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How much salt is the right amount for our bodies?

Salt and the human body

Sodium chloride (NaCL), better known as salt, is made up of 60% chlorine and 40% sodium. It is a naturally occurring compound, existing in seawater.

Deposits form when seawater evaporates, leaving an area of salt. Over time, other sediments can form layers above the salt, leading to the availability of deposits of rock salt under the surface today.

Salt is an important part of a healthy diet. It helps maintain the balance of fluids in our bodies, and even contributes to the management of our nervous and muscular systems.

When we've taken in too much salt, our bodies react by making us thirsty, prompting us to increase our liquid intake, which helps us get rid of the excess salt via our kidneys more efficiently.

However, studies have defined an incontrovertible connection between high levels of salt consumption and several health issues, most significantly high blood pressure and osteoporosis.

So how much salt is the right amount?

Everyone would benefit from monitoring their salt intake levels -- whether they have high blood pressure or not -- but those with hypertension are taking a dangerous risk if they consume salt without care.

For young children under 10 years old, guidelines usually suggest that less than 5g of salt should be eaten per day, with under 5 year olds being limited to 3g. For people over 11 years old, that increases to a 6g general limit. Babies under 1 year old should never consume salt, as their kidneys are not developed enough to deal with it.

The adult 6g guideline equates to about one teaspoon of salt.

It should be noted that this includes the salt one consumes within other foods, and not simply the salt one adds for flavour. Bread, pizzas, cold meats, hamburgers, cheese, and many other common food staples all contain considerable amounts of salt.

Special attention should be given to the sodium content listed in ingredients. As sodium makes up 40% of salt, you need to multiply the sodium content by 2.5 in order to get a representation of how much salt a product contains. A product with 2g of sodium, for example, would contain 5g of salt.

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