How much salt to eat per day?
When one of my friends was advised to reduce the salt intake by her physician doctor while she underwent her Annual Health Check up, she was a bit confused as to how much quantity of salt per day is adequate. With a new lifestyle which now also includes work from home, we have started spending more time at home, while at the home we tend to eat more, like having 3 meal courses along with packaged salty snacks such as chips, sauces, salted butter, bread, etc.
Thus the diet now includes salt which is added to the meal to enhance the flavor as well as hidden salt from packaged food. The ideal intake of salt in adults is 6 grams per day (about one spoon). This one spoon should include salt from all sources (packaged food as well as salt added to cooking and table salt).
Nowadays healthcare professionals constantly talk about the relationship between salt and hypertension and related disorders. Hence, the constantly debated question is “How much salt do you need to consume to fulfill the daily requirement of nutrients which are available in salt (particularly sodium and Iodine)”. For this we need to understand various sources of salt, ingredients present in salt, ideal quantity of salt proposed by healthcare professionals, functions of salt, and substitutes for salt, sodium consumption, and its effect on health.
Salt or sea salt (raw form) is mostly sodium chloride. This salt is often refined to produce table salt which we eat. During this it is often “iodized” (mixed with a minute quantity of various salts of the element iodine). Salt is present in most of the naturally occurring foods such as vegetables, fruits, and meat. But the quantity present is very small. In processed foods such as pickles, snacks, sauces, etc. , it is added in ample quantity. In these foods, it acts as a preservative as well as a flavoring agent.
Table salt is made up of ≥ 40% sodium by weight. So a 6 gram (1 teaspoon) serving contains 2,400 mg of sodium. World Health Organisation recommends that adults should consume less than 2,000mg of sodium per day. Sodium is an important extracellular electrolyte. It plays an important role in health functions. Electrolytes help in fluid balance, nerve transmission as well as muscle function.
Iodine is also responsible for balancing thyroid function.
Scientific studies have suggested a relationship between the overconsumption of salt and cardiovascular diseases. According to multiple large studies, low or high consumption of salt caused mortality primarily associated with individuals with hypertension.
Thus it would be beneficial to the heart if salt intake is reduced. Considering that it is added to food to enhance the taste, it becomes difficult for any person to reduce the quantity. Flavoring your food with pepper, herbs, spices, lemon or garlic can help in this process.
What are the alternatives then?
* Low Sodium TableSalt
Low-sodium salt contains mostly potassium chloride. The recommended intake of
potassium is higher than that of sodium; hence, this is a good alternative.
* Olive Oil
For salads and green veggies, olive oil and vinegar are a better option. They add taste
and flavor and I are good for health too.
* Alternative Spices
Luckily for us Indians, our cuisine has 'a range of other spices that can contribute flavor to our food. So cutting down on salt shouldn't be much of a problem. Thai spices are also rich in flavor.
Some spices that can be used as salt alternatives are:
• Cardamom - When used in combination with cumin seeds and coriander, cardamom
adds a unique taste to the food, helping you forget the need for salt.
• Basil - A common ingredient in Indian cooking and easily available in every home, basil
not only adds taste but has multiple health benefits as well.
• Chilli Powder - Widely used in Spanish, Mexican and Indian cuisines, chili adds a hot
and spicy flavor to food.
• Black Pepper - Pepper has a rich aroma which can make food appetizing apart from
adding great taste.
• Onion Powder - Onion has a pungent smell but when powdered and used proportionately, it has a strong lingering taste.
• Lemon Juice— A perfect substitute for salt, lemon has a tangy flavor and is rich with vitamin C.
Also while shopping for snacks try to pick low-salt options. Avoid saltier options like cheese, ready meals, and processed food. Avoid adding salt at the table and add salt only while cooking.
Health Check up recommendations –
1) Do your annual health check up regularly.
2) Keep recording your Blood Pressure levels regularly.
3) Any abnormality found in blood pressure levels, consult your doctor.
4) Ensure you have Thyroid Function Tests in your annual health check up the package, if not get them some done additionally.
5) Keep monitoring your Thyroid Levels regularly.
6) Avoid Salty Packaged foods.
Ms. Rajkumari Sahane. M.Pharm.
The writer is Research Associate in Pharmacology and is an academician with 15 years of research & teaching experience