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Contrary to popular belief, the average American eats just the right amount of salt. In fact every single population throughout the world, regardless of location, state of development, culture and cuisine, all ingest a similar amount of salt when compared to the U.S. average. It doesn’t matter if people get their salt from packaged or restaurants foods or add it in themselves, the amount stays fairly constant.
Salt, a combination of sodium and chloride, is a nutrient that is essential to life and good health. In fact, aside from water, salt is the most common food ingredient we consume – and that’s no accident. Without salt, the blood in our circulatory system would simply stop flowing and we would quickly die. The sodium portion of salt allows our nerves to transmit their electrical impulses throughout our body and aids in the absorption of nutrients. Salt’s chloride portion is also instrumental in maintaining proper blood pressure.
Like all other essential nutrients, our bodies naturally regulate the proper amount we need to stay healthy. If you eat too much salt, the body simply eliminates it along with all other waste materials. Likewise, any activity resulting in excessive loss of these nutrients, such as exercise, has to be counterbalanced by an increased consumption of salt to make up for this additional loss.
If you don’t get enough salt the body reacts by going into overdrive in order to hold on to the salt it needs. The hormonal system (called the Renin-Angiotensin-Aldosterone System or RAAS) switches on to counter the effects of insufficient salt consumption. In the short run this is just a normal process of the body adjusting, but if low salt levels persist then the consequences for our overall health can be very severe.
According to recent findings from the Institute Of Medicine, consuming less than half the current average can cause harm. Consuming insufficient amounts of salt can lead to the development of Insulin resistance in as little as one week. A persistent low salt diet can lead to diabetes, cardiovascular failure, dehydration, unsteadiness, loss of cognition and death.
The body has an innate ability to know its ideal level of salt consumption by signaling our salt appetite; it is called the “wisdom of the body”. Of course, there may be some individuals who are salt sensitive and who should reduce their salt consumption, but this should be done under a doctor’s supervision in order to make sure that all their health outcomes are improved, not simply blood pressure.