• 30Apr

    Medically reviewed by:

    Hrefna Palsdottir, MS — Written by on June 18, 2017

    Health organizations have been warning us about the dangers of salt for a long time.

    That’s because high salt intake has been claimed to cause a number of health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease.

    However, decades of research have failed to provide convincing evidence to support this (1Trusted Source).

    What’s more, many studies actually show that eating too little salt can be harmful.

    This article takes a detailed look at salt and its health effects.

    What Is Salt?
    Salt is also called sodium chloride (NaCl). It consists of 40% sodium and 60% chloride, by weight.

    Salt is by far the biggest dietary source of sodium, and the words “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably.

    Some varieties of salt may contain trace amounts of calcium, potassium, iron and zinc. Iodine is often added to table salt (2, 3Trusted Source).

    The essential minerals in salt act as important electrolytes in the body. They help with fluid balance, nerve transmission and muscle function.
    Some amount of salt is naturally found in most foods. It’s also frequently added to foods in order to improve flavor.

    Historically, salt was used to preserve food. High amounts can prevent growth of the bacteria that cause food to go bad.

    Salt is harvested in two main ways: from salt mines and by evaporating sea water or other mineral-rich water.

    There are actually many types of salt available. Common varieties include plain table salt, Himalayan pink salt and sea salt.

    The different types of salt may vary in taste, texture and color. In the picture above, the one on the left is more coarsely ground. The one on the right is finely ground table salt.

    In case you’re wondering which type is the healthiest, the truth is that they are all quite similar.

    How Does Salt Affect Heart Health?
    Health authorities have been telling us to cut back on sodium for decades. They say you should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, preferably less (4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source, 6).

    This amounts to about one teaspoon, or 6 grams of salt (it is 40% sodium, so multiply sodium grams by 2.5).

    However, about 90% of US adults consume a lot more than that (7Trusted Source).

    Eating too much salt is claimed to raise blood pressure, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

    However, there are some serious doubts about the true benefits of sodium restriction.

    It is true that reducing salt intake can lower blood pressure, especially in people with a medical condition called salt-sensitive hypertension (8Trusted Source).

    But, for healthy individuals, the average reduction is very subtle.
    One study from 2013 found that for individuals with normal blood pressure, restricting salt intake reduced systolic blood pressure by only 2.42 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by only 1.00 mmHg (9Trusted Source).

    That is like going from 130/75 mmHg to 128/74 mmHg. These are not exactly the impressive results you would hope to get from enduring a tasteless diet.
    What’s more, some review studies have found no evidence that limiting salt intake will reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes or death (10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).

    Low Salt Intake Can Be Harmful
    There is some evidence suggesting that a low-salt diet can be downright harmful.

    The negative health effects include:

    • Elevated LDL cholesterol and triglycerides: Salt restriction has been linked to elevated LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides (12Trusted Source).
    • Heart disease: Several studies report that less than 3,000 mg of sodium per day is linked to an increased risk of dying from heart disease (13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source).
    • Heart failure: One analysis found that restricting salt intake increased the risk of dying for people with heart failure. The effect was staggering, with a 160% higher risk of death in individuals who reduced their salt intake (17Trusted Source).
    • Insulin resistance: Some studies have reported that a low-salt diet may increase insulin resistance (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source).
    • Type 2 diabetes: One study found that in type 2 diabetes patients, less sodium was associated with an increased risk of death (22Trusted Source).

    High Salt Intake is Linked to Stomach Cancer
    Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is the fifth most common cancer.  It is the third leading cause of cancer death worldwide, and is responsible for more than 700,000 deaths each year (23Trusted Source).
    Several observational studies associate high-salt diets with an increased risk of stomach cancer (24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source, 26Trusted Source, 27Trusted Source).

    A massive review article from 2012 looked at data from 7 prospective studies, including a total of 268,718 participants (28Trusted Source).  It found that people with high salt intake have a 68% higher risk of stomach cancer, compared to those who have a low intake.

    Exactly how or why this happens is not well understood, but several theories exist:

    • Growth of bacteria: High salt intake may increase the growth of Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that can lead to inflammation and gastric ulcers. This may increase the risk of stomach cancer (29Trusted Source, 30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source).
    • Damage to stomach lining: A diet high in salt may damage and inflame the stomach lining, thus exposing it to carcinogens (25Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source).

    However, keep in mind that these are observational studies. They can not prove that high salt intake causes stomach cancer, only that the two are strongly associated.

    Which Foods Are High in Salt/Sodium?
    Most of the salt in the modern diet comes from restaurant foods or packaged, processed foods.  In fact, it is estimated that about 75% of the salt in the US diet comes from processed food. Only 25% of the intake occurs naturally in foods or is added during cooking or at the table (32Trusted Source).

    Salted snack foods, canned and instant soups, processed meat, pickled foods and soy sauce are examples of high-salt foods.

    There are also some seemingly un-salty foods that actually contain surprisingly high amounts of salt, including bread, cottage cheese and some breakfast cereals.

    If you are trying to cut back, then food labels almost always list the sodium content.

    Should You Eat Less Salt?
    Some health conditions make it necessary to cut back on salt. If your doctor wants you to limit your intake, then definitely continue to do so (8Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source).

    However, if you are a healthy person who eats mostly whole, single ingredient foods, then there is probably no need for you to worry about your salt intake.

