Salt Tolerance

Does excessive consumption of salt result in elevated blood pressure? And conversely, can reduction in salt intake lower one’s blood pressure?

Most of us who read popular newspapers and magazines regularly would generally answer “Aye” to both the above questions. I thought so too, until I did a bit of reading and background research on the subject. As it turns out, the salty debate is still raging amongst researchers and nutritionists, and there is no definitive answer yet. In fact, many experts aver that salt has a limited impact on raising or lowering of blood pressure in the normal, healthy population (except in certain individuals who have high “salt-sensitivity”).

Salt and BP

The “salt” that we refer to is sodium chloride. Sodium has a bearing on blood pressure, because it regulates the fluid balance between the cells and blood plasma. If the sodium levels are too high, blood volume increases due to excess water retention in the plasma, and blood pressure could increase as a result.

Under normal circumstances, a fine balance is maintained between electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, chorides, etc and carbon dioxide in the body. Any deviations below or above optimum concentrations could have disastrous consequences. Usually, the kidneys maintain levels of sodium in the body within a very narrow range by producing requisite hormones and controlling thirst. In fact, very low sodium levels can be (acutely) far more dangerous than high levels–this sudden condition could arise when a combination of factors occur simultaneously: for example, excessive sweating (say, from very intense or prolonged exercise) along with drinking way too much water (so-called “water intoxication”), that further dilutes the already-depleted sodium. The sodium imbalance could also cause excess secretion of Antidiuretic Hormone (ADH or vasopressin), which increases blood pressure, retains water, concentrates the urine and does all sorts of other crazy stuff which could in extreme cases, if unchecked, result in a coma or be fatal.

Sodium RDA

Nutritionists estimate that the body requires just about 500 milligrams of sodium per day. As common salt contains 40 percent sodium, that’s equivalent to about 1.25 grams of salt. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) charts for various countries indicate that sodium from all sources per day should not exceed 2500 milligrams, equivalent to about 6 grams of salt or just over one teaspoon.

Even if one assumes that this RDA should be adjusted slightly upwards in warmer climes, there is no escaping the fact that all Indian diets include way too much salt. If it’s not pickles and chutneys and sauces, then it’s papads and farsan and salted savouries; and to top it all, we often top it all with even more salt sprinkled on at the table. Truly, we are quite the salt of the earth!

Although a direct link between increased salt intake and chronic high blood pressure has not been conclusively established, more and more research points to the ill-effects of too much salt on heart health, kidney function and so on. Junk food companies are beginning to fear they will go the way of the tobacco giants and are trying to show that they actually care. Recently, Pepsi’s chief Indra Nooyi announced that Pepsi aims to reduce salt by 25 percent in some of its biggest brands by 2015 to improve their “healthiness”. And, following the successful ban on trans fats, there is now a proposal awaiting approval from the New York state assembly to ban salt in restaurants!


Well, in light of all the points above, and also taking into consideration my overall reading and research, I’ve arrived at the following conclusions ( take ‘em with a pinch of salt, if you must :-) )

  • It’s good to restrict salt intake, but there’s no need to get paranoid about eliminating salt entirely.
  • If you already have high blood pressure, it’s best to proactively reduce salt intake to reasonable levels, even if this does not by itself lower the BP. Nevertheless, do not stress yourself too much over eliminating salt entirely–not only could this stress be counterproductive, it could also be dangerous.
  • From my own experience, I can vouch for how quickly one’s sense of taste adapts to lower salt in food; things might seem a little bland at first, but within two or three days one doesn’t even notice it. So why not try reducing by half salt added during cooking, and completely eliminate salt added at the table (or replace it with a “Lo Salt” substitute). Either way, make sure that the salt you buy for home use is iodised salt – especially if there are small children in the house, as iodine deficiency impairs brain development.
  • Increase potassium intake to balance things out, by eating potassium-rich foods such as papayas, oranges and bananas, potatoes and cabbage. Don’t go overboard, as excess potassium can be just as bad for the kidneys as excess sodium.
  • If very lengthy exercise sessions (more than 90-120 minutes) cause a lot of profuse sweating, it’s very important to rehydrate, replacing both fluid as well as electrolytes. Some intake of water and a few sips of a sports drink throughout the workout would be ideal; if you don’t want to spend on (usually overpriced) sports drinks, inexpensive sachets of electrolyte-balanced powders are available at chemists; you could add these in the prescribed proportion to the water you drink during a workout. Excessive fatigue, headache, very dry mouth, dizziness, high temperature, or a feeling of disorientation could be the symptoms of dehydration–do not ignore them. Martin Lawrence, the comic actor, did so while jogging in 38-degree heat back in August 1999, fell into a coma for three days and almost died as a result of dehydration and hyponatremia (low sodium).

- Val Souza

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4 comments to Salt Tolerance

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  • A few things to do. 1. Drink water: soudns crazy but it works, it flushes your body of toxins that could be causing you to be bloated2. Eat Yogurt: it has live active cultures which clean your digestive system and make way for the good bacteria3. Eat Bananas: they contain potassium which aid in digestion too.4. Exercise: just walking, nothing crazy can help to get your blood flowing and your digestive tract moving. Hope that helps!! -3Was this answer helpful?

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