Make Salt a Negotiable Ingredient

Make Salt a Negotiable Ingredient

Make Salt a Negotiable Ingredient

maximium amount of salt in one day1 - Make Salt a Negotiable Ingredient

I grew up, like most people in the world, eating food prepared with salt. There was nothing special about this cheap, non-negotiable ingredient that never failed to deliver on its promise every time—make the food taste good. I had come to expect it to be  in food,  much like something that you notice only when it is missing.

But when I was in middle school, salt was the hot topic in class one day as we discussed Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi March (a.k.a. Salt Satyagraha)—the 25-day march from Sabermati to Dandi to defy British Salt Acts, which prohibited Indians to make their own salt and buy tax-levied British salt. Around the same time, watching the movie “Gandhi” enameled the historic event in my memory and made me realize that salt, owing to its history in India, was not really as cheap as I thought.

Fast-forward three decades. In 2013, an ABC news article titled “1 in 10 U.S. Deaths Blamed on Salt,” stirred my memories of Salt Satyagraha. However, this time, it was not the shortage but the excess of salt in our diets that was jeopardizing human lives. The article, citing a Harvard study reported that excessive salt consumption was responsible for 2.3 million cardiovascular deaths worldwide in 2010.

A  week ago, a Google search for the phrase “salt killing people” brought in  more than 7 million results. Undoubtedly, SALT continues to be a big discussion as far as human lives are concerned and one that is not disappearing anytime soon.

How does salt jeopardize our health and lives?

Table salt is a natural mineral composed of two elements—sodium and chloride. Although there are salts available in the market with elements other than these two, table salt is the type most widely used for cooking at home as well as  by restaurants and  processed food manufacturers.  Sodium is ESSENTIAL for our bodies to function optimally. But we need very little of it, less than 500 milligrams (mg) per day, according to the American Heart Association (AHA) (R&R: 1). This amounts to a quarter of teaspoon per day.  But a close examination of our sodium intake would suggest that we don’t really need to worry about having too little sodium in our diets.

Salt 2 - Make Salt a Negotiable Ingredient

Ideally, an adult should consume 1,500 milligrams (mg) of salt a day per the AHA recommendations ((note that the AHA cautions that these guidelines do not apply to those  who lose large amounts of sodium through sweating or other reasons).  Do not let the  thousand count in this number  throw you off—this amounts to only a little more than half a teaspoon. If this seems really low to you, you can increase it to 2,300 mg of sodium or roughly 1 teaspoon of salt in a day.  But remember this is the upper limit for sodium intake for an healthy adult (R &R: 1,2) . I

It is notable that the sodium intake guidelines are even lower, about half-a-teaspoon,  for high-risk groups, which the health agencies recognize as those aged 51 and over, those who already have high or slightly above-the-normal blood pressure, people with diabetes, and African-Americans .

Excess of salt adds up to 3.6 cups in a year - Make Salt a Negotiable Ingredient

Although the individual sodium intake would vary from person-to-person, an average American adult consumes 3,400 mg sodium (one-and-a-half teaspoons) per day— 50% more than the recommended limit. While  it may not seem like much, the surplus of half a teaspoon of salt everyday adds up to 3.6 cups of extra sodium in our bodies in one year.

Guess what? Our  kidneys  get overburdened. Imagine 3.6 cups of extra salt going through kidneys, slowly, when kidneys are already working to their maximum capacity to maintain the body’s sodium, potassium, and water balance among myriad other duties.

So what happens if sodium becomes in excess? Well, it is kind of important to maintain the balance between water and sodium at all times for our bodies to work properly (R&R: 1).When there is too much sodium in the body, kidneys need to figure out a way to increase water content to bring that balance back to normal. To do that our bodies start holding onto water to dilute that extra sodium. The details of the mechanism of how bodies start holding onto water is beyond the scope of this blogpost, but the net result is  increased fluids and volume of blood in the bloodstream. What happens next? According to a Harvard School of Public Health article, “increased blood volume means more work for heart and more pressure on blood vessels. Over time, this extra work and pressure can stiffen blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke and can also lead to heart failure.” 

High blood pressure accounts for  62% of all strokes and 49% of all coronary artery diseases, according to research published by British researchers  in the Journal of Human Hypertension (R&R: 3).  Although high blood pressure is the most visible negative health effect, excess sodium intake is also linked with stomach cancers and osteoporosis. 

Where does sodium come from in our diets?

Recognizing high sodium sources is the most helpful step in tempering excessive intake. There are three major sources of salt in our diets (R&R: 4):

  1. Salt intake from processed and Restaurant food—77% of total sodium intake

Researchers have established that around three-quarters of total salt intake in American diet comes from pre-packaged processed food and restaurant food. It’s a long story why manufacturers and restaurateurs  add such a high amount of sodium to food, but this is a BIG incentive to start cooking your own meals.

