Sunday, May 23, 2010


But the bottom line is: Many of us use too much salt!

Due to some medical condition I was reading a lot about salt lately, searching the Internet and checking articles in English, German and Hebrew, arriving at a general conclusion of:

1. Salt is very much needed for  healthy body function.

2. Recommendations of daily salt intake vary slightly from country to country.
3. Too much salt causes health problems.
4. The overall human being in countries with rich food culture uses way too much salt.
5. The problem is not only the salt we sprinkle on our food, but the hidden salt in packaged, processed, prepared, pickled and smoked food, in obviously salted food, like potato chips and pretzels, and in junk food.

First of all let's define: What is salt? What is sodium? Is there a difference?  

There is a common misconception that salt and sodium are interchangeable, when there are indeed differences between the two. Sodium is a naturally occurring mineral in food. Table salt (sodium chloride) is a chemical compound of sodium and chloride - 40% sodium, 60% chlorine.
Natrium (sodium) und Chlorid = Kochsalz.
To determine how much salt is in a given amount of sodium we have to multiply by 2.54.
If the given sodium content of a product is for example 500 mg per 100 gram of this product, then this equivalents 500 x 2.54 = 1.27gram of salt, there would be 1.27 gram of salt in 100 gram of this product. 

If we want to know how much sodium is in a given amount of salt we have to divide by 2.54, for example 1.27 gram of salt ./. by 2.54 = 500 mg sodium.

Salt and sodium
1 teaspoonful contains about 6 grams of salt  

6 grams of salt contain about 2,400 mg of sodium (600 mg divided by 2.54 = 2,363 mg sodium)
Each 1/4 teaspoon of salt contains 600 mg of sodium, this is a good tool to use when one is keeping track of daily sodium intake.

To # 1:  Sufficient amounts of intake of sodium is considered essential to life. The human body needs some daily sodium to function properly because it helps maintain the right balance of fluids, transmits nerve impulses (otherwise we would not feel pain for example), and influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles. The kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in the body for optimal health. When the sodium levels are low, the kidneys essentially hold on to the sodium. When sodium levels are high, the kidneys excrete the excess in urine.

To # 2 + # 4:

The recommended daily amount of sodium for adults in America is 2,400 milligrams, but the consumption is much higher than this, up to 10.000 mg.
Canada recommends that adults do not exceed 2,300 mg daily.
Australia recommends somewhat less this amount and so does Britain.

Germany recommends an amount of 2,200 mg daily.
The recommended daily amount in Israel is 2,400 mg.

To # 3:
If for some reason the kidneys can't eliminate enough sodium, the sodium starts to accumulate in the blood. Because sodium attracts and holds water, the blood volume increases. Increased blood volume makes the heart work harder to move more blood through the blood vessels, which increases pressure in the arteries. So a diet high in sodium is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. 
In any case those with high blood pressure, or who have a family history of the disease should opt for a much lower amount of sodium intake.

To # 5:
We should keep in mind that actually about one to two grams of salt daily is sufficient to keep the body function, this would be about 250 to500 mg of sodium. So the recommended 2.400 mg should really be more than enough. And this amount of sodium we easily consume with our normal food intake.  Most of the extra sodium in our diet comes from the salt (sodium chloride) that is added.

Minimize your risk:

Read nutrition labels to make informed food choices (the label will give the amount of sodium per 100 gram of the product)
Choose foods from food groups that are lower in sodium
Choose less prepackaged convenience foods and meals
Choose plenty of fruits and vegetables
Use less processed food
Look for foods with claims such as 'salt-free', 'low in sodium' and 'reduced in sodium'
Order dressings and sauces on the side and use them sparingly while dining out
Prepare foods at home with little or no salt added
Look for low-sodium versions of your favorite foods
Use fresh unprocessed meat
Drain and rinse canned vegetables and beans

Drain canned tuna
Use garlic, onion, black pepper, herbs (fresh and dried), lemon and other spices to add flavor to meals. Many of these herbs and spices contain nutrients that further protect against heart disease. For instance, one fresh clove of garlic each day has been shown to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.
Use homemade chicken or vegetable stock

And most important: Do not add salt at the table!

I started to check labels here in Israel - and I was very surprised how much sodium (natran נתרן) is used in packaged food and how big the difference can be from product to product. You can buy chicken sausage with 500 or 600 mg sodium per 100 gram and also with more then 1000 mg per 100 gram. Pastrami, which we like so much, is very high in sodium. And how about our beloved Pretzels with sesame and rock salt? And the salty 'Begele cham, Begele cham' when you leave at night the opera, theater or concert hall? With one of those you have already half of your daily intake!! And the potato chips? And the fast food french fries (chips)? Have you ever seen how much salt they sprinkle on them? Soy sauce is extremely high in sodium and bottled salad dressings, sauces, dips, ketchup, mustard and relish all contain sodium.

I think we should just be a little bit more aware of the consequences and the health risk of too much sodium intake. We could follow these recommended guidelines to avoid illness:

Identify foods that have a high sodium content.
For example in the UK the level of sodium in food is defined as follows: High is 600 mg of sodium or more, low is 100 mg of sodium or less. If the amount of sodium per 100 gram of the product is in between these figures, then that is a medium level of sodium.
Limit daily sodium intake to between 1,500 and 2,400 milligrams.
Season your food at home with herbs and spices rather than salt.
Remove salt from recipes whenever possible.
Don’t put the saltshaker on your dining table.

Your taste for salt is acquired, so you can learn to enjoy less of it. Decrease your use of salt gradually and your taste buds will adjust. After a few weeks of cutting back on salt, you probably won't miss it, and some foods may even taste too salty. Start by using no more than 1/4 teaspoon of added salt daily, and then gradually reduce it to no added salt at all. As you use less salt, your preference for it diminishes, allowing you to enjoy the taste of the food itself, with heart-healthy benefits.

If you are younger, don’t have high blood pressure, and are generally healthy, eat reasonably, enjoy your meals, and don’t worry too much (yet) about salt intake. But if you are older, or if you have either hypertension or diabetes, take the low-sodium (1,500-2,400 mg) approach to what you eat. Eating salty foods is more habit than nutritional necessity, and habits can be changed—at any age.
The wonderful glazed and so pretty ceramic shakers, which can certainly also be used for spices, like pepper, curry, paprika, etc. are made by Jill from


Dawn of LaTouchables said...

An amazing thing about cutting down on sodium in your diet is, the less you eat, the less you want...this takes some time, but it's true. Also, try to use very good unrefined seasalt, if you can find it. It tastes wonderful, and is worth the higher cost. Jills shakers are gorgeous!

Yael said...

This is very true, I really speak from lately experience - I would sprinkle so much salt on my soft boiled egg for breakfast, so much!! And now I eat it with no salt at all, and I find it very tasty!
There are foods which are still hard for me to eat without any salt, but my taste buds may still learn to adjust.