Too Much Salt: Four Signals From the Body That You are Overdoing It

Experts identify four signs that you are eating too much salt. Salt has a bad reputation, but sodium is an extremely important mineral in the body. The electrolyte is crucial for maintaining fluid balance, transmitting nerve impulses, and supporting proper muscle contractions.

But while the body needs enough of the mineral to perform these functions, too much sodium in your diet can be harmful to your health. Below, experts identify four signs that you are eating too much salt and what to do about it.

You are thirsty all the time

It’s not exactly sensational news that eating salty foods makes us thirsty. But why exactly does this happen? When the concentration in the blood starts to rise (for example, due to an increase in the number of dissolved substances such as sodium), the brain and kidneys start working to restore balance.

For example, an antidiuretic hormone may be activated to help the body retain fluids that help dilute the sodium release. According to a December 2016 study in Current Biology, nerve signals can also activate thirst.

“To prevent dehydration, you may begin to experience physical symptoms such as the dry mouth and dry skin,” says Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, dietitian and author of Better Food Decisions. This is your body telling you to drink to rehydrate your cells.

You feel bloated

Have you ever noticed that your rings bump up a lot after a salty meal? “The more sodium you consume, the more water you carry,” says Kate Patton, a dietitian registered with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.

While it may seem counterintuitive to drink more water when you’re bloated, it can actually neutralize the effects of eating too much salt. Consuming enough fluids can flush everything out of the system, including excess sodium. “To cope with the feeling of bloating, drink plenty of water, take a walk after eating, or drink lemon tea,” Beckerman recommends.

Homemade food is impeccable

The salt shaker is not the main culprit behind high sodium intake. Rather, it is the sodium contained in processed and packaged foods.

In fact, according to a large study published in the American Journal of Hypertension in December 2016, people who ate more ultra-pasteurized foods were significantly more likely to have high blood pressure.

“Whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, raw nuts, and seeds, are naturally low in sodium,” says Patton. That’s great, but it can create problems for those who are used to eating processed and restaurant foods.

“Exposure to fried, spicy, or overly salty foods can cause your taste buds to become accustomed to a certain level of salt,” Beckerman notes. The result? Home-cooked meals have a milder flavor, which is likely to make you want to resort to takeout again.

Your blood pressure rises

Salt isn’t the only thing that can affect blood pressure – according to Harvard Health Publishing, genetics, stress, weight, alcohol consumption, and physical activity, levels also have an impact. But chronic consumption of foods high in sodium can play a big role.

“Excessive sodium intake contributes to volume retention, which is a major factor in high blood pressure or hypertension,” said Luke Laffin, MD, a preventive cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

All this extra fluid can put pressure on blood vessels. According to the Cleveland Clinic, over time, this pressure can interfere with the normal flow of blood and oxygen to the organs, making it harder for the heart to pump blood and for the kidneys to restore fluid and electrolyte balance.

“Long-term uncontrolled hypertension puts people at increased risk for strokes, heart attacks, heart failure, and chronic kidney disease,” says Dr. Laffin.

Although the link is not as clear, some evidence suggests that uncontrolled hypertension may increase the risk of dementia or cognitive impairment.

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Written by Emma Miller

I am a registered dietitian nutritionist and own a private nutrition practice, where I provide one-on-one nutritional counseling to patients. I specialize in chronic disease prevention/ management, vegan/ vegetarian nutrition, pre-natal/ postpartum nutrition, wellness coaching, medical nutrition therapy, and weight management.

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