2. Salt intake from natural foods-12% of total sodium intake

Some 10-12% of the total sodium we eat occurs naturally in foods. These kinds of foods normally include (but not limited to) animal products—dairy, meat, seafood, and eggs; vegetables; and fruits. For example, 1 cup of chopped celery contains 81 mg of sodium.

3. Salt intake from food cooked at home and adding at the table—11% of total sodium intake

Cooking at home can offer a lot of flexibility in adding the amount of  sodium to our food. After my husband’s heart surgeries, I had a real eye opener as I needed to cook without any added salt for a few weeks. This experience made me aware that  stretching one teaspoon of salt over a day even in home cooking can pose a significant challange. This motivated me to come up with strategies to cook without salt (which becomes the subject for another blogpost, stay tuned.)

I have formed a new relationship with this once irreplaceable ingredient–I still love salt in my food, but only to the extent where it does not hurt my (or my family’s) health.  To a great extent, salt has become a negotiable ingredient in my cooking where I do not hesitate to replace it with something more flavorful, something more friendly.

 Note: This blogpost mainly builds on research data for American diet. Therefore, if you live in a different country, the numbers–consumption, recommendation– may be different.

References and Resources (R&R)

  1. American Heart Association
  2. Food and Drug Administration
  3. He FJ, MacGregor GA. (2009). A comprehensive review on salt and health and current experience of worldwide salt reduction programmes. J Hum Hypertens. 23:363-84.
  4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention


A Certified health coach,plant-based nutrition expert, and real-food enthusiast. READ MORE


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

  1. What about iodine that people get through iodizedsalt. If we reduce salt from our diet won’t we be suceptible to idonie deficiency?

    1. Surabhi, thank you for reading the blogpost. You raise a good point and one I will be writing about in my upcoming blogposts. Please note, that there are foods other than salt that are great iodine source. Please stay tuned.

  2. Wonderful article Garima we should take care of salt intake
    Though it is considered inseparable from food but we can definitely do it by slowly decreasing its amount

    1. Geeta, thank you for reading the article. You bring a good point that we can decrease it slowly.

  3. I was just talking about this today after stopping at a Starbucks to grab some food real quick. I tend to not use a lot of salt while cooking and I’m really sensitive to foods that have a lot of salt in them. It’s something I’m very mindful of when choosing what to eat. Even when you thnk you are eating healthy, you are not. A lot of those pre-packaged deals such as the brown rice/salad combo they offer have a higher sodium content than the overall calorie count. Unless you are doing all of your own prep/ cooking, staying within these guidelines is almost impossible to maintain. It is in absolutely everything!

    1. Casey, thanks so much for sharing your experience and insights. You are right, salt is in everything. As you mention, the problem is that it is hidden in foods that we often perceive as healthy. I am going to share strategies to reduce salt in future posts soon.

  4. Garima,
    A very informative piece of about salt.
    We Always hear about the low sodium diet but could never have imagined the upper threshold level being 1 Tsp. Indeed we are consuming way more .
    Will watch out on this .

    1. Pooja, thanks for reading! I am glad you found it helpful. Best,

  5. Hi Garima
    Wonderful article. What about people with low blood pressure?

    1. Tania, Thanks for reading! Great question. For any special condition such as low blood pressure, your physician is the best resource to help you decide on the optimal salt intake. Best,

  6. Very informative article Garima! Also i wanted to share af few pointers based on Ayurvedic philosophy

    Using natural sea or mineral salt is much better than chemically made one..
    Also salt intake quantity varies based on body type, e.g. Pitta people should consume lesser amount of salt as compared to vata and Kapha type.

    1. Shuchi..thanks so much for sharing the Ayurvedic philosophy.

  7. Great information Garima. Very insightful. Will certainly implement in my diet

    1. Himanshu, Thanks a lot for reading. Please share your experience, if possible.

      1. Thanks a lot for reading. Please share your experience, if possible.

  8. Great blog, Garima, I like how you broke out salt consumption by restaurants, natural foods and home cooking. It could make the baby steps of reducing sodium intake a little easier for people. I hope you’ll address creative ways to enhance flavor without the use of salt.

  9. I believe that this is a good article with nice information

  10. Hi Garima. This information is so valuable as I learn to cook! In the few weeks after reading this post, I have already noticed myself being more attentive when preparing meals. As a student on a budget, I appreciate how such a simple change (with an ingredient I always have around) can impact healthier eating/living in my daily routine. Thanks for the tips! Can’t wait to try a recipe…

    1. Asiya, Thank you! I am so glad that you found the information helpful. But information is information. You have taken action to empower yourself about making healthier food choices, based on this informaiton. So, kudos to you:)

Leave A Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *