Salt – The Silent Killer (Also Known as White Death)

Salt is an essential mineral in our diet, but it is possible to have ” too much Salt!”

I want to discuss this issue and the place of salt  in maintaining good health.

The History of Salt

Salt has been used since the beginning of recorded history. A very ancient saltworks,dating back to about 6,050 BC, was discovered at an archaeological site next to a salt water spring in Lunca in  Romania. One of the oldest verifiable  salt works dating back to 6000BC  was on the shores of  Xiechi Lake in China where  salt was harvested from the surface.

Salt had a very important place in the rituals of many religions and was included amongst the offerings in the tombs of the ancient Egyptians.

There are thirty five references to salt in the Hebrew Bible. Probably the most well-known is that regarding Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt. She dis-obeyed God and looked back at the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as God destroyed them.

The Christian New Testament also mentions salt on six occasions. Jesus refers to His followers as “…..the salt of the earth…”

Salt was essential for the preservation of food before the days of refrigeration. It was an important commodity used in trade. In the first millennium BC, Celtic communities became very wealthy through trading salt and salted meat to ancient Greece and Rome in exchange for wine and other luxuries.

Types of Salt

Un-refined Salts contain different minerals, giving each one its distinct taste. The unique  flavour varies from region to region, depending on where and how it was harvested.

Completely raw Sea salt has quite a bitter taste because it contains magnesium and calcium compounds and is rarely eaten.

Unrefined sea salts are often used in bathing additives such as “Bath salts” and are used for their therapeutic and healing properties. They are also used  in Cosmetics

Refined Salt which is the most widely used form of salt consists of mostly Sodium Chloride. Food grade salt accounts for less than 20% of  worldwide salt production. The majority is used in industry for such things as pulp and paper production, setting of dyes in textiles and fabrics, and the making of soaps and detergents

Table salt is refined salt which contains up to 99% sodium chloride. Another component is an anti-caking agents to make it free flowing.

In some parts of the world, Iodine deficiency is a real problem. This can lead to the development of  enlargement of the Thyroid gland in the neck called goitre and myxoedema in adults and cretinism in children, if the deficiency is not corrected .

To solve this problem tiny amounts of potassium iodide, sodium iodide, or sodium iodate are added to make iodised salt

The Function of Salt in the Body

Sodium is one of the primary electrolytes (often called blood salts) in the body. It, along with potassium, magnesium and calcium, is present in un-refined salt.

The body normally keeps a very good balance of electrolytes, but various things can upset that balance and lead to serious  medical problems. Sodium, along with potassium, is an  essential mineral for regulating fluid balance in the body. Chloride is also important in controlling fluid balance as well as being an essential component of the gastric and intestinal secretions.

Sodium deficiency is highly unusual in healthy people but can lead to low blood pressure, dehydration and muscle cramps.

The question we need to answer is, ” Is too much Salt  harmful?”

The answer is a resounding, YES !!

Excess sodium intake in the form of too much Salt can have very serious consequences.

The Harmful Effects of  too Much Salt on the Body

It is important to remember that salt is found naturally in all foods, so it is very difficult  to eat too little salt.

The problem  in  our Western Society is the high levels of salt added to processed foods.

The foods that contribute the most to Australians’ salt consumption are bread and bread rolls (25%), meat, poultry & game products and dishes, including processed meat (21%), cereal products and cereal based dishes (e.g. biscuits and pizza) (17%), savoury sauces and condiments (8%) and cheese (5%). Breakfast cereals contribute approximately 4% of total salt consumption from processed foods and dried soup mixes less than 3%.  (Source: Food Standards of Australia & New Zealand)

In a  Review in The Journal of Human Hypertension” * in 2008 , the following observations were made:

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death and disability worldwide

Raised blood pressure (BP), cholesterol and smoking are major risk factors

Among these, raised BP is the most important cause, counting for 62% of strokes and 49% of coronary heart disease

There is strong evidence that the consumption of too much salt is the major factor increasing BP and therefore CVD

Also a high salt intake may have other directly harmful effects independent of the effect on BP, for example increasing the risk of stroke, left heart enlargement and kidney disease.

Increasing evidence also suggests that salt intake is related to obesity through soft drink consumption and is associated with kidney stones and osteoporosis (thinning of bones)

High salt intake may be a major cause of stomach cancer; this was so in countries such as Japan where there was a high intake of  condiments such as Soy products with a high salt content.

Countries such as Japan which have already reduced the salt content of foods have shown a reduction in the incidence of these diseases.

Salt intake Recommendations :

The harmful effect of too much salt in the diet is not noticed in the short term but occurs over a long time. Therefore it is important to commence salt reduction in the diet from the early years of life.

” Consumers concerned about their sodium intake should check the Nutrition Information Panel on food labels for the total sodium concentration per 100 g of food and compare the labels of like foods to select those with low or reduced sodium amounts. Some foods are labelled as ‘low salt’ foods.  A ‘low salt’ food is defined by the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code as a food with a sodium concentration of no more than 120 mg per 100 g.  Other claims that assist with choice of lower sodium foods include reduced salt/ sodium, salt / sodium free, and no added salt/sodium. Reduced salt means the food must have a limited amount of sodium and have at least 25% less salt/sodium than the comparative reference food. Sodium intake can also be reduced by limiting use of salt in the home, for example, by adding less salt to food during and after cooking.”  (Source: Food Standards of Australia & New Zealand)

The current recommendation by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, is that adults should consume less than 2,300mg of sodium per day, which is equivalent to  6000mg or 6 grams of salt .

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The take home message for reducing salt in the diet:

1. Do not add salt to cooking  and do not place it on the meal table. This may take a little while for your palate to adjust but is worth the effort. I remember when we decided to make this change in our family 30 years ago. I did not enjoy it at first but it did not take long to realise that the I was enjoying the flavours  in the food much more without the added salt

2. Become a label reader. The Sodium content is printed on most packages and cans these days


3. Purchase low salt bread and breakfast cereals.

4. Reduce you intake of processed foods.

5. Make fresh fruit and vegetables the major part of your diet

6. Make take-away and fast foods an occasional treat rather than part of the regular diet

7.  Use herbs and spices to add flavour to meals. This is something that I have learned to do in my meal preparation. Some advocate the   use of sea salt as an alternative to refined salt, but remember that both are composed of sodium chloride

8. Many condiments and sauces have too high a salt content, so limit their use and look for the low salt varieties.

I hope that this information has been helpful in developing your understanding of the place of  Salt in your diet.

Be sure to check the link to above, or the Amazon banner below, for more information on this and related topics

Doctor  Bill

* “Journal of Human Hypertension” advance online publication,

18 December 2008; doi:10.1038/jhh.2008.144