As of: November 28, 2023 10:00 a.m
In Germany, most people consume too much salt. Eating less salt can be particularly beneficial if you have high blood pressure. How does a diet with less salt work?
Why is too much salt unhealthy?
Consuming too much salt over the long term increases high blood pressure in many people and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. The kidneys, which excrete excess salt, are also stressed. And the composition of the bacteria in the intestine, the microbiome, can also change due to too much salt.
Most people consume too much salt
In Germany, the average dietary salt (sodium chloride) consumption is ten grams. This is well above the recommendation of the German Nutrition Society of six grams per day. The WHO recommends adults not to consume more than five grams of salt per day.
Too much salt: symptoms of high blood pressure
It is clear that a long-term excessive salt intake can put a strain on the body:
High blood pressure: An often underestimated risk factor is too much salt in the food. How sensitive someone reacts to salt varies greatly from person to person. People who are sensitive to salt store more salt in their bodies, which means more fluid enters the cardiovascular system – blood pressure rises. Around 20 million people in Germany suffer from high blood pressure. According to the WHO, blood pressure values of more than 140/90 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) are high blood pressure (hypertension). Symptoms can include headaches, dizziness or insomnia. Overweight: As a flavor enhancer, salt stimulates the appetite and can therefore promote the development of obesity. For example, chips consist of a specific mixture of carbohydrates, fat and salt, enriched with flavorings and colors, sugar and spices. This mixture is also called the “eating formula” and makes us unable to stop eating because it affects our feeling of satiety and activates the reward system in the brain. Intestine and immune system: An excess of table salt also influences the composition of the intestinal microbiome. A study shows: Too much table salt significantly reduces the number of lactobacilli in the intestine, while at the same time the number of so-called Th17 helper cells in the blood increases. These immune cells are suspected of increasing blood pressure and promoting inflammation and autoimmune diseases. The fact that the number of Th17 cells increases so massively indicates an inflammatory reaction in the body. The microbiome appears to be an important factor in salt-related diseases. Another study showed that too much salt over a long period of time disrupts the mitochondria, the power plants of human cells. The sodium ion that enters the immune cells leads to a lack of energy and changes the cells. The result is over-activation. This can be a positive response for fighting bacteria, but may also mean an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
One in three people is “salt sensitive”
Experts estimate that one in three people belongs to the group of “salt sensitives”, and even one in two people with high blood pressure. If you can limit your salt consumption to less than six grams per day, your blood pressure can be reduced by an average of five mmHg. That’s about as much as a blood pressure medication can achieve. But the effect of reducing salt varies: While every second sufferer reacts with a significant reduction in blood pressure, others hardly benefit from it.
Background to salt sensitivity: Normally the vessels are covered with a protective layer that binds salt. In salt-sensitive people, this layer is thinned out and therefore cannot absorb salt well. The salt then circulates in the body until it is deposited in the kidneys, heart and brain. A blood test can be used to determine whether a person is salt sensitive. The test can warn and motivate those affected to eat a diet that is as low in salt as possible.
Study: Even short salt avoidance can lower blood pressure
The good news: Consuming less salt quickly has an effect on blood pressure. This is proven by a current study: The researchers divided 200 people between the ages of 50 and 75 into two groups. In the first week, one group was given a very salt-reduced diet with only 1.25 grams of salt per day, while the other group had a very high-salt diet. In the second week it was the other way around. The result: In both weeks, the people in the group that ate a low-salt diet had an average of 7 to 8 mmHg lower blood pressure than the people in the group that ate a lot of salt. This also applied to the test subjects who were already taking medication for high blood pressure.
Experts rate the study positively: reducing salt to just 1.25 grams of salt per day is hardly practical in everyday life. But the results show that less salt has an effect for the majority of people.
Diets rich in potassium can lower blood pressure
The salts sodium chloride (table salt) and potassium chloride have opposite effects on blood pressure. While sodium chloride increases blood pressure, a diet rich in potassium can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke in people with high blood pressure. However, increased potassium intake is not suitable for people with severe kidney disease.
Prefer foods with a lot of potassium
To prevent high blood pressure and stroke, the German Nutrition Society recommends adding more foods to your diet that are naturally low in sodium but high in potassium:
Vegetables and fruits are generally high in potassium and low in sodium, whether fresh or frozen. Apricots, bananas, carrots, kohlrabi and tomatoes contain a particularly high amount of potassium. The potassium content is even higher in concentrated form, for example in tomato paste or dried fruit. There is also a lot of potassium in potatoes, hazelnuts, cashews, almonds and peanuts. Flours rich in potassium include spelled, rye and whole grain buckwheat flour. Dark chocolate also has a high potassium content.
Tips for a low-sodium diet
Salt consumption can be reduced with simple measures. This is how a low-sodium diet works:
Avoid processed foods. First season the food with spices and herbs to save salt. Consuming salt is a matter of getting used to: it takes a while for low-salt dishes to taste pleasantly spicy.
Don’t completely avoid salt: some salt is vital
It doesn’t work without salt: it regulates the body’s water balance and is important for digestion and the work of the muscles. The body needs the electrolytes sodium and chloride to maintain water, electrolyte and acid-base balance.
Sodium (just like potassium) plays a crucial role in the function of nerves and muscles: They enable the buildup of electrical voltage on the cell membranes and thus the transmission of nerve impulses – important for muscle contractions, heart function and the regulation of blood pressure. Sodium is also involved in active cell transport. Chloride is part of stomach acid. The body also needs salt for fluid balance, digestion and bone structure.
If there is too little sodium in the blood, there is a risk of sodium deficiency with symptoms such as dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Older people are particularly at risk. They are more sensitive to fluctuations in sodium levels than younger ones.
Experts on the topic
Center for Internal Medicine, III. Medical clinic and polyclinic
Medical director and chief physician
Mühlenberg Clinic Holstein Switzerland
23714 Bad Malente-Gremsmühlen
Experimental and Clinical Research Center
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC)
Head of Endocrinology, Diabetology and Clinical Nutritional Medicine
Clinic for Internal Medicine 1
University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein, Kiel Campus
Specialist in internal medicine, diabetologist, nutritional doctor
medicum Hamburg MVZ GmbH
At the straw house 2
(040) 807 979-0
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Visit | November 28, 2023 | 8:15 p.m