Salt has been part of the regular diet for many years. It was used as offerings for gods in ancient Rome and Greece and considered worthy as holy gifts. So why does the Centers for Disease Control put a limit on how much of this godly substance we can consume?

One thing is true: we can’t live without salt. Salt is a vital part of our human bodies; it maintains fluid balance and helps our heart, lungs, and muscles function. A low intake of sodium causes the vascular volume to shrink, making the body produce catecholamines and adrenaline that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Yet, the CDC says that people should limit their daily salt intake to 2,300 milligrams or less, which is about one teaspoon of salt. Any more than this is considered a health concern. People over the age of 50, people who have elevated or high blood pressure, and people who have diabetes are recommended to consume even less than that: 1,500 milligrams.

Too much of anything—whether it’s tasty on fries or not—isn’t good. Nobody likes bland fries, but it’s more likable than waking up in a hospital bed after a heart attack. Research has shown that a high-sodium diet leads to an increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack.

Americans are especially prone to experience the negative side effects of salt. On average, we eat at restaurants around five times a week and consume an average of 3,400 milligrams of salt per day. Restaurants make up for the majority of the volume of salt Americans consume. Fast food restaurants contain about 1,850 milligrams of sodium per 1,000 calories and sit-down restaurants have about 2,100 per 1,000 calories. What we like, we want a lot of, right? But sometimes, holding back is the right choice.

Remember the last time you got a burger and fries? Remember biting into a fry’s crispy yellow skin, coated with oil, and sprinkled with just the right amount of salt? Does that memory want to make you go back to the nearest Micky D’s and order some fries to go?

No worries, there are a lot of alternatives to normal table salt that are much healthier. One of the most common alternatives is iodized salt, which contains iodine, an element important for thyroid regulation. Sea salt has larger granules that offer more flavor for less sodium.

Of course, the best way to avoid overconsumption of salt is simply to cook your own meals. No time for that? Then be more careful about reading nutrition labels. Try to go for the low-sodium alternative if it’s available.

So is salt our friend or enemy? That’s for you to decide.

[Photo by Wen Zhang – CC BY]

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