Salt basics

Things were more or less back to normal on Saturday and I was feeling mostly better. As there have been several questions about my use of salt to help with rehydration, I feel the need to clear up a few things about the benefits and potential pitfalls of salt.

When we say “salt” most of us are thinking of table salt, sodium chloride. Salt occurs naturally in many foods and is one of the five major tastes our tongues can detect. As I’ve previously explained, our bodies naturally contain quite a bit of salt, about 325g on average. The concentration of salt in our blood and tissues is maintained in a narrow band by the kidneys. If we drink a lot of water, which might dilute the salt concentration of our blood, the kidneys produce more urine and make the urine almost salt free. On the other hand, eating too much salt usually results in the kidneys simply getting rid of it by adding more to urine.

Of course, you need plenty of water to make the urine! This is why eating a large amount of salty foods without drinking enough water (or while drinking alcohol, which dehydrates you further) results in bloating and water retention. In order to keep the salt concentration the same, the body holds onto the water. Not only is the water and salt retained in tissues like your belly, but also in your blood. This is why eating a lot of salt over the long term can lead to high blood pressure, which puts the cardiovascular system under strain and raises the risk of stroke and heart disease.

The current UK government guidelines for adults recommend no more than 6g of salt per day. The problem in the UK and most Western countries is that processed foods tend to contain a lot of salt. In fact, over 75% of the salt we eat comes from these foods, with only 25% being added at the table or in cooking. And it’s not just in foods you expect to be salty, like crisps and bacon. Bread, cereals, soups and ready meals can have a surprisingly large amount. Salt is used not only to preserve food and give it a longer shelf life, but it also improves the taste. A recent study has shown that salt blocks some of the bitterness receptors on our tongues, which is why salting vegetables makes them taste “sweeter”. Plus with sugar under attack, adding more salt is a sneaky way for food manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of their products while keeping the taste.

I don’t normally track my salt intake as I try to make most of my meals myself from fresh ingredients (and my blood pressure is fine). However, even I get plenty of “processed foods” which means the salt can creep up. For example, on Saturday I had bread for breakfast (0.5g of salt), a stir fry for lunch with soy sauce and sweet chilli sauce (1.15g and 0.3g of salt in this portion of stir fry respectively), cereal (0.5g) and milk (0.3g), chocolates (0.176g) and olives in brine in the casserole for dinner (0.3g in this portion).  This gives me a grand total of 3.25g of salt from these sources alone, not counting the various bits and bobs found naturally in everything else.

Once again, the best way to get rid of excess salt is to exercise. After a night of binging on foods like chips and pizza, a sweaty workout while drinking plenty of water will get rid of the bloat and lower blood pressure. At the same time, if you exercise regularly for more than an hour at a moderate to high intensity and skip the junk food, it might be time to consider if adding a bit more salt to your diet is called for. As with most things, balance is key.

The Score for 25 March:

Calories: Protein: Carbs: Sugars: Fat: Sat Fat: Fibre: Alcohol:
2138 91.08g 285.95g 155.64g 39.03g 25.55g 27.10g 0.76g
17% 54% 29% 0.25%
Calories burned through exercise: About 150


What I ate:

Time Item Amount Calories Protein Carbs Sugars Fibre Fat Sat Fat Alcohol
08:30 Centrum Multivitamin,  Vitamin E 400IU, Vitamin D 25 µg
Tap water 250mL 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Scrambled eggs, two large 110g 144 13.86 0.00 0.00 0.00 9.90 2.75 0.00
Chestnut mushrooms 101g 8 1.00 0.30 0.30 0.70 0.20 0.10 0.00
fried in butter 5g 37 0.03 0.06 0.03 0.00 4.11 2.61 0.00
Genius brown sliced gluten free bread, 2 slices toasted 63g 159 1.58 28.35 1.51 6.30 4.16 0.32 0.00
with Butter 4g 29 0.02 0.04 0.02 0.00 3.29 2.08 0.00
and St Dalfour Raspberry fruit spread 21g 47 0.10 11.20 11.20 0.40 0.16 0.00 0.00
Tesco pressed apple juice 186g 91 0.56 20.83 20.83 0.93 0.00 0.00 0.00
Black Tea 450mL 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
12:30 King Prawn stir fry with carrots, broccoli, peppers, onions, mushrooms, ginger and sweet chilli sauce 285g 157 20.91 21.25 11.36 3.32 1.01 0.44 0.00
topped with cashews 20g 116 3.64 5.38 1.18 0.66 8.78 1.56 0.00
Wai Wai brown rice vermicelli 50g 186 3.40 42.10 0.00 0.95 0.40 0.15 0.00
Apple 106g 55 0.42 12.39 12.39 1.89 0.11 0.00 0.00
Yakult light milk drink 65mL 27 0.80 8.80 2.90 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
14:30 Gardening
16:00 Natures Path Mesa Sunrise cereal 50g 195 5.00 40.00 6.50 5.00 1.65 0.25 0.00
with skimmed milk 200mL 69 6.80 10.00 10.00 0.00 0.20 0.10 0.00
topped with sliced nectarine 75g 33 1.05 6.75 6.75 0.90 0.08 0.00 0.00
18:00 Galaxy Minstrels chocolates 88g 444 4.66 61.69 60.63 0.50 19.54 11.70 0.00
20:30 Mediterranean casserole with chicken thighs, cannellini beans, tomatoes, peppers, olives and red wine 300g 331 27.25 16.82 10.04 5.56 15.46 3.50 0.76

Image Copyright: <a href=’’>jirkaejc / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

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