breaking it down: salt

To begin, this post is may not be 100% applicable to those with hypertension or fluid retention related to a medical condition. Personal dietary or medical management for those conditions need to be discussed with your healthcare provider.


what is it?

Salt is a mineral made up of sodium + chloride. About 40% sodium & 60% chloride. Our guidelines for sodium intake are based on that 40% described in milligrams of sodium rather than teaspoons of salt.

why do we need it?

Sodium, as well as others such as calcium and potassium, is an electrolyte. Electrolytes are critical for so many biochemical functions such as fluid balance, blood pressure regulation, and muscle contraction.

Its role in fluid balance may cause bloating and fluid retention (without any other underlying medical condition) the morning after having an extra salty meal. A drastic jump on the scale with the bloating is not actual fat gain — it is temporary. I’ve heard some argue that reducing their sodium intake leads to weight loss, but it is simply fluid fluctuations affected that number.


how much?

The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance), per the NIH, is “average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%-98%) healthy people.”

The RDA of sodium is 2,300 mg per day. So for most people without co-existing conditions, this is the recommendation.  1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

However, for some, 1,500 mg of sodium per day is recommended. Examples in this category may include those with hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney, or liver disease.


Potassium is another mineral and electrolyte. It works against sodium in order to maintain an appropriate balance and is important for the contractions of our heart.

Increasing potassium foods is another piece of the equation to help maintain an appropriate blood pressure. Sources include winter squash, potatoes, bananas, beans, nuts, dairy, cantaloupe, and broccoli.StockSnap_7SNCIM891I.jpgsalt shaker vs. packaged foods

Many trying to watch their sodium intake focus on not adding salt to any of their food.

Adding 1 teaspoon of salt to a dish serving 6 people equals 383 mg of sodium. That’s not so bad in the grand scheme of a day! However, pre-made, canned chili is going to have significantly more sodium added. That salt is added as a preservative.

The AHA estimates that over 75% of our sodium intake comes from packaged foods or restaurants rather than added salt while cooking at home.

The following typically have higher sodium contents: deli meat, condiments/dressings, cured meats, restaurants, and items that are canned, frozen, or packaged. If needing to limit sodium, you’re usually better off looking at your intake of these rather than your use of the salt shaker.

I’ve had people be shocked that as a dietitian, I happily add salt while cooking. Um… it’s delicious, and my veggies need a little bit of salt as a flavor enhancer and that’s a-okay!


salt varieties

table salt

Comes from salt deposits. It is processed into a small crystal to easily incorporate into food. This processing may remove trace minerals. Iodine has been added since the 1920s to prevent goiter related to iodine deficiency. Iodine is also found in seaweed, seafood, dairy, eggs, and some grains & veggies. Anti-caking agents may also be added to prevent clumping.

sea salt & pink himalayan salt

Sea salt is obtained from evaporated sea water where as pink himalayan salt is from salt mines near the Himalayas. Both are typically found in larger, less processed crystals. This allows for more trace minerals in the final product.

Some salt types that claim to have less sodium is because their crystals are larger and fewer of them fit into the teaspoon! So you may just need to add more to get the same salty flavor.

What about claims of  having “84 different minerals?” This is in negligible amounts that haven’t been shown to have significant health benefits.

So when it comes down to it — no one type is much different than another, so feel free to skip the fancy stuff to save a buck or two.


Let’s chat.

What is your favorite salty snack?




Disclaimer: The following is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition. Please discuss with your personal healthcare provider before making any dietary changes.

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    1. Yes! I especially love them in a trail mix where the bits of salt also get on the raisins! :p

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