NaCl, or sodium chloride (also known as salt), is essential for our survival. Because our bodies don’t produce it, we must obtain salt from our diet. It can be added to our meals, such as when we take a pinch from our salt cellar, but it is also found naturally in some foods, such as in celery, beets, or milk.
What Does Salt Do For Us?
Sodium and chloride are electrolytes that our bodies use to maintain a healthy fluid balance and blood volume. Think about those times when you have a salty snack, such as salted pretzels – you get thirsty! Why is this? Salt naturally attracts water, so when levels of salt in our bodies increase, the fluid in our bodies is drawn to it. Since the water in our body is preoccupied adjusting the salty snack we just ate, we get thirsty and reach for that glass of water to fix the imbalance. But, if we don’t have access to that glass of water, our bodies will become dehydrated to some extent.
This relationship between salt and water allows our bodies to maintain proper fluid balance. This has implications for heart health, such as is related to blood pressure. A high sodium diet can cause fluid retention, thus increasing blood volume and straining the heart. People who have hypertension (high blood pressure) are often told to reduce their sodium intake due to the relationship between sodium and fluid status.
In addition to helping to maintain a healthy fluid balance, salt also functions in the transmission of nerve impulses and in muscle contraction and relaxation. Who knew that salt helped you think and move?
How Much Salt Do We Need?
For the general population, it is advised to consume between 2,000mg to 2,300mg of sodium per day, at most. People with hypertension are recommended to consume closer to 1,000mg to 1,500mg daily, at most. In either case, salt is a necessary component of our diets. Interestingly, despite the difference in processing techniques, the sodium content in table salt and sea salt is largely the same. The difference comes in the form of minerals and nutrients that are either stripped out or left in the salt at the time of collection.
When thinking about the amount of sodium in your diet, keep in mind the types of food you eat. More than three quarters of the sodium consumed by Americans comes from processed foods, while just 5% comes from cooking! Cooking at home with high quality sea salt is a great way to give your body the sodium it needs to run smoothly without upsetting its internal balance. That's a salty tip that sounds delicious!