Salt is a major part of our everyday diet and is mostly in everything we eat. It can also be referred to Sodium Chloride (NaCl), its chemical name, and is essential in controlling the water balance in our bodies, the pH levels of our blood and blood volume, in transmitting nerve signals, and in muscle contractions.
Unlike other minerals found in foods, sodium is over–consumed in our daily diets, about 50% above the RDI (recommended daily intake) of 1600mg for both men and women. Salt is found naturally in most foods we eat, in varying amounts, and in all processed foods, to either enhance the flavour or act as a preserving agent. Some extreme side effects to consuming a diet high in salt may include swelling of the limbs, high blood pressure, difficulty in breathing and heart failure. A deficiency in salt is rare due to the over–consumption in Australian diets. However, in some instances it may occur during prolonged illness, severe vomiting or diarrhoea, or via dehydration through excessive sweating. The symptoms associated with this may include headaches, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, fainting or fatigue.
While salt does not cause you to gain body weight, as it contains no calories, excessive consumption through our diets will result in a temporary weight gain through the retention of water. This is why some “crash diets” which claim quick weight loss, rely on you eating foods that are low in salt and therefore causing your body to lose water (not necessarily fat), rapidly and when you begin to consume large amounts of salt in your diet again, the weight/water comes back on. This is why you need to be careful of such rapid dietary changes. Reducing salt in your diet can easily be achieved and is not just through table salt, but also through products such as bread, cheese, canned vegetables, and processed meats. All of these have hidden salts in their manufacturing. This is why it is important to check foods labels for packaged foods and always choose low salt options. Consuming more FRESH fruits and vegetables, which are high in potassium, will also help to balance out high levels of sodium in your body.
The other major concern of too much salt in your diet is its effects on your cardiovascular system, most importantly your blood pressure. It is not known exactly why, but it is believed that excess salt in your body causes an increase in water retention, which therefore causes an increase in blood volume and places an extra load on your heart. This is why it is extremely important to ensure you consume the RDI of salt and do not exceed this level too often. Although salt is vital for our body to function efficiently, too much in this instance is never good long term.