Cholesterol, a fatty substance found in the blood, helps with building healthy cells, hormones, etc in the body. Our lifestyle choices can affect the level of cholesterol in our blood, creating a health risk for us. We will discuss what role salt plays and how we can maintain our cholesterol levels.
Is Salt Bad For You?
Salt (sodium chloride) flavours, binds and stabilises our food while also acting as a preservative to extend its shelf-life. When taken in moderation, it plays a major role in our body ranging from sleep improvement, helping our body maintain normal levels of minerals and fluid, and helping the nervous system and muscles function well. It is estimated that our body needs about 500 mg of sodium daily for these functions to be carried out effectively.1
Salt is only bad when you consume a high amount of it, which can cause damage to some organs and also put people with some health conditions, such as in the case of people with high blood pressure, in danger.
How Much Salt Is Too Much?
The recommended daily dose of salt, as researched by the American Heart Association, is about 1,500mg, especially for people who are at risk of high blood pressure, while the Federal Dietary Guidelines say no more than 2,300mg is ideal.2,3 Anything more than this can pose a great health risk to you.
As babies’ kidneys are not fully developed to process salt, you should give them little to no salt. Children aged 1 to 3 should have no more than 800mg of salt, no more than 1200mg for ages 4 to 6, and no more than 2000mg for ages 7 to 10. 11 years and over may have the same amount of salt as adults.4
Complications Of A High Salt Intake
A high salt intake mostly affects the kidney, nervous system and circulatory system.5 Some of these effects are not immediate but develop over a period of time. You can experience sodium toxicity when you have too much sodium in your blood, from being sick with a high fever, vomiting, or infection that causes severe dehydration or due to not eating or drinking enough liquids. Diuretic medication or excessive sweating are other causes.
The symptoms of sodium toxicity include nausea, vomiting, weakness, loss of appetite, intense thirst, and confusion. This transfer of fluid and accumulation of fluid in the brain can cause seizures, comas, or even death. Extra fluid collecting in the lungs can lead to difficulty breathing.1
Some other complications of a high salt intake include:
- Osteoporosis: Excess sodium in the blood may bring about the loss of calcium, and to replenish lost calcium, the body will start taking it from your bones, making the bones brittle and weak.1
- Kidney disease: When consumed in excess, salt causes excess water to accumulate in the bloodstream and reduces kidney functions making the kidney retain fluid.
- High blood pressure and heart disease: When the kidneys are no longer able to keep up with excess sodium in the blood, the body retains water to help it dilute the sodium. This increases blood volume making the heart work more and putting pressure on the blood vessels. Over time, this can thicken blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. It can also lead to other heart diseases and heart failure:1 Research conducted by the American Heart Association shows that a reduction in sodium intake reduces both systolic and diastolic pressure.6
- Cancer: A high amount of salt in preserved foods such as pickles has been linked to an increased risk of having stomach cancer.1,7
Salt And Cholesterol
The question, “does salt raise cholesterol?” remains because cholesterol also has an impact on high blood pressure and body functions. Research shows that reduced salt intake will not raise your blood cholesterol levels; rather, it will cause high cholesterol, which happens from the increase in low‐density lipoprotein (LDL), the bad cholesterol. Sodium reduction had no effect on good cholesterol or high‐density lipoprotein (HDL).8
LDL cholesterol is the cholesterol that delivers fat molecules through blood vessels around your body, while HDL cholesterol moves fat out of the body through the liver. When the increase in LDL cholesterol occurs, it can leave fat deposits in the blood vessels, narrowing them over time and increasing the risk of heart disease.9
How To Reduce Salt Intake
To reduce salt intake, you can try the following :
- Cut down on or stop taking effervescent (dissolvable) vitamins and painkillers. Each tablet can contain up to 1g of salt7
- Eat less processed food, and if must, try to check the nutrition labels at the store before purchase to know what quantity of salt it contains.
- Go on a DASH diet. Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension is an eating plan that focuses on helping to lower or control sodium levels through the consumption of vegetables, fruits, and foods that are rich in calcium, potassium and magnesium but lower in sodium.8
- Eat foods rich in potassium, as it reduces the effects of sodium by helping your body release sodium through urine. Foods like avocados, apricots, mushrooms and potatoes are rich in potassium. Potassium may be counterproductive for people with kidney disease; you must speak to your healthcare provider before taking potassium supplements.10
- Drinking enough water may help reduce your sodium levels because it will help your body remove salt through sweating and urination.
- You may also try these salt alternatives for meal preparation suggested by the NHS11
Cutting down on salt intake alone may not have an impact on sodium levels because we can get salt into our bodies through other ways, like eating foods or taking drinks high in sodium. According to Dr Elliot Antman, a past President of the American Heart Association (AHA), "about three-quarters of the sodium that the average person takes in each day comes from processed foods we purchase in the supermarket or restaurant meals we eat out," he further said that, "it is not just using too much salt from a salt shaker at home. In fact, throwing away your salt shaker would not really solve your problem."12
The CDC also warns that we cut down on our intake of the “salty ten” because they contribute to 40% of our sodium intake:13
- Cold cuts and cured meats
- Burritos and tacos
- Eggs and omelettes
- Canned soups
- Savoury snacks like crackers, chips, pretzels, popcorn, pretzels, and snack mixes
- Poultry (some fresh poultry, which is often injected with a salt solution, and processed poultry, such as pre-seasoned fillets and chicken nuggets)
- Sandwiches (including burgers) from fast-food restaurants.
