It’s not only our cardiovascular system that is affected when we consume the salt. Our immune system takes a beating, too. In fact, it has been suggested that a sodium-affected immune system could be the root cause behind blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, according to Dr. Brent Egan, an internist and vice president of cardiovascular health at the American Medical Association.
[Image = The Seattle Times]
“Many of our cells in the body, including our immune system, have sodium channels,” he explained. “When we eat more salt, more of that sodium gets inside our cells and it affects our immune system,” he said.
That’s not all the health trouble that an excessive salt intake can affect you. You could also be increasing your risk of kidney disease, osteoporosis, and stomach cancer, said Chia. If you already suffer from chronic kidney disease, “high sodium intakes of more than 4,600mg a day” can cause the disease to worsen, she said.
Will drinking lots of water cancel out a high-salt intake?
You open a bag of salted egg yolk potato chips and settle down for a Netflix series. Before you notice, the bag is empty, and you are thirsty. At this point, you’re probably thinking: Drinking lots of water can’t be a bad idea. You’ve always been told to hydrate, and the extra water would flush out the excess salt, right?
To some extent, yes, said Chia. “It is important to have sufficient water in our diet but having extra water does not mean that your kidneys will flush out all the excessive sodium eaten,” she said. Instead, the excess sodium retained in your blood will make your body hold on to even more fluid – and in turn, increase your blood pressure.
The next thing you might notice is the bloated, puffy feeling caused by the water retention. That’s because your kidneys are constantly striving to maintain a specific sodium-to-water ratio in your body, according to Healthline. When you’ve consumed extra sodium, your kidneys would naturally hold on to extra water to match the additional sodium – leading to a swollen belly, hands, feet, and ankles.
So instead of a “water parade” after crunching through a bad of chips, you might be better off eating bananas, dried apricot, or other potassium-rich food. Other than sodium, potassium is another nutrient known to play a role in maintaining your body’s fluid balance, according to Healthline.
Furthermore, research showed that for “every 1,000mg increase of potassium, there was an 18-per-cent lower risk of cardiovascular disease”, said Chia. As a gauge, a medium banana contains more than 400mg of potassium; half a cup of dried apricot has more than 750mg of potassium.
[Image = CNA Lifestyle]
Spot the hidden sodium
Some foods may appear wholesome but are wolves in low-sodium clothing. Here’s a look at some of these examples:
- Plant-based protein patty
- 370mg to 390mg of sodium per patty
“This should be limited to once a week. Plant-based protein patties can also be high in saturated fat,” said Jaclyn Reutens, a clinical and sports dietitian and the founder of Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants. If you’re vegetarian, you’re better off opting for natural foods such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, he said.
- Pink Himalayan salt
- 1,500mg to 1,940mg of sodium per tsp
This expensive salt has always been regarded as healthier than regular salt. But is it really? It is mined from the Himalayas in Pakistan and gets its color from the up to 84 trace minerals found in it. However, it is still largely sodium chloride (up to 98%, according to Medical News Today) – the very stuff that regular salt is made of. In fact, the fancy salt contains just slightly less sodium chloride than the normal variety, so you should still use it judiciously, said Reutens.
How to cut down on salt?
Avoiding processed food, frozen meals and anything canned would help a lot in reducing your sodium intake. Take a can of chicken noodle soup, for instance. Just one 305g tin can contain over 2,000mg of sodium, which is basically your entire day’s allowance. A single slice of frozen pizza may have up to 750mg of sodium – and nobody stops at just one slice.
Speaking of serving size, it pays to read the nutrition label carefully. For example, the frozen chicken nuggets you pick up may read 480mg of sodium per serving on the packaging. But if you look carefully, a serving could refer to just four pieces.
Another tip is to opt for foods labeled as “low sodium”. For any item to earn that label, it should “contain less than or the equal of 120mg sodium per 100g”, said Reutens.
When cooking, try to use less salt and pre-made sauces. Instead, use natural herbs and spices such as ginger, coriander, parsley, mushrooms, celery, tomato, vinegar, pepper, chili, mandarin peel, cloves, cinnamon and star anise instead of salt, suggested Chia. “Gradually cut down on your sodium use and your taste buds will adapt to less salty foods.”