Ahh, salt… It’s the most common seasoning in most household kitchens and unless you have some medical restriction that prohibits its use, I don’t know too many people who haven’t thrown a dash on their food from one time to another. Salt is pretty old school and has dipped its toes in to a number of different aspects of humanity. It’s not only been used as a seasoning, but has also been used as a preservative for food, a disinfectant and even as a form of currency. So, what’s the real deal with salt?
Many people actually crave salt. There are a number of different possible reasons for this and I’m sure at some point, you or someone close to you has demonstrated the inability to stop eating once you’ve started in on a salty snack. You know, “betcha can’t eat just one?” As with all things in life, there’s some good and some bad. And I’m going to spit out some of both…
Depending on which generation you grew up in, you’ll have noticed that most salt containers will have the words “with Iodine” or “iodized” added to it. This is because Iodine is a necessary mineral component that’s part of a hormone called thyroxin, which helps to regulate one’s thyroid. Humans need to obtain Iodine from outside sources in their diet, since the human body doesn’t produce it. So most of North America began adding it to salt, sometime in the 1920’s.
Sodium, which is only one of the components of salt, is a necessary mineral that the human body needs in order to properly balance one’s hydration and blood volume. This is usually done with the consumption of potassium and magnesium as well. Sodium directly influences blood pressure, and folks who suffer from chronically low blood pressure will sometimes be advised to increase their sodium intake.
The hydration aspect is an important one, from a fitness AND a Diabetes perspective. As I can easily attest from a lengthy bike ride in extreme summer heat, lack of mineral salts, such as sodium, will cause a condition called hypionatremia, which is a problem when the water levels in your body rise too high and your tissues and blood cells begin to swell. Sodium can act as an electrolyte to help balance out hydration and the absorption of water in your system. Your body also needs sodium for proper muscle and nerve tissue health. The contracting of your muscle tissue depends on proper sodium levels, as well.
Since life is a matter of balance, there’s a bad side to salt/sodium, as well. Too much sodium increases your risk of stroke, kidney disease, bone and joint issues as well as heart failure. Sound familiar? It should; these are all possible Diabetes complications, as well. So for someone who has Diabeties, an increased level of sodium will aggravate all those existing complications.
Whether you have Diabetes or not, sodium falls under the same category as carbohydrates. Your body needs it, but you have to find the proper balance. Not enough sodium will cause issues and too much sodium will cause complications. Just like the over-consumption of carbohydrates. From a fitness standpoint, you sodium (as well as other mineral salts) in order to stay properly hydrated when exercising. In fact, most “sports drinks” are just water infused with variations of sodium and potassium, with some colouring and flavouring thrown in to justify the crazy price retailers charge you for it.
The average person will get all the salt/sodium they need through the consumption of their regular food, as most food has pretty solid levels of sodium. This means that unless you’re training at an athletic level or in the extreme heat, consistently sipping water and eating a healthy diet will be enough. For the former, sipping the occasional electrolyte sports drink can be helpful to avoid nausea, muscle cramps and fatigue during heavy workout. ☯
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