Some other foods that are high in sodium are olives, anchovies, soy sauce, gravy granules, ham, bacon, pickles, salted and dry-roasted nuts, prawns, stock cubes, yeast extract, salami, and smoked meat and fish.7
Reducing the intake of these foods will help reduce sodium intake; however, care should be taken so as not to have a salt deficiency. According to recent research, there is a link between low salt intake and increased risk of death.8
Managing High Cholesterol
High cholesterol can be genetic, but it is mostly caused by lifestyle choices, and it has no warning signs. In order to manage high cholesterol, the heart foundation9 mentions that there is no specific number to gauge the right level of cholesterol because your healthcare provider will look at your risks to determine the right cholesterol level for you. For diagnosis, a result below 5.2mmol/L is desireable.15
Treatment For High Cholesterol
If left untreated, high cholesterol can pose a risk to your circulatory system and heart. Your risks also increase if you are inactive, have high blood pressure, are overweight, or have a history of coronary heart disease.
Normally, a lifestyle change is enough to reduce cholesterol, but if it doesn’t, you may be prescribed medication, a class of drugs known as statins or other inhibitors.9 If the cause of your high cholesterol is another type of medication, you may need to discontinue it if you are at risk.
Foods To Prevent High Cholesterol
There are various types of fats in the diet, and each has a different effect on the heart. Eating less fat overall in our diets has a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol levels. Trans fats found in processed foods are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.15
As prevention is a lot better than cure, a healthier option for fat is monounsaturated fat which is found in olive and canola oils. Food like brown rice, pasta, turmeric, nuts and seeds, vegetables, and oily fish like salmon, helps with cholesterol maintenance as well.16
Salt will not raise your cholesterol, and although it is beneficial for muscle and nerve health, it should be taken in moderation. Very low salt intake will raise your LDL cholesterol level, which may cause heart issues. There are many ways to prevent or reduce high cholesterol, such as consuming foods low in saturated fat, going on a DASH diet, and staying active.
- Boston, 677 Huntington Avenue and Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. “Salt and Sodium.” The Nutrition Source, 18 July 2013, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/salt-and-sodium/.
- ‘Shaking the Salt Habit to Lower High Blood Pressure’. Www.Heart.Org, https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/shaking-the-salt-habit-to-lower-high-blood-pressure.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. p13, https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf.
- “How Much Harm Can a Little Excess Salt Do? Plenty.” Www.Heart.Org, https://www.heart.org/en/news/2021/05/26/how-much-harm-can-a-little-excess-salt-do-plenty. Accessed 2 Sept. 2022.
- “Salt: The Facts.” Nhs.Uk, 23 Feb. 2022, https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-types/salt-nutrition/.
- Graudal NA, Hubeck-Graudal T, Jurgens G. Effects of low sodium diet versus high sodium diet on blood pressure, renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterol, and triglyceride. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Nov 9;(11):CD004022. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD004022.pub5
- Salt and Sugar and Cancer Risk. https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/causes-and-prevention/diet-and-exercise/food-and-nutrition/salt-and-sugar. Accessed 2 Sept. 2022.
- Filippini T, Malavolti M, Whelton PK, Naska A, Orsini N, Vinceti M. Blood Pressure Effects of Sodium Reduction: Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Experimental Studies. Circulation. 2021 Apr 20;143(16):1542-1567. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.050371.
- High Cholesterol - Causes, Symptoms & Treatments. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/risk-factors/high-cholesterol. Accessed 2 Sept. 2022.
- ‘Sample Menus for the DASH Diet’. Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20047110. Accessed 1 Sept. 2022
- ‘How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure’. Www.Heart.Org, https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/how-potassium-can-help-control-high-blood-pressure. Accessed 1 Sept. 2022.
- “Tips for a Lower Salt Diet.” Nhs.Uk, 23 Feb. 2022, https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-eat-a-balanced-diet/tips-for-a-lower-salt-diet/
- “How to Stay in the Sodium Safe Zone.” Harvard Health, 16 Dec. 2014, https://www.health.harvard.edu/nutrition/how-to-stay-in-the-sodium-safe-zone.
- Top 10 Sources of Sodium | Cdc.Gov. 26 Feb. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/salt/sources.htm.
- High Cholesterol - Diagnosis and Treatment - Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350806. Accessed 2 Sept. 2022.
- Schoeneck M, Iggman D. The effects of foods on LDL cholesterol levels: A systematic review of the accumulated evidence from systematic reviews and meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2021 May 6;31(5):1325-1338. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.numecd.2020.12.032