Content

Introduction

Salt, or, more correctly, sodium chloride (NaCl), is a chemical substance, more precisely a mineral, essential for the normal functioning of the organism; the human body is equipped with sensors (they are called "receptors") that they allow to perceive the salty taste, one of the five fundamental flavors.

In the kitchen it is used to flavor, preserve, dehydrate, for the preparation of cured meats, brines and much more. The salt used in cooking can be obtained from sea water (sea salt) or extracted from the mines deriving from the slow evaporation of ancient sea basins (rock salt).

From the "raw" salt, after a refining process that eliminates most of the other salts present, refined salt is obtained (which can be coarse or fine depending on the size of the individual crystals) containing mainly sodium chloride (98%) ; in the refined salt traces of other minerals may remain (iron, potassium, magnesium etc.) but for the smallest quantity present, their nutritional relevance is nil.

Salt and health

A correct and balanced use of salt is extremely important: if on the one hand salt is essential for the body, on the other hand its excessive consumption is one of the most common causes of cardiovascular disease.

The salt provides sodium and chlorine, two fundamental elements in the regulation of the "acid-base balance of the body (ie the balance between acid and alkaline substances present in the blood and tissues) and of the water balance (ie the distribution fluids as well as the volume of blood in the body).

Sodium, in particular, has very important functions by regulating the amount of water present in the blood and between tissue cells (extracellular or interstitial fluid). Furthermore, it influences muscle contraction and nerve impulse transmission.

The sodium naturally contained in food is already sufficient to meet the daily requirement. Adding more while preparing foods or consuming salt-rich processed foods often (such as cured meats, cheeses, and salty snacks) leads to more intake than necessary.

If the diet is too rich in salt, and therefore sodium, there is an increased passage of water into the blood and extracellular fluid. This increases the risk of edema and high blood pressure (arterial hypertension) but also of heart disease, blood vessels and kidneys, especially in susceptible people. High sodium consumption is also associated with a higher risk of stomach tumors and possibly osteoporosis (because it increases renal elimination of calcium).

The risk of raised blood pressure (blood pressure) increases with advancing age and with a diet rich in sodium and low in potassium, a mineral found in fruit (both fresh and dried) and vegetables. Reducing the daily amount of salt, therefore, can be an "important measure both to prevent the development of high blood pressure and to reduce it, if already present, in many people.

An important element that can be taken with salt and which has proven health benefits is iodine.For this reason, health recommendations recommend choosing iodized salt: a salt in which iodine is added during production.

Iodine is a micronutrient necessary for the formation of thyroid hormones which play a central role in the development of the nervous system and in maintaining metabolic balance. Its lack is the most frequent cause of thyroid disease, goiter, nodules or hypothyroidism: a important public health problem, widespread worldwide and which also affects over 6 million people in Italy.

Daily need for salt

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a maximum consumption of 5 grams per day of salt for adults (about a teaspoon), corresponding to 2 grams of sodium.

Babies and children under 11 need less salt than adults. Children under one year of age must introduce less than 1 gram of salt per day. The nursing baby will receive the right amount of minerals from the mother's milk, including sodium chloride; infant formula contains a similar amount.

Salt content in food

The sources of sodium in the diet are many: foods in their natural state (for example water, fruit, vegetables, meat, etc.), cooked dishes, but also processed products (for example bread, baked goods, olives, cheeses, cereals for breakfast, ketchup and other sauces) contain much more salt than you imagine.

Learning to read the nutrition labels, printed on the back, side or front of the packaging, is the first step in making informed and healthy choices. They specify, among other things, the quantity of salt contained. Sometimes, food labels only indicate the amount of sodium but going back from sodium to salt is simple: just keep in mind that one gram of table salt (sodium chloride) contains about 0.4 grams of sodium.According to this principle, adults should introduce 2 g of sodium per day, equal to 5 g of salt.

Based on the salt content, foods can be classified into:

  • low content, i.e. 0.3 grams (0.1 gram of sodium) or less per 100 grams of product
  • medium content, between 0.3 grams and 1.5 grams
  • high content, greater than 1.5 grams of salt (0.6 grams of sodium) per 100 grams of product

As a general rule, we must try to consume foods that have a low or medium salt content, limiting the use of foods with a high content to “special” situations and therefore rare.

Of course, an easy way to introduce less salt is to avoid adding it both during cooking and at the table.