    In this case, you can feel free to add salt during cooking or at the table in order to improve flavor.

    Eating extremely high amounts of salt can be harmful, but eating too little may be just as bad for your health (16Trusted Source).

    As is so often the case in nutrition, the optimal intake is somewhere between the two extremes.

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  • 30Apr

    Medically reviewed by:

    Miho Hatanaka, RDN, LD on October 1, 2019 — Written by Jessica Caporuscio, Pharm.D.

    Table salt and sea salt are both useful when preparing food. Manufacturers mine table salt from salt deposits and process it into a fine crystal, whereas sea salt comes from evaporating seawater.

    Many people believe that sea salt is healthier than table salt because it is a natural source of sodium. Manufacturing strips table salt of other nutrients, such as magnesium, calcium, and potassium. However, producers fortify table salt with iodine, which is vital for thyroid hormone production.

    Sodium is an essential nutrient that people get from added salt and processed foods. Doctors recommend limiting salt in the diet because too much sodium can contribute to dehydration and heart disease. High blood pressure is a significant concern.

    In this article, we explore the differences between sea salt and table salt, the health benefits of salt, and which type is healthier. We also discuss how much salt we should have per day.

    Many people perceive sea salt as a healthful alternative to table salt.
    Sea salt comes from evaporating seawater, so it is a natural source of sodium. Table salt comes from mining salt deposits. Manufacturers then process it into a fine crystal that is easy to mix in food.

    Chefs use sea salt in some recipes because of its coarse and crunchy texture. Some people also prefer the stronger taste of sea salt.

    Although people may perceive sea salt to be better for health, it has the same sodium content as table salt. Some people believe that sea salt has less sodium than table salt, but this is a misconception.

    Table salt and most sea salts both contain 40% sodium by weight.
    A teaspoon of table salt has 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium. The crystals of sea salt are larger, so fewer crystals can fit in 1 teaspoon.

    Since less sea salt can fit in the same volume, people may believe sea salt has less sodium than table salt.
    Sea salt comes from a natural source and contains other minerals, including:

    • magnesium
    • calcium
    • potassium

    Table salt does not have these additional nutrients, but it does contain iodine if fortified.

    Sodium is essential for good health, so people should not eliminate it entirely from their diet. The sodium in salt helps to control blood pressure and is necessary for nerve and muscle function. People need to eat salt for normal cell function and to maintain the acid balance of the blood.

    Table salt contains iodine, which is another essential nutrient. People with iodine deficiency can develop goiter and a range of other symptoms. Learn about the signs and symptoms of an iodine deficiency here.

    A lack of iodine can also cause poor growth and cognitive disorders in children. Iodine deficiencies are rare in the United States, since many products, including table salt, contain added iodine.

    However, the risk of low iodine may be higher in Europe and other regions of the world and in people who do not eat dairy, baked goods, or table salt.
    Of the two, only table salt contains iodine, as unprocessed sea salt does not contain iodine.

    As this article stated earlier, although sea salt does not have iodine, it naturally contains magnesium, calcium, potassium, and other nutrients.
    The amount of these minerals found in sea salt are minimal, and people can get them in more significant amounts from other healthful foods.

    Health risks
    Too much salt can contribute to several health conditions, including:

    • high blood pressure
    • heart disease
    • stroke
    • heart attacks

    Despite this fact, people need the correct amount of salt in their diet to maintain good health.

    According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the average amount of sodium in the American diet is about 3,440 mg per day, which is much too high. The American Health Association (AHA) recommend eating less than half of this quantity, or 1,500 mg per day.

    When people reduce the amount of sodium in their diet, they reduce their risk of developing heart disease and high blood pressure. Countries in the World Health Organization (WHO) have agreed to help reduce the global population’s sodium intake by 30% by 2025.

    The majority of salt people eat does not come from adding salt to their home cooked meals, however. Instead, the AHA state that more than 75% of the sodium in people’s diets comes from processed foods.

    In addition to processed and packaged foods, people should be aware of the high salt content in poultry, cheese, and bread.

    Manufacturers may include additives in table salt to prevent clumping. These additives are called anticaking agents and may include:

    • potassium ferrocyanide
    • calcium silicate
    • silicon dioxide
    • yellow prussiate of soda
    • iron ammonium citrate

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have said these additives are safe to use in salt to prevent clumping.

    The AHA recommend that people should aim to reduce their salt intake to less than 1,500 mg per day.

    The Dietary Guidelines for people in the U.S., however, suggest limiting sodium in the diet to less than 2,300 mg per day for adults and children over 14 years old.

    The maximum amount of sodium children under 14 years old should have depends on their sex and age.

    Just because sea salt is natural, does not mean it is better for people’s health. Many people believe that sea salt is a healthful alternative to table salt, but eating too much of any salt is harmful.

    People do need to include an appropriate amount of sodium in their diet, however. Eliminating salt can cause harmful mineral imbalances in the blood and can affect thyroid function.

    Sea salt comes from a natural source and contains other minerals, but it does not contain iodine. Choosing nonionized sea salt can put people at risk of iodine deficiency, and so they must seek other sources of iodine in their diets.

    One type of salt may not be more healthful than another so people can choose their preferred salt, depending on taste and texture.

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