Salt and sodium, what’s the difference?
Salt is sodium plus chloride.
Sodium (Na) is a mineral as essential to life as potassium, chloride or calcium.
It is generally used as sodium chloride (NaCl), or table salt.
Sodium is absorbed along the entire digestive tube.
Once in the bloodstream, it reaches the kidneys, where it is filtered into the urine.
Recommended sodium intake varies according to age, sex, climate and exercise.
The general recommendation is 5 to 6g of salt per day and no less than 1 to 2g per day. In France, 95% of men and 82% of women consume around 8g per day, 50% of which is table salt.
The recommended intake is largely covered by a normal diet:
- Sodium is naturally present in milk and dairy products, seafood, fish, mineral or spring water, vegetables and table salt.
- There is also salt in processed food such as pastries, biscuits, cooked pork meats, preserves, cheeses, condiments, fizzy drinks etc.
- Such “hidden” salt can be a problem for those with cardiovascular or kidney disease.
Consequences of a lack of sodium
A sodium deficiency can have serious consequences in the long term, especially in elderly people.
It translates as dehydration, loss of appetite, weak muscles, low blood pressure and abnormal tiredness. Perspiration due to hot weather and/or exercise can lead to a sodium deficiency. However, this sort of deficiency is rare as when the diet lacks in sodium, the organism filters out less in urine and sweat.
On the other hand, an excessive intake of sodium, over 12g per day can be harmful to health as it causes high blood pressure and can lead to heart disease. Excess salt can also worsen conditions such as water retention or osteoporosis.
2012 WHO guidelines
« WHO recommends a reduction in sodium intake to reduce blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart disease in adults. WHO recommends a reduction to <2g/day sodium (5g/day salt) in adults (aged 16 and over).»
Low sodium diet
A no sodium diet does not exist, except in extremely rare cases. The aim of a low sodium diet is to reduce salt intake, while eating tasty, balanced meals.
There are several levels of salt reduction :
- Less than 1–2g per day: strict
- 2–4g per day: standard
- 5g per day: permissive
A strict low sodium diet is recommended for anyone suffering from heart failure, nephrotic syndrome, glomerulonephritis or cirrhosis. It is difficult to follow and very few patients manage to do so.
The more permissive diet is recommended in stable chronic heart disease, chronic kidney disease or corticosteroid treatment.
In this case, a moderate amount of salt may be added during cooking but not at table.
Low in salt or sodium:
Content must be less than or equal to 120mg for 100g.
Very low in salt or sodium:
Content must be less than or equal to 40mg for 100g.
No salt or sodium:
Content must be less than or equal to 5mg for 100g.