In very small amounts, pure salt is essential, and maintains the mineral balance in literally every cell in your body. It also works to regulate fluid balances and promote proper circulation, and assist with nerve impulse and muscle contraction. Too much salt, however, can be fatal and is closely linked to serious health conditions such as heart disease and stroke.
Stroke and Heart Disease
Fact: the leading cause of severe adult disability and the second leading cause of death in South Africa is stroke caused by hypertension (high blood pressure), which in turn could be caused by a high-salt diet. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and heart attacks, and if left untreated it forces your heart to work even harder than it normally does. Over time, this causes the heart muscle to become thicker and weaker, and it doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. This leads to heart failure, and a build-up of fluid in the body and lungs, which causes swelling of the legs and breathlessness.
How Does Salt Affect Your Bones?
Salt doesn’t only affect your organs, it also affects your skeleton. Salt increases the amount of calcium in your urine, and causes calcium to be lost from your bones. When your bones don’t get enough calcium they weaken, and this increases your risk of osteoporosis – which can lead to bone fractures and breakages.
What is the Link between Obesity and Salt?
Salt doesn’t cause obesity, but it does make you thirsty if you eat too much of it. This can increase your cravings for sugar-laden soft drinks and fruit juice, which contributes to an excess energy (kilojoule) intake. Over time this can cause weight gain.
Salt and Kidney Stones / Kidney Disease
As we’ve mentioned before, salt has a direct effect on the amount of calcium in the urine. The more calcium that passes through the kidneys, the higher the risk of kidney stones developing. High blood pressure, due to a high salt diet, also damages the kidneys, reducing their function and speeding up the progression of kidney disease.
Wait! It already contains salt.
While salt is an essential requirement for your body to function optimally, you should not have more than 1 teaspoon (5g) of salt a day in our diet, and that includes added table salt and salt found in processed and convenience foods. Always check the nutritional labels on packaged items – if it’s high in salt (sodium), give it a miss.
The nationwide Salt Watch campaign is brought to you by Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa.