What Happens When You Eat Too Much Salt? Salt is a common ingredient to add flavor to our foods. It is also used as a food preservative as it helps protect against bacteria and is non-toxic. Salt is made up of two elements, sodium, and chloride, in a ratio of 60% and 40%, respectively.
Apart from entertaining our taste buds, salt also has some other crucial functions. It plays an important role in the contraction and relaxation of our muscles, carrying out nerve impulses, and maintaining an electrolyte and hydration balance. While these functions are vital for our daily functioning, eating too much salt can cause harmful short-term and long-term effects.
In this article, we will encompass how eating too much salt can affect your health in different ways.
What Happens to Your Body If You Eat Too Much Salt?
According to the National Health Service (NHS), the recommended daily intake of salt for adults is 6 g per day or one teaspoon per day. Although there is not enough data to establish an upper limit on salt intake, taking too much salt has shown various negative impacts on health. These negative consequences can result from eating too much salt in a single day or over an extended period when you are used to adding too much salt to your food.
Here is what can happen to your body when you eat too much salt:
The sodium in salt acts like a binding agent for water. Our kidneys are designed to maintain a balance between water and sodium. If you eat too much salt, the first thing that happens will be water retention. To compensate for the excessive sodium in the body, your kidneys will start storing the water. This can leave you feeling bloated and heavy.
Water retention can be visible in the form of puffiness and swelling, especially in your hands and feet. In addition, the excessive fluid in your body can also make you weigh more than your actual weight (Grillo, 2019). Fortunately, these effects are temporary and will go back to normal overnight.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure or hypertension is another negative consequence of excessive salt intake. Water retention can increase your blood volume, which puts more pressure on the arteries and veins resulting in increased blood pressure. In addition, the salt reduction has been one of the most important and effective recommendations for controlling high blood pressure.
The good thing is that it might not happen to you. Research has indicated that some people are immune to hypertension resulting from excessive salt consumption. These people do not notice any changes in their blood pressure after eating a salty meal.
Plenty of research proves that restricting your dietary salt intake can result in lower blood pressure and play an essential part in managing hypertension. According to a 2013 review, a moderate reduction in daily salt consumption for four or more weeks can cause significant improvements in blood pressure. In addition, these results are consistent in all genders and are not affected by ethnicity.
Another sign that you have eaten too much salt is that you cannot seem to quench your thirst. Restaurants and fast foods are rich in sodium even when they do not taste much salty. A dry mouth and excessive thirst are compensatory mechanisms to make you drink more water to balance the excessive sodium in the body.
In case you are unable to drink more fluids, your body can go into a state of hypernatremia. Hypernatremia is a condition when the sodium levels in your body are raised beyond their safe limit. While in hypernatremia, the water seeps out of the cells. It mixes up with the blood to bind with the excessive sodium and make it less diluted. In addition, you can feel restless, have breathing difficulty, decreased urination, and trouble sleeping (Shrimanker, 2022; Somani, 2022).
Susceptibility to Stomach Cancer
Eating too much salt can increase your risk of getting stomach cancer. Stomach cancer is one of the most common types of cancer and is known to be the third deadliest form of cancer.
Although the exact mechanism by which salt can cause stomach cancer is not known, it is theorized that foods with high salt content can make your stomach lining thin and put you at risk of stomach ulcers.
According to a 2013 review, people who take 3 mg of salt daily have a 68% more chance of getting stomach cancer as compared to people taking 1 mg of daily salt.
Salt-rich foods can also cause stomach upset or diarrhea due to dehydration. You might feel nauseated after eating too much salt. These symptoms are most common in people who eat preserved vegetables, meat, and seafood.
Higher Risk of Heart Diseases
Eating too much salt on a daily basis can put you at risk of acquiring heart disease and premature death. It is an established fact that excessive salt intake can increase your blood pressure, which is one of the leading causes of heart disease and premature death.
However, when it comes to the evidence, research shows controversial results. Therefore, more research is needed to prove a connection between heart disease and salt intake.
Can You Overdose on Salt?
Usually, a person consumes 9-12 grams of salt daily. Most of this salt comes from processed food. Although theoretically, it is possible, the incidence of salt overdose is rare. For example, a person who weighs 154 pounds (70 kg) would have to eat 35 to 70 grams (2-4 tablespoons) of salt to suffer from an overdose.
However, this scenario differs for people with a medical condition, especially heart, kidney, or liver diseases. For these people, eating 25 grams of salt daily can result in fatal consequences (Strazzullo, 2014).
What to do if you Have Eaten too Much Salt?
There are a few things you can do to compensate in case you have eaten too much salt.
- Drink Plenty of Fluids
As many problems resulting from a high salt intake are caused by water and sodium imbalance, drinking plenty of water can help you regain this balance. In addition, the dehydration caused by water retention can be compensated by replenishing your fluids.
- Eat Potassium Rich Foods: Potassium is another nutrient that plays a significant role in maintaining a fluid balance. Eat potassium-rich foods to help your body regain a balanced fluid state after consuming a salt-rich meal. You can get potassium from fruits, vegetables, seeds, legumes, nuts, and dairy products. Potassium-rich food is also helpful for people who are salt sensitive.
- Exercise: Our body excretes out most salt through urine. Sweat is another way we can lose electrolytes, including sodium. Doing some physical activity can help you lose extra salt with sweat. However, keep in mind to stay hydrated while exercising.
If you eat a salty meal, make sure to avoid salt in your following meals on the same day.
How to Limit Your Salt Intake?
“Prevention is better than cure.”
It is always a good idea to prevent the side effects of something than to deal with them after they have happened. Changing your dietary habits to cut back on your salt intake is the most effective way of preventing its negative consequences.
Here is what you can do to limit your salt intake:
- Develop a taste for homemade food. Limit your visit to restaurants and make it a preference to eat at home.
- Make a habit of cooking at home. By preparing your own food, you can control the amount of salt you use in your meals.
- Replace packed foods with fresh vegetables and meat.
- While grocery shopping, look for “freshly frozen vegetables” instead of choosing ones with added seasoning or sauces.
- Make it a habit of checking food labels for their sodium content and make sure to buy products with a minimum amount of salt.
- In case you are eating out, request to have your sauce or dressing on the side. However, avoid pouring the sauce on your food. Instead, use your fork to limit its intake.
Salt is not only essential for adding flavor to our meals, but it also plays a crucial role in many vital bodily functions, including muscle contraction, nerve conduction, and keeping a check on our electrolytes. However, like everything else, an excess of salt is bad for health and is known to have certain side effects. Keeping your salt intake moderate is one way of avoiding such consequences. Most health authorities recommend a daily salt intake of 3.8-5.8 grams.
Some people are more at risk of showing negative symptoms of salt intake as compared to others. Furthermore, people with certain health conditions are more severely affected by the negative impacts of excessive salt intake.
In case you have eaten too much salt, it is recommended to keep your fluid replenished, eat potassium-rich food, and exercise to compensate.
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