There are few tastes the human body craves more than salt. In moderation, salt is one of the most important elements in maintaining your health. Salt is an electrolyte which cues the human thirst mechanism which in turn affects blood pressure. It also is a huge friend to your stomach, doing its part to help you digest food and absorb it. Salt also helps muscles to keep from cramping, as it stimulates their contraction. A lack of salt in your diet can lead to dangerously low blood pressure, heat exhaustion and dehydration. Athletes such as marathon runners are often in danger of losing their balance of electrolytes — sodium (salt), calcium, potassium and magnesium. This also can occur when people get sick and suffer diarrhea.
While these are all very real dangers, for most Canadians of all ages, the problem isn’t a lack of salt but getting way, way too much. It seems that the average Canadian eats 3,400 milligrams of salt per day. It’s recommended that for people between 9 and 50, they should limit the amount to between 1,500 mg to 2,300 mg a day; 51 to 70 years old — 1,300 mg to 2,300 mg; and over age 70 — 1,200 mg to 2,300 mg. Anything beyond this, on an on-going basis, could put you at risk of health problems. We recently reviewed Tim Horton’s Nutritional Guide and were surprised to see that a 10 oz serving of hot chocolate has 360 mg of salt, a serving of Chili has 1310 mg and a sausage/egg/cheese breakfast wrap has 940 mg. As always, we believe it’s important to know what you’re eating so that you can make as many healthy choices as you can each day.
Salt adds flavour to your foods and can be downright addictive. It comes in many foods and many forms. Natural foods like milk, meat and vegetables have it in small amounts while processed and prepared foods have it in greater quantities. Since salt makes you thirsty and retain water, your blood volume increases when you eat it in larger quantities than recommended. With more blood in your body than is normal, the heart works harder to move the blood around, putting more pressure on the arteries and driving up your blood pressure. The road of high blood pressure leads to lots of bad destinations — notably heart disease, strokes, congestive heart failure, kidney problems.
Nutritionists tell us that the best way to keep your salt intake at an acceptable level is quite similar to how to maintain a healthy diet. Fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy and lean meat items all have natural levels of salt in them that are appropriate for a healthy human body. It’s when we keep introducing extra salt from processed foods, canned goods, frozen dinners, salty snacks like pretzels, potato chips and soft drinks that your salt intake builds up dramatically. It’s been noted that approximately 80 per cent of your salt intake comes from processed or packaged foods. This excess salt intake often happens without you even realizing it (and causing your body to work hard to combat the unwanted effects).
Reducing the amount of salt/sodium you eat each day is something you can control. If you’d like to learn more about how salt/sodium is impacting on your health, visit www.projectbiglife.ca/sodium. A wonderful tool developed by researchers from the University of Toronto, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.