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 Salt in Food A guide to healthy salt intake

Ministerio de Salud y Protección Social > English > Salt in Food A guide to healthy salt intake
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What is salt? 

Salt or sodium chloride (NaCI) is made up of about 40% sodium and 60% chlorine. Salt is the major source of sodium in our diet. 

Salt is used as a condiment in the preparation of meals, but it can also be added during industrial processing of food. Its contribution to sodium intake depends on the amount and frequency with which we consume these processed foods. 

What is the difference between sodium and salt? 

Sodium is a nutrient that the body needs to function properly. However, when highly consumed, it increases the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular illnesses. Sodium intake in the diet is measured in milligrams (mg). 

Table salt contains 40% sodium and a teaspoon of table salt (about 4 g) represents the equivalent of 1600 mg of sodium. One (1) gram of sodium is equivalent to about 2.5 g of salt. 

Where does salt come from? 

Salt is extracted mainly from mines and by seawater evaporation. It is naturally present in most foods as sodium and in others by addition.

How many kinds of salt are there? 

Basically two: 

  • Rock salt, found in deposits or mines
  • Sea salt, obtained naturally by the evaporation of seawater. Unlike rock salt, sea salt contains 34% sodium chloride. 

 What is salt good for? 

In food preparation and production, salt fulfills the following functions: 

  • Taste: it enhances flavor, makes saltiness more predominant, intensifies sweetness, masks bitter and metallic tastes and suppresses the perception of acidity. 
  • Texture and appearance of prepared food: it affects color and sensory aspects such as crispiness. 
  • Preservation: it preserves food through the curing process. 

  • Part of the process: it promotes water retention in gluten, the color of the bread crust and it stabilizes yeast fermentation in the dough. 
  • In our body: salt contributes sodium and chlorine, nutrients that help maintain water balance and osmotic pressure in cells. These mechanisms are necessary for proper body functioning. 

Why do we add salt to food? 

To enhance and enrich its flavor, providing a salty taste that can be savored because the tongue has specific receptors for detection. 

Does salt consumption increase appetite? 

It changes our behavior towards food since it is an acquired taste associated with appetite activation and it stimulates consumption. 

 What use is given to salt in the kitchen? 

It is mainly used as a food seasoning, as an ingredient in the preparation of homemade sauces, and as a preservative in pickling and in the preparation of sausages and snacks. 

How much salt should I consume in a day

The World Health Organization, WHO, after evaluating studies on the relationship between excessive salt intake and cardiovascular disease, recommends restricting sodium intake to less than 5 g of salt per day per person for the general population, equivalent to a heaping teaspoon of salt per day. It should be ensured that it is iodized salt. 

Isn’t five grams of salt too little? 

Although the daily needs vary by age, sex, weight, physiological state (growth, pregnancy, lactation), level of physical activity, health status, etc., our body does not need to consume large amounts of salt to attain the sodium the body requires. 

Salt (sodium) is essential for life, but it can also be damaging to health if consumed in excess. Five grams of salt a day is a safe amount of sodium for our health. However, an intake of 4 grams of salt a day is enough to perform the body functions. 

What are the effects of high salt intake on the health of children, the elderly and pregnant women? 

  • Children with high salt intake may have high blood pressure, which in adulthood can cause hypertension and cardiovascular disease as well as irreversible damage to the retinas, kidneys and heart, as well as other health impairments. 
  • In pregnant women it can cause diseases of pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, which can lead to serious health complications for both the mother and the newborn baby. 

 If I don’t use the saltshaker, do I reduce salt intake?

The extra salt supplement in prepared and served meals increases your intake. Removing saltshakers from the table when serving food is a strategy that helps reduce excessive salt consumption. 

Should we read the labels? What if we don’t have time to read them? 

In food from a supermarket, salt (sodium) content can vary depending on the products and brands. This is why you must read and understand the nutritional information provided on the label. 

  • It is rather hard to eat low salt foods, but you can reduce the frequency of consumption of foods with more salt (sodium). You may also select the options or brands that contain less salt or that are low salt. 
  • Those minutes we spend on reading the label can mean a lot for our health. 

  • When children go to the store with us, they can help us by reading the label. It is a good way to teach them to select healthier foods. 

Tips to control your salt intake: 

-If we remove the saltshaker from the table, we will help reduce high salt intake.
-When making food choices and preparations, prefer those with a lower salt intake.
- There are other ways to flavor foods without the use of salt.
-Reading the product labels and choosing those with lower salt content are other alternatives to reduce consumption.
-Some herbs enhance the flavor of foods, rendering the use of salt unnecessary.
-First taste the food before deciding to add more salt.
-Do not add salt in food for infants and children; this is part of building good eating habits. 

Prepared by

Office of Nutritional Health, Food and Beverage 

Ministry of Health and Social Protection

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