The effects of salt on health

Salt enhances the flavour of foods, but eating too much of it can have harmful effects on health.

Salt: an essential element

The substance we commonly refer to as table salt is actually called sodium chloride. Sodium is a mineral element that is widespread in nature and in the human body. It is crucial to the normal functioning of the human organism, which must receive a modest amount each day through diet.

It is estimated that Canadians consume roughly 3 400 mg of sodium a day, on average. This represents more than double the daily requirement. After age one, the recommended sodium intake varies between 1 000 to 1 500 mg a day, depending on age. To reduce the risk of health problems, it is estimated that the daily intake of salt should be below 2 300 mg.

Salt in food

Many people consume too much salt without realizing it, liberally pouring it onto their food. Additionally, a large number of foods sold in Canada contain significant amounts of salt. We need only think of processed, prepackaged or ready-to-eat foods such as cold cuts, chips, crackers, soups, canned vegetables, cheese, and even breakfast cereal!

The nutrition facts table, found on the labels and packaging of the foods you eat, indicates the sodium content per serving. This figure is expressed in milligrams (mg) and as a percentage of the daily value (% DV), according to the reference standard (2 400 mg). For instance, you could discover that a cup (250 ml) of canned chicken noodle soup contains 580 mg of sodium, which is equal to 24% of the daily reference value.

By making it a habit to read the nutrition facts table, you will make healthier and better informed food choices, including your sodium intake.

Too much salt: a threat to your health

Salt is not harmful to health when it is consumed in reasonable amounts. However, too much salt can cause some damage. The harmful effects of salt can be explained in large part by the fact that it retains water, which can be a problem in the presence of certain diseases such as:

It has been shown that overconsumption of salt is linked to an increased risk of cardiac disease (e.g. myocardial infarction) and cerebrovascular accident (CVA or stroke). It is also believed that it could promote the development or worsening of certain other diseases such as osteoporosis, asthma, and stomach cancer.

A low-sodium diet

Everyone can benefit from reducing their salt intake. However, some people must follow a low-sodium diet for health reasons. This may very well be the case for people affected by high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes or kidney disease.

Let us take for example, people with high blood pressure. Reducing sodium intake leads to a significant decrease in blood pressure and of the risks of heart disease and stroke. This is why Hypertension Canada recommends a maximum of 2 000 mg of salt per day for these individuals and is in fact one of the first recommendations by doctors.

If you are living with a chronic disease, particularly heart or kidney disease, it is recommended to speak to your doctor about the advantages of a low-sodium diet.

Some advice

The following measures can help to reduce your sodium intake.

  • Avoid putting salt on your food. Taste it first. Choose other ingredients first to enhance taste (e.g. pepper, no-salt spices, fine herbs, and lemon juice).
  • Eat at home more often and less at the restaurant.
  • Eat mostly fresh foods and less processed, prepared or prepackaged foods.
  • Rinse canned foods before eating them (e.g. vegetables, chick peas or lentils).
  • Opt for foods marked “sodium-free”, “reduced sodium”, “low-sodium” or “no salt added.” 

Reducing your salt intake is among the winning strategies for a healthier lifestyle. Speak to your pharmacist for additional information about how to stay healthy through prevention and healthy habits.

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The effects of salt on health

Salt enhances the flavour of foods, but eating too much of it can have harmful effects on health.
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