is found in many foods. An iodine deficiency prevents your body from producing enough of the thyroid hormone. 

Symptoms of a deficiency include an enlarged thyroid, constipation, difficulty thinking, fatigue, and sensitivity to cold. Because iodine is also added to most salts having some iodized salt in your diet can help your thyroid function properly. 

Keeps the body hydrated

Salt also promotes healthy hydration levels and electrolyte balance, which is necessary for organs to function properly. Your cells, muscles, and tissues need water, and salt helps these parts of your body maintain the right amount of fluid. Inadequate hydration can cause dehydration, making you more susceptible to muscle cramps, dizziness, and fatigue. 

Prevents low blood pressure

An inadequate amount of sodium in your diet can also lead to low blood pressure (hypotension), which is a reading below 90/60 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). If either number is low, blood pressure is considered low.  Signs of low blood pressure include dizziness, nausea, fainting, and blurry vision.

Improves symptoms of cystic fibrosis

People living with cystic fibrosis lose more salt in their sweat than the average person. They need more water and salt in their diet to avoid dehydration. If you have this condition, consult your doctor to see how much salt you need daily based on your activity level. Requirements vary, but some people may need up to 6,000 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. 

How much salt a day is okay, and how much is too much?

Americans eat about 3,400 mg of sodium per day on average. A single teaspoon of table salt contains about 2,325 mg of sodium, according to the Mayo Clinic, which interestingly is more than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 for adults and children. 

Keep in mind that some people should reduce their sodium intake even further, perhaps consuming no more than 1,500 mg per day. This limit is recommended for all African-Americans, as well as anyone who has diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), or chronic kidney disease.

What are the health risks of eating too much salt?

Now that you know how salt can help you, here's a look at how too much salt can hurt you:

Increases water retention

If you eat too much salt, your kidneys may not be able to filter excess sodium from your bloodstream. Sodium builds up in your system, and your body holds onto extra water in an attempt to dilute the sodium. This can cause water retention and bloating.

Damages cardiovascular health

Excess water in your body can put added pressure on your heart and blood vessels, triggering high blood pressure. This is a leading cause of heart attack and stroke. The risk for heart disease is higher when a high-sodium diet is accompanied by a low-potassium diet. Potassium helps excrete sodium from your body and help to relax blood vessels.

Higher risk of osteoporosis

The more salt you eat, the more calcium your body loses through urination. And unfortunately, if you don't have enough calcium in your diet, the body will take it from your bones, increasing the risk for bone problems, like osteoporosis.

May increase your risk for stomach cancer

There's also evidence suggesting that a high-salt diet increases the risk for stomach cancer, according to a study published in 2014 in the journal Cancer Treatment and Research, and earlier research published in the British Journal of Cancer.

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