Exactly how much salt can you safely eat before it ruins your health?
Most people are happy to have salt added to their food and enjoy the added flavour that it brings to their meal times.
But science is now showing us that too much salt (or more accurately sodium) in your diet can cause you serious health problems.
Why do you need salt?
Sodium is critical for maintaining health. It is utilized by the human body for numerous tasks, including:
- Blood and lymphatic fluid
- Needed for our muscles, including the heart
- Correct functioning of our nerves
- Electrolyte, fluid and pH balance within our bodies
So, we certainly need to have sodium in our diet, but how much is too much?
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that you should consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. (1)
While the American Heart Association says:
“For optimal heart-health, the American Heart Association recommends people aim to eat no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. That level is associated with a significant reduction in blood pressure, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.” (2)
So to give you an idea:
- 1/2 teaspoon = 1,150 mg sodium
- 3/4 teaspoon = 1,725 mg sodium
- 1 teaspoon = 2,300 mg sodium
Many people think that if they don’t consume standard table salt that the other so called ‘natural’ alternatives are much healthier for them to consume such as sea salt, for example.
But according to the American Heart Association this is not the case, certainly when it comes to high blood pressure and the sodium you get from these other types of salt still count towards your total daily sodium consumption. (3)
So don’t think that just because you use so called “natural” salt (like sea salt or pink Himalayan salt) that it means it cannot negatively affect your health.
How Much Does The Average American Consume?
Well, on average, Americans eat more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium every day, which is significantly more than both of the recommended daily intakes noted above.
This raises the average American’s risk of suffering from serious health issues and the consumption of too much sodium can not only increase your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension), stroke and heart disease.
Excess sodium can also lead to other health issues, including (4):
- Stomach cancer
- Autoimmune problems
- Edema (water retention)
- Acid reflux
Excess Sodium Can Damage Your Arteries Too!
There have been studies done that have looked at the impact of sodium consumption on human arterial health, which of course are vital to the proper functioning of our hearts and indeed our body’s’ entire circulatory system.
One such study looked at reducing sodium intake by just ½ a teaspoon per day to 6 grams from the usual 9 grams. A significant improvement in artery function was discovered after just 2 days of eating this lower level of sodium. (5)
Another study looked at these people to see if their sodium intake negatively affected their artery function even when their blood pressure did not increase.
They found that indeed their artery function was significantly impaired by their sodium intake independent of their blood pressure and that the harm to their arteries happened within just minutes of them consuming salt. (6)
So … How Much Salt?
It’s worth noting that for the large majority of human evolution, we most likely ate the equivalent of one quarter of a teaspoon worth of salt a day, so that works out at about 575 mg of sodium as we ate mostly plants in our diet and were certainly not using salt shakers back then. (7)
It’s good to know that you’re absolutely safe with eating an abundance of whole, unprocessed plant foods that are rich in sodium, knowing that you can never consume too much.
Here is just a small list of whole plant foods that contain good amounts of sodium:
- Coconut water
- Honeydew Melon
- Swiss Chard
So the bottom line is that adding less salt to your meals is a very good idea and ideally for optimal health you should be getting the sodium that your body needs from the whole foods that you eat.
Yulia Tarbath is a Certified Nutritionist at Rawsomehealthy, author, parent and international speaker with nearly 8 years of experience on a raw foods, vegan lifestyle. With over 60,000 followers around the world, Yulia and her husband Paul are authorities on living a balanced, nutritionally sufficient plant-based lifestyle. Through their videos, blogs, coaching and online programs, they are supporting both women and men around the world in cleansing and healing their bodies naturally, as well as achieving the shape and health of their dreams. Sign up to their FREE 5-day raw food menu plan here.
- Delahaye F. Should we eat less salt? Arch Cardiovasc Dis . 2013; 106(5):324-32.