Foods rich in salt

Medium-high salt foods include:

  • fresh anchovies
  • anchovies preserved in salt
  • bacon
  • aged cheese
  • sliced
  • cured meat
  • sausages
  • olives
  • shrimp and prawns
  • salted and toasted nuts (almonds, peanuts, pistachios, cashews, etc.)
  • fish preserved in salt
  • smoked meat and fish
  • soy sauce and other ready-made sauces
  • bouillon cubes
  • capers and olives in brine, in salt, in oil

Foods that can be high in salt

In the following foods, the salt content can vary greatly between different brands or varieties. This means that it is important to compare the different packages to choose the ones with the lowest salt content:

  • bakery products (bread, donuts, focaccia, etc.)
  • pasta sauces
  • french fries
  • Pizza
  • ready meals
  • ketchup, mayonnaise and other sauces
  • breakfast cereals

Indications and warnings

Habits, especially eating habits, are not easy to change but it is possible to follow some useful precautions to reduce the amount of daily salt:

  • use as little salt as possible, when preparing food, introduce the salt with the tip of the spoon rather than with your hands; prefer iodized salt unless otherwise indicated by the doctor
  • prefer aromatic herbs and spices, to flavor foods, without using salt, you can use garlic, onion, basil, parsley, rosemary, sage, mint, oregano, marjoram, celery, leek, thyme, fennel seeds, pepper, chilli, nutmeg, saffron, curry
  • use lemon juice and / or vinegar
  • pay close attention to the salt contained in the products purchased, indicated on the labels
  • avoid putting the salt shaker on the table
  • choose fresh and unpackaged food, for example, packaged cold cuts and sausages contain much more salt than sliced ​​ones because they have to withstand a longer storage time
  • avoid using nuts, preserves, mustard, soy sauce, ketchup, and other sauces
  • avoid using industrial sauces

The habit of consuming foods rich in salt is addictive: the more you eat tasty foods, the more you need to add salt. Instead, it would be advisable to gradually accustom the palate to consume foods with a reduced salt content.

The sources

Table 1 - Bread and cereals

Foods

Weight Unit of Measure

Content

   

Sodium

salt

 

Grams

Grams

Grams

Bread

50 (1 medium slice)

0.15

0.4

Blanched bread

50 (1 medium slice)

Tracks *

Tracks *

Breakfast cereals

30 (4 tablespoons)

0.33*

0.8*

Table 2 - Preserved and processed foods rich in salt

Foods

Weight Unit of Measure

Content

   

Sodium

salt

 

Grams

Grams

Grams

Preserved table olives

35 (5 olives)

0.45

1.1

Pickled vegetables

60 (3 tablespoons)

0.48

1.2

Baked ham

50 (3-4 medium slices)

0.36

0.9

Raw ham (sweet)

50 (3-4 medium slices)

1.29

3.2

Milan salami

50 (8-10 medium slices)

0.75

1.9

Cow's mozzarella

100 (1 serving)

0.20

0.5

Provolone

50 (1 serving)

0.34

0.9

Cheese

22 (1 unit)

0.22

0.6

Tuna in oil (drained)

52 (1 box)

0.16

0.4

Tuna in oil with a low percentage of salt (drained)

52 (1 box)

0.05

0.1

Potato chips in bag

25 (1 pack)

0.27

0.8

Potato chips with reduced salt content

25 (1 pack)

0.09

0.2

Table 3 - Salt and alternative seasonings

Foods

Weight Unit of Measure

Content

   

Sodium

salt

 

Grams

Grams

Grams

salt

6 (1 tsp)

2.4

6

Soy sauce

6 (1 tsp)

0.34

0.9

Stock cube (vegetable / meat)

3 (a quarter of a nut)

0.5

1.2

mayonnaise

14 (1 tablespoon)

0.07

0.2

Ketchup

14 (1 tablespoon)

0.16

0.4

Mustard

14 (1 tablespoon)

0.41

1.0

Source: Guidelines for Healthy Eating, INRAN 2003
Sodium values ​​marked with * are derived from information from nutrition labels. To facilitate reading, the equivalent in salt obtained by multiplying the sodium content by 2.5 is reported.

Bibliography

Council for Agricultural Research and Analysis of the Agricultural Economy (CREA). Guidelines for a healthy diet 2003

Ministry of Health. Actions and projects of the Ministry on the consumption of salt

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