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Salt: The Good, The Bad, and The Controversial

There has been a substantial amount of media attention focused on the dangers of salt and the association of over-consumption with high blood pressure and various other medical conditions. There has been some debate regarding the correlations between salt consumption and high blood pressure, but authorities agree that minimizing refined salt intake will not hurt the average North American diet.

Everyone needs salt which carries electrical impulses to the nerves and muscles, and the body is pretty efficient at regulating levels. Nonetheless, when the body is overloaded with salt, it is impossible to rid of the excess.

How much salt is recommended for our children? Here are some guidelines:

  • 0-1 year olds = <1 g per day

  • 1-3 year olds = 2 g per day

  • 4-6 year olds = 3 g per day

  • 7-10 year olds = 5 g per day

We actually don’t really need to consume any salt, as we get plenty from simply eating vegetables and meat. That being said, there is a big difference between refined salt we find in the grocery stores and sea salt which actually does provide health benefits. (see below)

In fact, the main problem that arises from salt stems from the consumption of processed foods (as well as restaurant, especially fast food outlets) that are responsible for approximately 75% of the average person’s daily intake of salt – and food marketed to children is no different. Have a look at some of the culprits (% indicates daily recommended intake for a 4 year old):

  • Chicken nuggets 1.75g of salt 58%

  • Pizza 1.25g of salt 42%

  • Doughnut 1.2g of salt 40%

  • Burger 2g of salt 67%

  • Frosties cereal 1.5g of salt 50%

  • Cheese or ham lunchable pack 2.4g of salt 80%

Regardless, as mentioned above, refined salt is substantially different from salt from natural sources. Refined salt is processed and removes most of the naturally occurring elements that otherwise exist in natural salt sources. Natural salt has up to 84 natural minerals, whereas grocery salt in predominantly chemical sodium chloride.

As such, implying that “all salt is bad” is analogous to the old thought process that “all fat is bad”. Just as “not all fat is bad”, not all salts are the same either. Rather, we should be increasingly replacing table salt with whole, unprocessed sea salts. Sea salts contain many trace minerals that play a role in keeping our electrolyte balance in check. Finally, to further reduce the consumption of refined salt in your home, you can also substitute black pepper and spices as alternative seasonings.

If your child is already used to processed and salty foods, weaning them off of the taste may take time however if you persevere, their taste buds will change. And again, sea salt and various seasonings are great alternatives to enhance the flavor of food to suit your child’s palette.

Finally, it is important to also be aware of the controversy surrounding salt. Some advocates assert that even refined salt isn’t necessarily bad for you and that there is a lack of scientific evidence that supports the correlation with the incidence of high blood pressure. Rather they purport that it is the lack of other minerals that keep water inside the cells that cause this rise in blood pressure. The claim is that a reduction in salt intake has a meaningless benefit for people with normal blood pressure.

In summary, regardless of which argument you agree with, the following are some guidelines that are generally agreed to by all:

  • Consume less packaged and prepared foods

  • Use sea salt instead of refined salt

  • Minimize eating in restaurants, especially fast food outlets

  • Use pepper & spices to enhance flavor to meet your palette

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