Salt is an essential ingredient when cooking tasty meals. One of the primary components contained in salt is sodium, which is an electrolyte found that helps to regulate the amount of water contained in and around your cells. And depending on how you season your food, the flavor can be light or too overwhelming. Salt is also a preservative, giving certain foods extended shelf life.
Functions of Sodium in Our Bodies
Like we mentioned above, sodium is an electrolyte. This means that it creates an electrically charged ion when dissolved in fluids like blood. Our bodies use electrolytes to regulate crucial body functions, including respiration, heart rate, brain activity, digestion, and blood pressure.
Sodium helps to maintain the fluid balance in and around cells. It also helps to facilitate nerve impulses and regulate muscle function.
But here’s the thing. Salt can be good and bad for the body, depending on your usage. To get the benefits of salt, one has to consume it in the required amounts. Too much sodium has been known to trigger health risks like high blood pressure. Conversely, when you lower your sodium intake too much, it affects the fluid balance, hence decreasing blood pressure. This can also lead to interference with the normal functioning of nerve cells and muscles of the heart and digestive tract.
Potential Risks of Restricting Sodium
Too Much May Increase Risk of Death for People with Diabetes
Diabetics have a high risk of heart attack and stroke. One of the preventive measures is to reduce salt intake. However, a long period of low sodium intake can increase the risk of death among people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Having said that, there isn’t concrete proof supporting these findings, thus more research is required.
Increased Risk of Hyponatremia
Hyponatremia is a condition that occurs when sodium concentration in your body is abnormally low. Some of the causes of hyponatremia include taking too much water such that the sodium in your body becomes diluted. As your body’s water levels rise, your cells begin to swell. And as you may be aware, swelling of your body cells can lead to many health problems.
Potential Increase in Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance is a condition that develops when body cells fail to respond properly to signals from the hormone insulin, hence leading to increased insulin and blood sugar levels. One study found that 152 healthy people developed insulin resistance just after a week of low sodium diet. Consequently, this may lead to type 2 diabetes and other serious health conditions. However, other studies found no effect on dietary salt restrictions. Thus, the results should be interpreted with caution.
May Raise Bad Cholesterol (LDL) and Triglycerides
Several studies have found a link between low sodium diets and an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels. According to a 2003 study, low sodium intake leads to a 4.6 percent increase in bad (LDL) cholesterol and a 5.9 percent increase in triglycerides. A more recent study shows a 2.5 percent increase in cholesterol and a 7 percent increase in triglycerides.
Potential Benefits of Reducing Salting Intake
That said, if you reduce your salt intake to the required amounts, you stand to gain some health benefits, such as:
Your Blood Pressure Drops
If you have a thing for salted popcorn, French fries, or fast food, you might be taking too much salt unintentionally. Your sodium intake affects your blood pressure. When you take too much salt, the body tries to regulate this by holding more water inside the body. As a result, this creates a significant amount of blood volume and pressure on the circulatory system, leading to a hike in blood pressure. Cutting back on salt prevents the chances of high blood pressure.
Lowers Your Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke
Hypertension is a known risk factor for cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke. According to Dr. Amin Yehya, a cardiologist at Piedmont Heart Institute and author of Heart Failure: What a Non-Heart Failure Specialist Needs to Know, 54 percent of strokes and 47 percent of heart disease are linked to hypertension. He explains that “excess sodium has blood pressure-independent effects promoting left ventricular hypertrophy (a pumping problem of the heart’s main chamber) as well as fibrosis (thickening and scarring) in the heart and arteries” In simple words, too much salt is bad for your heart. Thus, by lowering your salt intake, you reduce the chances of developing such life-threatening conditions.
Less Risk of Developing Stomach Cancer
Did you know that stomach cancer is the fifth most common cancer globally and the third largest cancer killer? Thankfully, researchers have discovered ways to reduce this type of cancer. But, you should play your part to prevent stomach cancer. One way to achieve this is by limiting your sodium intake to five grams or less per day. Other potential benefits include:
- Weight loss as you remove water weight
- Reduced frequency of headaches
- Salty cravings decrease
- Your trips to the bathroom become fewer
Recommended Sodium Intake
So, you may ask, what’s the recommended sodium intake? According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), your body needs around 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium every day to replenish what you lose when you sweat and urinate. Under normal circumstances, you should be able to get the daily recommended sodium intake from your regular diet. Generally, it’s recommended that you take less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Note that packaged foods and fast foods contain much more than the daily sodium requirement. Therefore, to live a healthy life, start by cutting out unhealthy foods from your diet. Your body will thank you.
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