The World Health Organization recommends limiting your salt intake to 5 g per day. (1) The goal is to reduce high blood pressure and develop cardiovascular disease, stone formation, and other health problems in adults.
Although many people try to control their sodium intake by adding just a tiny pinch of salt to the foods on their plate, that figure is more than twice the recommended amount of salt per day.
Why is this happening? The problem lies in the high sodium content in ultra-processed foods. According to the CDC, 70% of your sodium, each day comes from canned foods, crackers, potato chips, and other foods with “hidden salt.” Only 5% of dietary sodium is added to the table. (4)
Our body needs sodium.
While eating a lot of salt is wrong, it is also true that our body needs salt to perform its functions. The key to staying healthy is finding the right amount of salt.
The sodium contained in salt is an electrolyte and an essential component of metabolism. The body needs to transmit nerve impulses, contract muscles, regulate pH levels, and maintain proper tissue water levels.
As a reference, 5 g of table salt is equivalent to approximately 2 g of sodium, more than enough for the body.
In any case, in the case of sodium, there is usually a significant excess of the nutrient, and approximately 70% of the sodium comes from ready-to-eat foods. (2) This is why nutritionists have raised the alarm about hidden salt in food.
Which salt is better?
No salt can be considered much more helpful than another: white table salt, sea salt, or pink Himalayan salt are the same substance and contain 97-99% sodium chloride. The content of other nutrients is in hundredths of a percentage.
As an exception, a more practical type of table salt is iodized. Remember that iodine is essential for functioning the body’s hormonal and immune systems. The lack of iodine in the diet is common in some countries and affects the deterioration of health and even weight gain (through the alteration of thyroid hormones).
Hidden salt in food
Salt is the oldest and most widespread preservative, so excess sodium cannot be stored. Additionally, salt is often used as a flavor enhancer with MSG. Here are examples of foods with hidden salt:
- Bread and cookies
In baked goods, salt helps baked goods hold their shape. In many cases, sodium bicarbonate is also used to elevate bread, and although it is not salt, it contributes sodium to the diet. The daily requirement of sodium (5 g of salt) is contained in 300 g of bread and bakery products.
100 g of canned tuna or other fish contains 1 to 3 g of salt, in salty caviar, up to 5-14 g. As for cans of vegetables: in 100 g of canned corn, 400 mg of sodium, peas – 360 mg, green beans – 560 mg. The salt content in cucumber brine reaches 5 g per 100 g in tomato sauce is about 8 g.
- Sausages and cold cuts
The salt content in sausages, ham, and other cold cuts is very high. We often do not see the amount indicated on the label. However, it is an essential source of hidden salt. Just 200 grams of these products can supply the amount of salt you need per day.
Let us also remember that the World Health Organization recommends eliminating ham, hot dogs, and hot dogs from the diet, limiting the total consumption of red meat to 350 g per week. This is because they have been shown to increase the risk of cancer. (3)
- Cheese and dairy products
The amount of salt in cheese varies depending on its type. Values range from 470 to 1400 mg sodium / 100 g. The cheeses with the highest salt content are Parmesan, Suluguni, Sandwich, Cheddar, Roquefort, and other blue cheeses. High sodium content is typical even for those dairy products classified as light, for example, cottage cheese.
- Butter and bacon
Raw pork products usually contain more salt than many foods. In short, they are high in saturated fat and the possible presence of helminths. In salted products for preservation, the ratio of lard to table salt is at least 10 to 1, which is 7-8% in the final product.
- Ketchup, sauces, and condiments
In terms of salt and sugar content, most commercially prepared sauces, condiments, and spices can compete for the top spots on the hidden salt podium.
Besides the salt itself, most of them contain additional sodium in monosodium glutamate (flavor enhancer E621). A tablespoon of tomato sauce has more than 150 mg of sodium, in aioli sauce – 437 mg, and in soy sauce – 879 mg of sodium.
- Breakfast cereals
Breakfast cereals ready-to-eat foods are another group with an excess of hidden sodium. For example, 100 g of corn flakes contains 660 to 730 mg of sodium, and a granola serving contains 365 mg. Read the labels carefully if you’re looking for healthy, unsalted breakfast items.
What is the harm of excess salt?
A diet rich in sodium is one of the risk factors for high blood pressure. Salt retains fluid in the body, which increases blood volume and puts additional pressure on the walls of the circulatory system.
Over time, high blood pressure can damage the heart, kidneys, brain, and organs, even vision. Lack of proper treatment can lead to the development of heart and kidney failure, blindness, stroke, and heart attack.
High-salt diets have also been linked to obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.
How can I reduce my sodium intake?
To reduce your salt intake, one way to limit or eliminate foods high in hidden salts such as fast food, ultra-processed foods, and instant foods. Some ways to reduce your table salt intake:
- Replace salt in the kitchen with natural spices
- Replacement of canned vegetables for fresh or frozen.
- Refusal to buy prepared meat products
- Make your sauces
- Substitute whole grains for instant cereals.
- People with high blood pressure may consider switching to a DASH diet. This flexible and balanced meal plan focuses on foods low in saturated fat and sodium.
On average, people consume 2 to 3 times more salt than the body needs, which means many health problems. Studies show that most sodium is consumed not directly by its addition but hidden in certain foods. Even moderate salt restriction can lead to a significant drop in blood pressure at four weeks.