Homer called salt the divine substance, and in ancient times it certainly was. In fact, more than as a condiment, salt was considered essential to preserve food, meat, fish and vegetables, guaranteeing the necessary sustenance and therefore survival even in times of famine or in winter. Over time, however, salt has become the most used ingredient to flavor foods, so much that we can find salt almost everywhere, even in desserts. The problem, however, is that if on the one hand the sodium chloride contained in the salt is important for life, on the other hand its excess can be harmful. So let's try to better understand the effects of an excess of salt and how we can do to reduce its consumption.
Salt, the effects of an excessive consumption
As mentioned, the sodium contained in salt is essential for regulating cell homeostasis, however, as indicated by various scientific studies, we must not overdo it. In fact, an excess of salt is linked to an increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular and kidney diseases. As a consequence of a diet characterized by an excess of salt, the arteries can become stiffer and the endothelium, the lining of the blood vessels, can undergo inflammation even in the absence of an increase in blood pressure (Farquhar et al, J Am Coll Cardiol, 2016). Not only that, a high consumption of salt, in the long term, also increases the risk of stomach tumors, of overweight and obesity, as well as water retention and cellulite (Rust et al, Adv Exp Med Biol, 2017).
Daily salt recommendation
International recommendations indicate 5 grams as the maximum daily dose of salt for an adult. However, the trend is to further reduce this amount to 3.5 grams (Wong et al, JCH, 2017). Today, in several countries around the world, 12 grams of salt are reached per day because, in addition to the salt that is added when cooking or seasoning, many other foods contain salt, even in large quantities, such as processed meats or ready meals.
The reduction of salt, benefits
A gradual reduction of the salt we use has several benefits. First of all, as has been observed, reducing the intake of salt also reduces blood pressure in most cases, especially in people with hypertension (Rust et al, Adv Exp Med Biol, 2017). Not only that, reducing the use of salt allows to have back flavors and aromas that otherwise can be covered.
Alternatives to refined salt
Refined salt is the classic white kitchen salt most commonly found on supermarket shelves. This salt, for the processing it is subjected to, is the richest in sodium chloride and therefore its consumption should be limited. In addition to reducing the amount of salt, we can also try to use other types of salt, always without exaggerating. Other types of salt, in fact, being less processed and richer in minerals, have a lower quantity of sodium chloride. Natural sea salt, for example, naturally contains iodine but also magnesium, potassium, fluorine, zinc, copper and manganese. It has been shown that the use of whole sea salt induces a lower risk of hypertension and heart and kidney diseases than refined salt (Lee et al, Food Nutr Res, 2017). The pink Himalayan salt also combines 84 other trace elements with sodium chloride, the black Cyprus salt takes its color from the activated carbon and therefore is useful for those suffering from abdominal swelling. The red salt of Hawaii owes its color to a volcanic clay that enriches this salt with iron oxide, helping those with anemia (Villarini, Preventing in the kitchen by eating with taste).
Another way to reduce the consumption of salt but always be able to give the dishes an extra touch of taste is definitely the gomashio. Mix 50 grams of sesame seeds and 5 grams of whole sea salt. Toast in a pan for a few moments to remove the moisture. Blend everything in a coffee grinder and pour into a glass jar. Close the jar with a lid and store in the refrigerator. You can also use the same amount of mixed herbs instead of sesame.