The benefits of salt

As much as sodium has been demonized in the American diet—it actually plays as vital a role in the functioning of our bodies.

Sodium (like calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and potassium) is an electrolyte, meaning that it creates an electrically charged ion when dissolved in fluids like blood. Our bodies need electrolytes to facilitate nerve impulses and regulate body functions, such as heart rate, digestion, respiration, brain activity, and blood pressure. It is an essential nutrient where only in extreme cases not getting enough can cause health concerns.  While you lose a little sodium daily through sweat and urination, it is generally not enough to cause a sodium deficiency unless you are severely malnourished.  Hyponatremia, which is the extreme loss of sodium, can cause muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and even death.

But on a happy note – salt makes our food taste better!  With unique flavors from salts from different regions of the world, experimenting with various salts can be fun and really enhance your dishes.

Simply put, the average person who eats well and exercises regularly should enjoy this tasty nutrient without concern.

The difference between salt and sodium

One of the main causes of salt confusion is that people use the words “salt” and “sodium” interchangeably. But they aren’t the same thing. Sodium, which has been linked to heart disease and risk of a stroke, is only one of the basic elements that make up salt (a.k.a., sodium chloride (chlorine is the other element)).  Regular salt is 40% sodium.

Pink salts, used frequently by home cooks, have nearly the same amounts of sodium chloride as table salt, but they also contain small amounts of additional minerals that give it coloring and unique flavors.

So how much sodium should we be getting?

When it comes to tracking your sodium intake, the established number to keep in mind is 2,300 mg, the FDA’s suggested amount per day. But it’s important to note that less isn’t better, because we need sodium for a balance of electrolytes. If you don’t have enough and your blood pressure is too low, you can get dizzy and light-headed. (That goes double if you work out intensely and are drinking lots of water).

Watching salt intake is one way to monitor the amount of sodium we consume, but you shouldn’t weigh out salt and think it’s all sodium – remember, salt is only 40% sodium. The sodium to really keep an eye on is in processed foods. Most people actually only get 11 percent of the sodium in their diets from their salt shakers because processed foods are typically high in sodium.

So, if your diet is rich in non-processed, whole foods and you only salt your foods to enhance taste, then you probably don’t need to be concerned with how much you are getting; unless, of course, if there is a medical condition affected by sodium, then keeping track becomes important.

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