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Why do we need salt?
Salt enables our bodies to perform a variety of essential functions. It is the sodium in salt that is so important, because it helps maintain the fluid in our blood cells and generate and transmit electrical impulses in our nerves and muscles.

 

What happens to my body if I consume too little salt? Would I have any symptoms?
Without salt, our bodies cannot function. Sodium depletion is usually associated with dehydration as, when we overheat, we lose water and salt through sweat. Failure to replenish the salt can be harmful. Symptoms of insufficient intake can range from muscular weakness, cramps and heat exhaustion to – in extreme cases – death.

 

How would I know if I was consuming too much salt?
If you are healthy, it is unlikely that you will consume too much salt on a normal western diet. However, even in the long term, there has been no proof that consuming too much salt has an adverse effect on the well-being of generally healthy people.

 

How can I make sure I get sufficient salt through what I eat?
By eating a balanced diet – see the balanced diet section in another part of this website.

 

Why are we being urged to reduce the amount of salt in our diet?
A reduction in salt intake for people suffering from high blood pressure is an accepted part of an overall medical treatment for many suffering from the problem. However, for the vast majority of the population who do not suffer from high blood pressure there is no conclusive evidence that a low salt diet prevents the problem arising. Research has shown that any ‘average’ reduction in blood pressure is miniscule and there may be large individual fluctuations (up or down) within this average. The government is following the ‘precautionary principle’ when urging us to reduce salt intake, but this may have its own risks because reducing sodium intake could in itself be harmful for some population groups such as pregnant women and senior citizens.

 

Why is there salt in processed foods?
Salt has several essential functions including preserving food enhancing its flavour. As salt has always been in our diets, we are accustomed to its taste and would find such products as bread and pasta unpalatable without it.

 

Does a salty diet give us high blood pressure?
There is no evidence that salt causes high blood pressure. Cutting back on salt will make little difference to the blood pressure of a healthy person whose kidneys excrete any excess salt from the body. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is triggered by a variety of factors. It is often a hereditary condition, or is triggered by a poor lifestyle, particularly obesity, a lack of exercise and excessive alcohol consumption.

 

Can we prevent high blood pressure by cutting cut back on salt?
If you already have high blood pressure, cutting back on salt may help the situation. However, other lifestyle changes, such as improving your diet, exercise and cutting back on alcohol consumption are far more efficient options. For most of us with normal blood pressure – and particularly such sectors of society as senior citizens and pregnant women – lowering salt intake could actually harm your health. Look at the relevant sections of this website for more details.

 

Would a GP (General practitioner) ever advise a patient to cut down on salt for reasons other than high blood pressure?
No advice on an essential nutrient like salt in the diet should be handed out without carefully monitoring both the anticipated beneficial effect and the possible adverse effects.

The only other group who may benefit from a low salt diet is those whose kidneys are unable to excrete salt because of severe kidney disease. Such individuals should already be under the supervision of a renal specialist. Occasionally, individuals suffer water retention associated with menstruation or other hormonal change. Low salt diets may help some but there is a strong case for finding and correcting the underlying problem.