23 Ways salt is making you sick

BY Wendy Glauser

7th Nov 2018 Wellbeing

6 min read

23 Ways salt is making you sick
Salt is much more than just a seasoning: it's essential for our bodily functions. But it can also be detrimental to our health when we go overboard
By Wendy Glauser

1. Salt wreaks havoc on your blood pressure

If you’re the type to regularly tuck into a bag of crisps, it’s worth reconsidering the habit. Too much sodium isn’t good for anyone, but for people who have hypertension, salt—a sodium compound—is especially dangerous. Sodium leads to small spikes in blood pressure for people who don’t already have hypertension and large spikes in people who do, according to a 2017 review of 185 studies from Europe, Canada and the US.
Hypertension is the key driver of a number of cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks, strokes and coronary artery disease.

2. Many restaurant meals pack the amount of salt you should have in an entire day…

stop salt.jpg
A 2013 survey published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health examined 20 sit-down and 65 fast-food restaurants across Canada and found that the average dish contained 1,455mg of sodium.

3. …and a fancy sit-down meal may be even worse than a fast-food one

The same study found that 40 per cent of sit-down restaurant menu items packed at least 1,500mg of sodium (versus 18 per cent of fast-food menu items). The saltiest meal options? Wraps, sandwiches, ribs and pastas that contained meat or seafood.

4. 1,300 mg

...of sodium is essential for contracting and relaxing muscles, transmitting nerve signals and maintaining adequate fluid levels, but we don’t need much of it for these important functions. Health Canada’s recommended sodium intake for people aged 51 to 70 is 1,300mg a day; and 1,000mg per day for those over 70.

5. Cutting back could have an even greater effect depending on your background

The studies in the 2017 review mostly relied on white participants; the authors noted that the few studies with Asian and Black participants suggest salt reductions have an even more significant blood pressure–lowering effect in these populations. This is believed to be due to genetic differences in how the body processes salt.

6. There’s no way to tell how much salt is in your dish

In 2016, Ontario became the first province in Canada to require chain restaurants to list calories on their menus. Those pushing for the move asked that sodium be labelled, but the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care decided against it. (Critics claimed that decision was a concession to the restaurant industry.) Government proposals put forward by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt in June 2018 could see restaurants in the UK displaying full calorie information in the near future.

7. “Healthy” options can be just as dangerous

deceptive salt.jpg
Even seemingly nutritious foods can pack a salty punch. Half a cup of canned tomatoes can contain 400mg of salt. A cup of bran cereal can contain about 240mg of sodium. And just three ounces (85g) of smoked salmon can have more than 660mg. To reduce sodium, try to eat foods in their freshest form possible, and be sure to check the sodium levels noted on the label.

8. It may lead to weight gain

In 2015, scientists at Queen Mary University in London found evidence that suggested a link between sodium and obesity. By measuring sodium levels in more than 1,200 study participants’ urine and recording their food intake over a four-day period, they found that those with high salt levels were more likely to be overweight, even if they weren’t eating more calories than the low- salt group.

9. Salt increases your risk of kidney stones

It’s not clear why, but sodium likes to grab on to calcium before it’s flushed out of the body through urine. The extra urinary calcium can form into crystals and eventually lead to kidney stones. According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Urology, women whose diets were high in sodium were between 11 and 61 per cent more likely to develop the painful condition. Another small study found that a low-salt diet reduced urinary calcium in both men and women who were prone to kidney stones.

10. Salt can hurt your sleep…

can't sleep.jpg
If you find yourself making frequent nighttime bathroom trips, salt could be the culprit. A 2017 European study found that men over 60 who reduced their salt intake by 25 per cent decreased the number of times they got up to urinate in the night, from 2.3 to 1.4 times, on average.

11. …and you likely don’t even know you’re eating it

Often, we don’t taste sodium because it’s so diffused in our food. For example, a single croissant contains 424mg, while eggs Benedict can pack a whopping 2,015mg. Why is salt there in the first place? For starters, it’s a preservative. Also, it acts as a fermenting agent in breads and causes food to retain water—for products sold by weight, more liquid means more profit.

