Salt - really so harmful?
Salt used to be known as "white gold". People even used it as a means of payment. Even today, it's hard to imagine our kitchens without salt. But is it really as harmful as is often claimed? Find out everything you need to know about salt and how it affects high blood pressure and exercise in our new blog post.
What is actually meant by salt?
Cooking salt consists of sodium chloride (NaCl). In the body, this compound dissolves into sodium and chloride. 1 g of sodium chloride consists of 0.4 g of sodium and 0.6 g of chloride. Sodium is primarily responsible for the fluid balance and the stimulus transmission of muscle and nerve cells. Salt is also a component of digestive juices. Together with sodium, chloride regulates the osmotic balance between the inside and outside of the cells. Both minerals are therefore essential for the body. But it's the quantity that counts!
Salt can be obtained from various sources. Most of the world's salt production comes from rock salt, the rest from sea salt and so-called boiling salts. Salt is therefore extracted from underground salt deposits, from the sea or from natural brine deposits. In terms of nutritional physiology, however, there are no significant differences between the individual types of salt, as most types of salt consist of around 98% sodium chloride. However, the remaining two per cent and the origin of the salt influence the flavour.In Germany, table salt is often enriched with iodine, fluoride or folic acid. As people in Germany are often not sufficiently supplied with iodine, it makes sense to use iodised salt.
Salt in food production
Salt is an important ingredient in food production. It not only adds flavour, but also improves shelf life. As salt binds water, it deprives microorganisms of their basis for life and is therefore a preservative in certain quantities. In addition, table salt has a positive effect on the texture of products. It is therefore indispensable for the production of meat and sausage products, cheese and bread. This also explains why animal-based foods in particular contain a lot of salt. With bread, you should make sure that only 1 g of table salt is added per 100 g.Salt is also said to enhance the sweet flavour, which is why a pinch is added to many dessert or cake recipes. However, it is not yet known exactly how the mechanism behind this works.
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How much salt is healthy?
In order for our bodies to function properly, a daily salt intake of around 1.4 g is probably enough. The German Nutrition Society recommends a salt intake of 6 g/day, whereas the WHO only recommends 5 g. A study by the Robert Koch Institute found that in Germany 75% of men and almost 70% of women eat more than the 6 g of salt recommended by the DGE every day, with men consuming an average of 10 g of salt per day and women 8.4 g. Various studies show that excessive salt intake can favour diseases such as high blood pressure.Did you know? Calculated per kilogramme of body weight, salt is even more harmful than alcohol. While 4-6 g per kg body weight of alcohol leads to death, with table salt it is only 1-2 g per kg body weight.
Does salt favour high blood pressure?
In Germany, high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is a widespread disease. Around 30 million people in Germany suffer from high blood pressure, and the number of unreported cases is high. High blood pressure is defined as a value of 140 / 90 mm Hg and above; a normal value is around 120 / 80 mm Hg. In the long term, high blood pressure damages the blood vessels and can lead to secondary diseases such as stroke and heart attack later in life.
Whether salt leads to high blood pressure is not 100% certain. This is because high blood pressure is caused by various factors. In particular, hereditary factors, too little exercise, obesity, an unhealthy diet and stress favour the disease. One thing is certain: too much salt intake can favour high blood pressure. One study shows that a salt intake of more than 5 g/day is associated with cardiovascular disease and strokes. It is also known that high blood pressure patients are particularly sensitive to salt. If table salt is reduced in the diet, blood pressure can be lowered.However, it should also be noted that everyone reacts differently to salt. There are people whose blood pressure rises as a result of salt in their food, but there are also people for whom there is hardly any effect (salt-resistant). Around a third of all people are salt-sensitive. Those affected react strongly to table salt and cannot excrete excess salt as effectively as salt-resistant people. This leads to an increase in blood pressure. Around 50% of people with high blood pressure are salt-sensitive. Salt-sensitive people therefore benefit from eating less salt.However, a strict low-salt diet can also jeopardise the health of high blood pressure patients. This is shown by a study at the University of Glasgow with over 130,000 participants. The risk of cardiovascular disease in hypertensive patients was higher if they consumed less than 3 g or more than 7 g of salt per day. In addition, a low-salt diet is said to increase the release of stress hormones into the bloodstream.Where is a particularly high salt content?
It's not the salt shaker that's the culprit, but convenience products and fast food. This is because processed products contain high amounts of table salt. Around 80% of our daily salt intake comes from convenience products. For example, a frozen pizza with salami already contains the recommended daily intake of 6 g of salt.In contrast to Germany, there are already initiatives in other European countries to reduce salt consumption among the population. Germany also wants to significantly reduce the salt content in ready-made products in future.Salt consumption and sport
When exercising, the body loses a significant amount of salt through sweat, almost 4 grams in one hour during a strenuous workout. This corresponds to a sodium loss of 1500 mg (for comparison: this corresponds to the adequate intake of an adult per day). Adequate sodium intake both before and after exercise is therefore essential for the body and can delay exhaustion during exercise. As other minerals are also lost through sweat, we recommend our Sport Essentials.
Adequate salt intake is particularly important for endurance athletes in addition to fluid intake, as the body cannot absorb water into the cells without sodium. This leads to so-called water intoxication. In addition, the salt content in the blood drops sharply, headaches and dizziness, up to seizures, fainting and even death can be the result. Read our blog post on this: Can drinking too much water be harmful?. When exercising, you should make sure that your water contains 400-800 milligrams of sodium per litre. Note that you can absorb sodium not only by eating salt; foods such as fruit and vegetables also contain sodium.Sodium also keeps our body in a hydrated state by increasing blood volume. This allows more oxygen and nutrients to reach the muscle and waste products are removed more quickly.