Thursday, October 6 , 2022

Good news and bad about salt


By: Natalia Moore

The “good” press espoused the virtues of the food, while the “bad” press presented reasons why the food should not be consumed, or at least not too much of it. This type of conflicting information has obviously led to confusion.

Every day we have to make decisions as to whether we should eat a certain type of food (or how much of it we might get away with) if its history was clouded in any way.

Let’s take salt, sodium chloride, as an example – the “bad” press has been that it produces high blood pressure. The “good” press on the other hand is that it prevents cramps, makes food tastier and is essential for healthy human life. So what do we do – add salt or not?

The evidence does seem to suggest that excessive salt intake may lead to hypertension in susceptible individuals. Apparently some of us are better at handling excess salt than others.

This ability seems to be related mainly to kidney function which, in concert with our body salt-controlling hormones, aldosterone and vasopressin, can maintain our salt and therefore total body water at optimal levels.

Some of us, however, whether it be through constant abuse of a high salt diet, a genetic predisposition or both, do not tolerate a high salt diet at all well. So, in some cases we retain more salt than we need.

This means more water is also retained to maintain normal concentrations of salt, and hence the pressure in our system rises and we have a case of hypertension. It also seems that our sensitivity or control may decrease as the years go by because blood pressure tends to rise with age, which may of course also be related to other factors, such as blood vessel elasticity changes, obesity, cigarette smoking or diet-related diseases.

Dramatic increases in blood pressure with age are certainly not obligatory and sensible physical activity along with attention to limiting salt (and fat), together with maintaining a desirable body weight and avoiding cigarettes will go a long way to you avoiding “creeping” blood pressure as you get older.

Now on the “good” press side of salt. It certainly is essential for our healthy existence, as sodium chloride is essential to cell function.

For example, as our nerves transmit messages, sodium and chloride , ions move in and out of the nerve cell membranes. The concentration of salt in and out of the cell is of critical importance to efficient nerve function and therefore of critical importance in the coordination of a sportsperson.

During long strenuous games, especially in the heat, a lot of salt is lost in the sweat. If you lose too much, then obviously nerve and muscle function will be impaired. (The same applies to water or even glucose.)

Therefore, during long periods of exercise over periods of hours as in tennis, netball, golf, bowls etc., it is important to replace fluids and salts to maintain efficient function.

You are well-advised then during a long day of cricket, for example, to take in plenty of fluid during the day, including the occasional drink of one of the prepared electrolyte solutions such as Staminade or Gatorade, but ensure that it is not too concentrated.

It should not taste “salty” or too sweet, in which case you might exacerbate your dehydrated state. The average people would rarely have to worry about consuming extra salt because it is added to all sorts of foods as a preservative or taste enhancer.

High salt foods include many of the canned foods (read the label to avoid too much salt); there is plenty of salt in most breads, cereals and spreads such as margarine and butter and of course lots of salt in most processed meats and sauces.

It makes good sense for everyone to choose foods with reduced salt where possible. If you reduce your salt intake, in time you will develop more sensitive taste-buds so foods that tasted bland before will no longer do so and some high salt foods that tasted good before will taste too salty.

This is good, your taste-buds are being conditioned back to “normal”. In summary, salt is an important part of our diet.

However, we tend to eat too much of it. It is wise to limit your intake by choosing foods of reduced salt intake where possible. Have your blood pressure checked regularly. If it’s creeping up with age, talk to your doctor and discuss the possible benefits of reducing your overall salt intake in your particular case.

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