Pass the salt? What you should know about sodium chloride

Adding uncooked salt in food is not healthy, health experts warn.

Sodium chloride, also known as salt, is an essential compound our body uses to; absorb and transport nutrients, maintain blood pressure, maintain the right balance of fluid, transmit nerve signals, and contract and relax muscles.

However, health experts warn that while sodium is good, it may have a negative impact on your health, especially if taken in high quantity. It may have serious consequences and increase the risk of developing several chronic diseases.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SODIUM

Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist at Amazon Nutrition Cabinet in Kigali, says sodium is a body electrolyte, which are present in the human body, and the balance of the electrolytes in our bodies is essential for normal function of our cells and our organs.

He says sodium in the body balances blood flow and is normally found in the blood stream.

In clinical settings, edema (the abnormal accumulation of fluid in certain tissues within the body), protein deficiency and high pressure might be a result of sodium imbalance in the body.

Kamanzi notes that sodium is the only electrolyte in the body that arouses fluid balance, therefore, making it an essential mineral that the body needs to strengthen the muscles; and without it, the muscles are inactivated.

“Many people cannot survive without sodium chloride; they normally take it in form of table salt.

“Plant origin foods may have sodium but food preparation leads to the loss of essential mineral salts, including sodium. Because of this poor preparation, people cannot survive with the sodium that is normally found in the food, thus supplementing by using table salt,” he explains.

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?

Joseph Uwiragiye, a nutritionist at University Teaching Hospital Kigali (CHUK), says anything taken in excess will always have a negative impact.

In the case of sodium chloride, when consumed in excess, it can lead to fluid imbalance.

He adds that taking in a lot of sodium chloride damages the kidney because it’s an organ that deals with sodium, and a large amount of it can lead to kidney failure.

“It can lead to hypertention, this is because it (sodium) plays a role in fluid and blood imbalance; because sodium is in the blood when taken in excess, it can lead to high blood pressure, and this is common in many people because of the habit of high intake of salt,” he observes.

If you are feeling a bit dehydrated, it may be related to what you are eating. Too much salt in your diet can cause dehydration. To lower the concentration of sodium chloride in our body is by minimising the consumption of the table salt we normally use.

“There are people who have a habit of adding uncooked salt in their food just to feel the taste of the salt. This habit is unhealthy and should be stopped because it exposes one to many risks,” he warns.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mgs) a day and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults.

Apart from the salt used at the table, Kamanzi says there are other foods that have a high amount of sodium chloride.

He says these include processed and packed foods, and this is because sodium is also used as a preservative.

He advises that because of this, it’s vital for people to avoid such foods and concentrate on fresh food only.

Erick Musengimana, a nutritionist at Rwanda Diabetes Association in Kigali, says that a lifestyle that involves such foods should be changed as it puts one’s health at risk.

He adds that improving food preparation is another way to minimise salt intake.

“Eating raw vegetables like carrots is important because such foods have their own natural sodium, which is good for the body,” he says.

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