Does Salt Matter Your Heart Health?
By Ng Peng Hock
We add salt into our food to make it tasty. Occasionally, we also put salt into our mouth if we have ulcer because it can make the ulcer healed faster. In older time when we do not have refrigerator, salt was used to preserve our food for longer period of time.
Salt, also known as sodium chloride, is a mineral that is needed by our body everyday. Our body requires a certain amount of salt to regulate our blood circulation and balance the tissue fluids which transport oxygen and nutrients to various parts of our body. Salt also helps the electrical charges to move in and out of our cells, allowing our body to control tactile processes like taste and smell. It is also essential for the contraction of muscle, particularly the heart muscle.
It seems that salt is one thing that we cannot live without. However, our body needs only 1 teaspoonful or 6g of salt daily while the amount consumed by most people is well above the minimum required level. The excessive salt will harm our body in the long run.
For example, high intake of salt can cause the body to retain excessive water which will raise the blood volume. This ultimately will lead to hypertension, a risk factor for heart disease. The additional strain on the heart because of a larger volume of fluid passing through it is also likely to increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
Although excessive amount of salt can be removed from the body through kidneys into urine, water retention will actually create problem to kidney later on. Excessive salt intake will increase the amount of calcium excreted in the urine which will bring about osteoporosis and increased risk of fractures. Research also showed that chances of stomach cancer will be higher because excessive salt induces atrophic gastritis which is a symptom of the cancer.
Only fresh and unprocessed food contains little or no sodium at all. 75 percent of our salt consumption is actually hidden in processed food.
In order to assess salt content of groceries, one should look for amount of salt or sodium per 100g. Too much salt is expected if there is more than 1.25g salt per 100g or more than 0.5g sodium per 100g. Food that has between 0.25g and 1.25g of salt (or between 0.1g and 0.5g of sodium) per 100g is acceptable. The best is to get those with labels that read "no salt added".
However, it may be difficult to know the amount of salt that is added in foods found in cafes, restaurants, eating houses, fast foods stalls, etc. It thus makes sense that one should consider eating more food that is prepared at home where the amount of salt added into the food can be controlled.
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