Even if you’re not the type of person who adds salt to every meal, it’s likely salt is hidden in some of the foods you eat. Many processed foods have almost your day’s allowance of sodium in just one serving. Salt is the primary ingredient in many condiments like soy sauce, miso and other broths, and most pickled or preserved snacks. Salt is hidden in the preparation of many foods like chicken, fish, and even edamame.
Most cultures consume far beyond the recommended amount of sodium. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends consuming under 5 grams of salt a day. On average, Japanese people consume about 11 grams of salt per day, Americans eat 3.3 grams, and Indians eat about 9 grams. While the WHO wants people to lower their salt intake below 5 grams, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people who have risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease should reduce their salt intake to 1.5 grams.
So, what’s the deal with salt? It adds flavor and makes food more satisfying, but at a price. Salt is linked to increases in blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. High salt diets are also linked to cognitive decline. What’s the brain and salt connection?
Studies in mice found that high salt diets impact the gut microbiome. This refers to the microorganisms in your digestive tract that act as part of your immune system. When salt impairs the functions of the immune system, cells that encourage inflammation multiply. Brain inflammation impacts the white matter in the brain and is linked with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
High salt diets can also reduce blood flow to the brain. When blood flow is reduced, neurons don’t get the oxygen-rich blood they need to stave off cognitive decline.
You might be thinking that you’re in the clear because you don’t add salt to your food. Do you eat out? Or eat prepared foods at home or on the go? Around 80% of most people’s salt intake is from restaurant or prepared foods.
Make eating out a treat. If you eat out several times a week, try to cut that number down to 2. If that becomes a habit you feel good about, cut eating out down to once a week.