How Much Salt Should You Really Be Eating?
I love salt. So very much. I’m not a sweet person at all, but I will eat salty, sour, or spicy stuff all day long. I’m that person who only eats fruit if it has salt on it. And the person who needs a impartial taste-tester when I’m cooking because my taste buds are always like, NEEDS MORE SALT. Maybe they’re broken? I don’t know. So I’m 99% sure that I eat waaaaaaaaay too much salt on a daily basis. But I’m healthy, I have chronically low blood pressure, and I drink a ton of water, so I don’t pay it much mind. Sodium is one of those things that most of us eat too much of on a daily basis. But how much salt is too much? How much salt should you eat everyday? As it turns out, it’s complicated.
Before we get into the details, it’s important to differentiate between salt and sodium.
Most dietary recommendations address sodium intake, not salt. Guidelines vary wildly, with experts recommending you aim for less than 1500 mg of sodium, and not more than 2300 mg on a daily basis. But salt as we use it is made up of sodium AND chloride. Only 40% of the weight of salt actually contains sodium. So when you’re talking about how much salt you should be eating, it’s about two and a half times more salt than sodium. On the low end of the scale, 1500 mg of sodium equals roughly 3.75 grams of salt. On the high end, you’re looking at about 6 grams of salt to stay under 2300 mg of sodium. That’s … not an insignificant amount of salt. But the problem is, the majority of Americans eat way more sodium than is recommended, with most of it coming from processed foods.
So how much salt should you eat everyday? And more importantly, how much sodium?
This is where it gets a little complicated. Our bodies need sodium to function. It makes so much happen, from keeping fluids in balance to helping with muscular contraction. Bottom line, it’s vital. But we’ve heard over and over again that too much sodium can have adverse effects on our health. Sodium binds water in our system, so the more sodium you consume, the more water it binds. That can, in theory, raise your blood pressure. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for a lot of really bad stuff like heart disease and stroke. So for people with high blood pressure, the thinking is that by limiting your sodium intake, you’re doing yourself a major solid.
Reducing sodium can lower your blood pressure, but the change isn’t as pronounced as we’ve been led to believe. Several studies have shown that reducing sodium intake in individuals with high blood pressure lowers the systolic reading by about 5.39 mm, and lowers the diastolic reading by about 2.42 mm, on average. In individuals with normal BP, the change is even less drastic, with a reduction of about 2.42 mm systolic and 1 mm diastolic. These are averages, too, so some people saw more changes, while others saw none at all. High blood pressure itself isn’t a disease, but it is a risk factor for disease. Other studies have shown that by focusing on blood pressure alone, individuals did not lower their risk of DISEASE by any measurable statistical amount.
We focus a lot on sodium. But there are so many other factors that are more important. How much salt should you eat everyday? If you’re considering these other areas, it doesn’t necessarily matter!
You can drastically reduce your sodium intake by eliminating or cutting way back on processed foods. Remember: salt is sodium and chloride, and you can still salt your foods like a mad person! But if your doctor has told you to cut back on sodium for whatever reason, processed foods is the first place to start. Exercise has also been shown to reduce your blood pressure significantly. Finally, low-carb diets lower insulin levels, which forces your kidneys to excrete excess sodium in your body. Consider a low-carb diet like Keto if you need to drop that BP.
How much salt should you eat everyday? If you’re generally healthy and active, you really have no reason to be concerned with it. Eat real foods, exercise, and use salt as necessary.
(Image: iStock / YelenaYemchuk)