12. It increases your risk of heart failure

A 2017 Finnish study that followed more than 4,600 people over 12 years found that those who had the highest salt levels in their urine at the start were more than twice as likely to suffer heart failure than those who had the lowest levels. The increased risk was found even in salt lovers who didn’t have high blood pressure.

13. Kids are overloading

According to Health Canada, 77 per cent of children ages one to three and 93 per cent of kids ages four to eight are exceeding the recommended daily sodium intake.

14. Salt hides away in processed foods…

According to Health Canada, 77 per cent of our sodium intake comes from processed and fast foods. Here are some of the biggest offenders:
  • Chicken noodle soup: 1,613mg/can
  • Meat-heavy takeout pizza: 693mg/one slice (that’s more than 2,000mg per three slices!)
  • Creamy cucumber salad dressing: 131mg/one tbsp
  • Store-bought bakery bread: 240mg of sodium per 50g serving

15. Your potassium deficit is a liability

Like sodium, potassium is an important mineral in the body. While excess sodium increases blood pressure, potassium eases tension in blood vessel walls and helps keep blood pressure in check. The mineral also aids in sodium excretion so that excess salt doesn’t stick around and cause problems, says Dr Suzanne Oparil, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Blood tests ordered by your doctor can confirm if you’re low on potassium, but so long as you’re eating your fruits and vegetables, you shouldn’t have to worry. High sources of potassium include white beans, spinach, banana, avocado, sweet potato and yogurt.

16. You’re falling for fake news

Both the food industry and the salt industry fund research on dietary sodium. “Their interests will often fund the low-quality evidence,” says Dr Norm Campbell, a sodium and hypertension expert at the University of Calgary’s Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta. “And even when they haven’t funded it, they will market the low-quality evidence, increasing its visibility.”

17. Reduced intake will save lives

If individuals were able to reduce their salt intake as recommended, it would substantially reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

18. If you happen to be “salt-sensitive”, sodium is especially harmful

Some people’s bodies are less efficient at flushing out excess salt, and it’s estimated that more than a third of us are affected by the mineral in this way. If you get bloated after salty meals, it’s a sign of salt sensitivity, says Dr Oparil. If hypertension runs in your family, you’re also more likely to be salt-sensitive.

19. Sodium is also particularly damaging if you’re over 50, overweight or have diabetes

Studies show that sodium causes blood pressure to increase more later in life. “As we get older, we become more sensitive to salt,” says Campbell, explaining that the aging body simply isn’t as efficient at flushing out sodium. Blood pressure spikes after eating sodium-rich meals are also dramatic in people who are overweight and people who have diabetes, though scientists aren’t clear on why.

20. Sea salts and rock salts aren’t better than table salt

The fancier products have trace amounts of minerals, like iron and potassium, which are destroyed in the processing of table salt. But, according to Dietitians of Canada, the nutritional value of sea and rock salts is so insignificant that switching to more expensive seasonings won’t positively affect your health. All salts contain the same amount of sodium by weight.

21. It increases your risk of cancer

The incidences of stomach cancer cases that the World Cancer Research Fund determined could be avoided in the UK each year if people kept salt intake to less than 2,400mg per day.

22. You’re probably hooked on salt

When our diets are high in sodium, we find low-sodium foods bland. The good news? It only takes about six weeks for our taste buds to adapt to lower-salt foods, says Dr Campbell. Stick with a lower-sodium diet, and you soon won’t miss the salt.

23. “Reduced sodium” doesn’t mean healthy

If the original product is way too high in sodium, a 25 per cent reduction could still leave you with a product that’s too salty. To be sure a food is actually low in sodium, read the nutrition label. Avoid products that contain 15 per cent or more of the recommended daily intake of sodium per serving.
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter