Uncovering the truth about salt

Diets, General / Lifestyle choices

  8 Minutes
It is said that the cure for anything in life is salt water – sweat, tears or the sea. Why then does salt always get such a bad rap? If salt serves a purpose in your body, adds flavour, cures food and heals wounds, why should it be avoided? Salt in the right amounts and from the right places might just be good for you. We take a granular look at salt and explain why managing how much salt you eat and checking the label is important for your health.

What is salt?

Salt is a mineral that is made up of two elements namely 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Saltiness is one of the five basic human senses of taste along with bitterness, sweetness, sourness and something called umami. Salt is used to flavour, bind and stabilise food. It is also used as a preservative because bacteria can’t thrive in salty substances.

When salt dissolves in the body it breaks down into its component parts of sodium and chloride. Sodium gives salt its salty flavour. It’s important for nerve and muscle functioning. Sodium helps your body to control blood pressure and volume. Chloride is an electrolyte that does three main things in your body. It helps regulate your pH, your blood pressure and helps your stomach to create acid to digest food.

Why is salt bad for me?

Healthy adults should not be eating more than 2,300 mg or one teaspoon of salt a day. There is a lot of hidden salt in the food that we eat. Although salt in small amounts is essential, eating too much forces your body to retain water. This leads to a condition called hypertension or high blood pressure and may place strain on other organs including the heart, kidneys and even your brain.

Here’s the rub though, most South Africans eat between 6-11 grams of salt per day. That’s more than double the daily maximum amount recommended by the World Health Organization.

South Africa was the first country in the world to limit salt levels in everyday food items. The legislation set a maximum total sodium content for certain foodstuffs in 13 categories including bread, butter spreads and ready-to-eat savoury snacks. That’s because we have one of the highest rates of hypertension worldwide.

In South Africa, 46% of women and 44% of men aged 15 years and older have high blood pressure. This condition drastically increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. “It’s actually responsible for one in two strokes and two in five heart attacks in South Africa,” says the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa.

For this reason, those with high blood pressure are often advised to follow a low sodium diet, which has been proven to help lower your blood pressure.

Hypertension podcast: listen here.

Could salt be good for me?

Some studies have found that low sodium diets in healthy people may increase insulin resistance, LDL cholesterol and blood triglycerides. Is salt now good for you? Not exactly. What really matters when it comes to salt are three things:

  1. Your balance of sodium and potassium.
  2. Where your salt comes from.
  3. The state of your health.

The role of sodium and potassium in your body

  1. The role of sodium and potassium in your body
    Neuron network example diagram, vector illustration. Synapses, soma, axon and dendrites closeup scheme. Nervous system electric signal communication structure. Neurology science study information.Sodium and potassium are both known as ions. These are electrically charged atoms or chemicals that help to power your cells and are used by your neurons to communicate. Neurons are nerve cells that allow you to send messages all over your body so that you can function.Your body needs the right balance of sodium and potassium to function properly. Potassium is pulled into your cells and sodium is pushed out of your cells to generate an electrical charge. This powers your neurons and enables communication. You also need the optimum amounts of both to balance and maintain healthy kidney function. Your body relies on both nutrients for proper fluid equilibrium and to support healthy kidney function.


    Having too much salt and not enough potassium may lead to problems with your blood pressure. Too much salt forces your body to retain water. The higher your fluid levels, the higher your blood pressure which is why your kidneys filter your blood and excrete excess fluid as urine.

    The issue is your kidneys need the right balance of potassium and sodium to make this possible. If you have too much salt and not enough potassium it throws things out of balance.

    Too much potassium and not enough sodium can cause health problems such as muscle weakness or in some cases, hyperkalaemia (the medical term used to describe high potassium levels) which can also affect your heart health.

    When humankind was more active and spent more time hunting and gathering for food, we needed a lot more sodium in our diets and naturally had more potassium because we ate more fruits, vegetables and wholefoods. Today, we are more sedentary, eat a lot more refined carbohydrates, too much salt and not nearly enough wholefoods. Most of us don’t drink enough good quality filtered water either. This depletes potassium and forces the body to retain salt and water.

    This is how a sodium and potassium imbalance is created in the body. Potassium works inside your cells. It is intracellular making it difficult to measure in standard blood tests. The healthy adult should have a sodium to potassium ratio of 1:4. For most people it is the other way around.

  2. What are the different types of salt?
    Japan is believed to consume a lot of salt, yet it has the highest number of centenarians worldwide and one of the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease. This is due to the type of salt they consume according to the experts. It is derived from more natural sources, hasn’t been so heavily refined and retains some of the innate minerals. The type of salt you choose to consume is extremely important.


    • Himalayan Pink Salt
      Himalayan Pink Salt is widely considered to be the cleanest and healthiest salt available. It has around 84 trace minerals and elements, including potassium. As the name may suggest, it typically comes from the salt mines below the Himalayan Mountain Range and has largely been untouched by pollution or other unwanted chemicals.
    • Celtic Sea Salt
      Sometimes known as grey salt, this particular type of salt originates from France, or more specifically, Brittany. It’s generally considered to be a moist, unrefined salt that’s still rich in minerals and is excellent for helping to restore your balance of electrolytes too.
    • Sea Salt
      This type of salt is favoured by the Japanese and other countries in East Asia. Sea salt is believed to contain plenty of nutrients. It was Alfred Vogel’s choice of salt too. This is why his famous and loved product, Herbamare combines sea salt with a variety of fresh herbs and vegetables to make it the Rolls Royce of salt on the market. Note to the reader, once you taste Herbamare you will always have it in your home. It’s that good. A.Vogel Herbamare is full of flavour and low in sodium content making it an ideal alternative for anyone diagnosed with high blood pressure, and for those who would like to lower their sodium intake without compromising on quality or taste.
  3. Focus on your health
    What’s good for one person, might be harmful to the next. How much sodium you need and how it affects you will vary from person to person. If you suffer from high blood pressure or have a history of hypertension, then limiting your salt intake sounds sensible.If you exercise regularly the chances are you’re going to be working up a sweat, which means that you’ll be losing electrolytes such as potassium and sodium. That’s why some athletes are likely to need slightly more salt in their diets in comparison to those that lead more sedentary lifestyles. Easy does it.

Living Naturally recommends

Living Naturally recommends living a life in natural balance. A healthy diet of wholefoods, fresh fruit and vegetables of what’s in season and drinking 2 litres of good quality filtered water throughout the day every day, managing your pH levels and regular 6-8 hours deep sleep is worth its weight in gold. If you’re struggling to find the sweet spot, consider shaking things up a bit with:

A.Vogel Herbamare A.Vogel Herbamare: Pure sea salt infused with organic garden-fresh herbs and vegetables. By far the most popular of the A.Vogel condiments, Herbamare has been a staple in Europe for decades.
A.Vogel Kelpamare Sauce A.Vogel Kelpamare Sauce: Kelpamare is a distinctive seasoning sauce prepared from a blend of soy sauce, spices, organically grown vegetables, cereals and concentrated kelp extract. A delicious, tasty soya and vegetable sauce, which can be used on salads, vegetables, omelettes, steak and meat dishes, etc. Suitable for vegans.
A.Vogel Multiforce A.Vogel Multiforce – This is a source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as citrate and bicarbonate salts (alkalising minerals) and has a systemic alkalinising effect. It supports the body’s acid buffering mechanism by supplying essential alkaline minerals required to combat a typical acidogenic diet (high in animal protein and low/deficient in fruit, vegetables, and minerals) and lifestyle, thereby assisting in addressing the negative consequences thereof.

Parts of this article originally appeared on A.Vogel UK and can be found here.

References and additional reading:

  1. Thornton, E. (2019) Fact or fiction? the truth about salt, A.Vogel Herbal Remedies. Available at: https://www.avogel.co.uk/food/fact-or-fiction-the-truth-about-salt
  2. Salt reduction (2020) World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/salt-reduction
  3. Your body doesn’t want the extra salt: Heart & stroke foundation: South Africa (2017) Heart & Stroke Foundation | South Africa. Available at: https://heartfoundation.co.za/topical_articles/your-body-doesnt-want-the-extra-salt
  4. What you need to know about the sodium regulations: Facts (2021) Facts SA. Available at: https://www.factssa.com/news/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-sodium-regulations
  5. Wang, M. et al. (2015) A meta-analysis of effect of dietary salt restriction on blood pressure in Chinese adults, Global heart. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26014655
  6. Garg, R. et al. (2011) Low-salt diet increases insulin resistance in healthy subjects, Metabolism: clinical and experimental. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21036373
  7. Jürgens, G. and Graudal, N.A. (2003) Effects of low sodium diet versus high sodium diet on blood pressure, renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterols, and triglyceride, The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12535503