How Much Salt Do You Need?

… or what the government doesn’t want you to know about salt intake.

Table salt is one of those kitchen staples that every prepper should store in large quantity. Salt is useful for keeping stored food dry. I add a container of salt to the bottom of 5 gallon buckets with screw-top lids. Salt will absorb about 6% of its weight in moisture.

Salt is also useful as an antiseptic. Soak your feet or hands in a solution of warm water and salt (more salt than the water can absorb). The salt kills bacteria — but do not use for open wounds. Salt is inexpensive and has many uses.

But what I’d like to focus on for this post is table salt added to food for the sake of good health.

Iodized salt includes some iodine, which is an essential trace mineral in the diet. Iodine is particularly important for children and young adults, as their thyroid gland is more active than in adults over 40. A fraction of a teaspoon of iodized salt per day is sufficient to prevent iodine deficiency in most persons. For that benefit, you’ll need iodized salt; sea salt only has very small amounts of iodine — too little for health purposes. However, if you prefer, iodized sea salt is also available.

There is a problem, though, with government and media message about excessive salt intake. It’s a half truth. The typical American diet is high in processed foods and fast foods, which are too high in salt. True. But if you have a healthy diet, with little or no processed food or fast food, you may be getting too little salt. And that’s the other half of the truth about salt.

Table salt is sodium chloride (NaCl). In any liquid, including the bloodstream, it turns into sodium ions and chlorine ions — two of the most important electrolytes in the blood.

WebMD: “Electrolytes are minerals, such as sodium and potassium, that are found in the body. They keep your body’s fluids in balance and help keep your body working normally, including your heart rhythm, muscle contraction, and brain function.” [WebMD.com]

A mild lack of electrolytes can make you feel sluggish and cause muscle cramps. A severe deficiency of electrolytes can cause heart arrhythmia and be life threatening.

The typical American diet is too high in salt, and that is unhealthy. But the other half of that equation is that too little salt is also unhealthy. Yet there is little emphasis in government health recommendations on getting enough salt in the diet.

The independent Institute of Medicine (IOM) has set the Adequate Intake (AI) for sodium at 1.2 to 1.5 g/d and for chloride at 1.8 to 2.3 g/d for adults. [DRI: Water and Electrolytes] That’s 3.0 to 3.8 g/d of salt. And the Upper Limit (UL) for salt intake set by the IOM — “The maximum level of daily nutrient intake that is likely to pose no risk of adverse effects.” — is 5.9 g/d of salt (2.3 g sodium plus 3.6 g chloride). [Ibid.] In teaspoons, 3 g is 0.5 teaspoons of salt and 5.9 g is just under 1.0 teaspoons of salt.

Why is too much salt unhealthy? Excess salt intake can increase your blood pressure, and thereby increase risk of heart attack or stroke. [CDC.gov] What many sources on this topic fail to tell you, though, is that some Americans are salt sensitive and the rest are salt resistant. If you are salt sensitive, excess salt intake raises your blood pressure. If you are salt resistant, a moderate increase in salt intake does not increase blood pressure. [American Heart Association study]

Why is too little salt unhealthy? Because, for everyone, even persons with high blood pressure, sodium and chloride are essential nutrients. That is why the CDC and other health authorities never recommend cutting all salt or all sodium out of your diet. They recommend a maximum intake for the general population of 2.3 g of sodium (5.9 g of salt). And they reduce that maximum to 1.5 g of sodium (3.8 g of salt) for persons with high blood pressure and other medical conditions. [CDC]

That’s the upper end of recommended salt intake. The minimum adequate intake is 1.2 g of sodium plus 1.8 g of chloride, for a total of 3 g/d of salt per day (1/2 teaspoon). If you eat processed food, fast food, and restaurant food regularly, you might be getting too much salt. But if you eat fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean fresh meat and fish, with little or no processed foods, you might be better off adding some salt to your diet. Salting food from a salt shaker a couple of meals a day is not much more or less than a half teaspoon of table salt.

– Thoreau

Note well: if you have high blood pressure or heart disease or any serious medical condition, follow your physician’s advice concerning salt and diet. This post is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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