How much salt per day?
Did you know that salt used to be so expensive that it was used as a medium of exchange? Our word “salary” comes from the Roman word for “salt,” because Roman legionaries were paid in part in this precious mineral. Today, however, we are dealing with an abundance of salt. Many people take too much of it, which is a major cause of cardiovascular disease. How much salt per day do you need to stay healthy? What contains salt? And should you eat more salt if you exercise intensively?
What is salt and what do we need it for?
The “official” name for salt is sodium chloride. Table salt consists of approximately 40% sodium and 60% chloride.
Sodium is an important mineral that regulates the moisture balance in our body. In addition, it also regulates blood pressure and is necessary for the proper functioning of the muscle and nerve cells. A shortage of these causes complaints such as nausea, headaches, confusion and even epileptic seizures. So we really can’t live without it!
The absorption takes place in the small and large intestines. Your body then regulates the amount you need. When you eat a little too much salt, your kidneys filter it and you excrete it in your urine. In addition, you lose a lot of salt by sweating.
There are, however, limits to how much your body can adjust. A constant surplus is therefore certainly not healthy.
How much salt per day?
There is no minimum recommended amount in the Netherlands. The International Institute of Medicine does recommend a minimum intake of 1.5 grams of sodium per day for adults, which is equivalent to 3.75 grams of salt. This amount is sufficient to make up for the loss through your urine and sweat.
The health council in the Netherlands does recommend a maximum of 2.4 grams of sodium per day, so 6 grams of salt. And beware, the maximum advice for children is even lower.
Of course, it is not a problem if you take a day more: your kidneys can handle that! But when you continuously consume more salt than your body can process so quickly, problems arise.
What are the consequences of too much salt?
In the Netherlands, about 80% of the population ingests too much salt. And that clearly has a negative impact on health:
- Raised blood pressure. The mechanisms behind this are not yet fully understood. It is often said that increased blood pressure occurs because you retain more fluid in the blood vessels. It is not clear whether this is actually the cause or whether there is another mechanism at work. Most scientists agree that a reduced intake has a positive effect on blood pressure.
- Heart and vascular disease. Eating less salt reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. This is partly because you have a healthier heart and arteries with lower blood pressure. But it seems that less salt also relaxes the veins themselves, which also reduces the risk of problems.
- Kidney diseases. The kidneys regulate the amount of salt in the body. If you really overdo your intake, you overload your kidneys and can damage them.
- Bone decalcification. When you take in too much salt and urinate it, more calcium is lost at the same time. This is also excreted through your urine. Calcium is of course important for strong bones and teeth and a deficiency can cause bone loss.
What contains salt?
Unfortunately, there is a good chance that your admission is also too high. Yes, even if you don’t add it to your meal yourself! That’s because salt is hidden in many products.
The largest amount of salt that we consume (80%) is, whether or not hidden, in processed food. Manufacturers use it to improve taste, shelf life or texture. Just think of ready-made meals, pizzas, soups, cakes and chips, sauces, bread, and even canned vegetables.
By way of illustration: One sandwich with salami can easily contain 1.1 grams. Do you eat a few cheese sandwiches, a handful of chips and an evening meal with a ready-made spice mix every day? Then you are probably already above 6 grams per day.
The most important thing is to eat a lot of unprocessed products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and fish. The more you cook with fresh ingredients, the less risk that you will consume an excess of salt!
Do you need more salt during intensive sports?
What about when you sweat a lot, for example because you exercise intensively? Do you need some extras?
Opinions are divided on this. It’s important to put everything in context. The average Dutch person already takes in too much. An hour of sweating in the gym does not cause a shortage.
But those who have a healthy lifestyle, eat little processed food and exercise intensively can benefit from extra salt during intensive exercise. On average, an adult person loses a liter of sweat with about 1000 mg of sodium during an hour of exercise. However, the amount is different for everyone and also depends on the intensity of your workout and the temperature.
It is especially important to drink and replenish your fluids. But if you start drinking a lot without extra minerals, then the concentration of minerals in your blood decreases. This can make you feel nauseous and have a tendency to vomit. The danger is that you will think that you have to drink even more, which will put you in a negative spiral.
If you exercise intensively in warm weather, it is, therefore, advisable to drink enough and replenish all your minerals. You also need to supplement other electrolytes such as potassium, calcium and magnesium during prolonged exercise. For example, you can use a sports drink or sports gel.
Which salt is the most healthy?
One last idea that sometimes comes up is that some types of salts are healthier than others. For example, the idea is that you could eat more from sea salt or Celtic salt than from “normal” table salt.
Is that correct? That is a bit disappointing. Sea salt, Himalayan salt and Celtic salt are still about 97% sodium chloride. It is true that these salts contain a number of other minerals such as magnesium and calcium, but the amounts are too small to make a relevant contribution to your daily requirement. And so they provide hardly less sodium.
Something better is the so-called baker’s salt. In the Netherlands, iodine is structurally added to this, because many Dutch people do not consume enough of it. That means the salt in bread is slightly less problematic than the unenriched versions in other processed products!