Salt, or sodium, is necessary for the human body to function correctly. After being consumed and absorbed into the bloodstream and other bodily fluids, salt assumes multiple roles. It controls fluid levels, such as the total blood volume, which in turn affects blood pressure, and it regulates the electrolytes that the brain uses to send electrical signals to the muscles and nerves. In addition to lowering sunstroke risk and stimulating the adrenal glands, salt also keeps other vital minerals in the blood.

For these vital processes to occur on a daily basis, very little salt is required. For the average adult, the recommended daily allowance of salt is 2,400 mg, or roughly one teaspoon.

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Effects of excessive salt consumption in the short term

The short-term effects of consuming large amounts of salt become apparent soon after.

Swollen hands and feet or a swollen face are common short-term side effects of eating too much salt. After a salty meal, some people experience extreme thirst or bloating due to water retention. The effects are usually transient; the body excretes the excess sodium and returns to a less swollen state after consuming multiple glasses of water and purposefully consuming less sodium in future meals. 

Long-term consequences of excessive salt intake

Long-term consumption of large amounts of salt can lead to more severe adverse effects.

The kidneys’ capacity to eliminate water is diminished by the elevated sodium levels in the blood, leading to an increase in the total volume of blood and strain on the body’s blood vessels. Strokes and congestive heart failure can eventually result from high blood pressure. Kidney disease can arise from the kidneys’ continuous overtime to eliminate excess salt.

Consuming too much salt over long periods of time can also lead to fluid collecting in the body’s tissues and cavities. Additionally, a high sodium diet may cause the body to excrete calcium in small amounts, which can eventually lead to osteoporosis.

Limiting the intake of foods high in sodium

The first step in consuming salt at a healthy level is being aware of the foods that are high in sodium. This enables you to decide for yourself how much and how often to eat foods high in sodium.

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High in sodium are snacks like pretzels, chips, dried meats or seafood, and salted nuts. Pre-packaged foods and canned goods (such as beans, veggies, and soups) frequently contain salt added as flavour enhancers or preservatives.

There are other substances high in sodium besides table salt. MSG and fish sauce, two ingredients frequently used in Thai cooking, are also high in salt, as are baking powder and baking soda.

Remember that sodium, or salt, is a necessary nutrient, so getting too little of it can also be harmful to your health. Depending on your health, your doctor can advise you on the appropriate amount of salt to consume, which may be less than the recommended amount.