Today salt is easy to obtain, and so inexpensive that we have forgotten that from the beginning of civilisation until about 100 years ago, salt was one of the most sought-after commodities in human history.

Salt has even made its way into our language as a metaphor for value: hard working people are known to be “worth their salt”, we call the most worthy amongst us “the salt of the earth”. The root word “sal-” is of Latin origin and refers to salt. Words that have evolved through our value for salt include “salubrious”, which means “health-giving”, and “salary”, which is derived from the Latin salarium, the money allotted to Roman soldiers for purchases of salt.

So if salt was so valuable that it made a fair payment in salary and it is so inexpensive now, what is the real cost of salt to our lives today?

Salt is one of the flavours that makes food taste good - salt, sugar and fat. So it's a natural thing for all chefs and cooks to add salt because it enhances the flavour of the food. If you go out to eat, you can guarantee you're going to be eating a lot of salted foods, and you are going to have no idea how much salt is added, and this what creates a primary problem for our health.

Salt is ‘sodium chloride’. Because many of the health effects of salt are attributed to sodium, reference is often made to 'sodium intake' or 'sodium excretion.' when examining how the body deals with salt or the sodium in salt . The Australian Heart Foundation states " Eating too much sodium over time can increase your risk of high blood pressure which is a major risk factor for heart disease. For a healthy heart, it’s important to not eat too much salt."

When there’s extra sodium in your bloodstream, it pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing the total amount (volume) of blood inside your blood vessels. With more blood flowing through your blood vessels, blood pressure increases. It’s like turning up the water supply to a garden hose — the pressure in the hose increases as more water is blasted through it. Over time, high blood pressure may overstretch or injure the blood vessel walls and speed the build-up of gunky plaque that can block blood flow. The added pressure also tires out the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood through the body.

Hypertension is a technical term for high blood pressure. Hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease and the most important risk factor for stroke. A survey conducted in 2005 found that 28.8% of Australian adults over 25 years of age suffer from hypertension. The percentage of hypertensive adults in Australia was found to increase steeply with age, e.g. 44.7% for those aged 55-64 years and 67.4% for those aged 65-74 years.

Hypertension is also associated with overweight and obesity, alcohol intake and being sedentary. However, some people who have none of these other risk factors still develop high blood pressure when their salt intake is too high, making salt the ‘prime suspect’.

Most Australian adults have a daily salt intake of about 10 grams, i.e. many times the maximum value of the Adequate Intake range. A ‘Suggested Dietary Target’ of 1600 mg of sodium (equivalent to about 4 grams of salt) is recommended for Australian adults. This is about half the average Australian adult’s current salt intake.

So we are consuming about twice as much salt (sodium) as we need to enjoy a healthy diet and that is having some frightening effects on our society.

By the time you finished reading this article, one Australian would have died of heart disease.

Here are some frightening Statistics of Heart health in Australia:

  • (CVD) Cardiovascular disease (heart, stroke and blood vessel diseases)
  • kills one Australian every 12 minutes
  • affects one in six Australians or 4.2 million
  • CVD was the leading cause for 480,548 hospitalisations in 2013/14 and played an additional role in another 680,000 hospitalisations
  • claimed the lives of 45,053 Australians (30% of all deaths) in 2014 - deaths that are largely preventable
  • lower socioeconomic groups, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those living in remote areas had the highest rate of hospitalisation and death resulting from CVD in Australia.

(CHD) Coronary heart disease or heart disease:

  • kills one Australian every 26 minutes
  • is the single leading cause of death in Australia
  • affects around 1.2 million Australians
  • claimed the lives of 20,173 Australians (13% of all deaths) in 2014

Who is at risk?

A risk factor is something that that increases your likelihood of getting a disease. There are several risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Being physically inactive
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Ethnic background
  • Sex - men are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease at an earlier age than women.
  • Age - the older you are, the more likely you are to develop cardiovascular disease.

If this sounds like you or someone you know, then the information below may be useful as there are small changes you can make in your lifestyle which will help toward not becoming part of the above statistics.

You may think you are not part of this high salt/sodium community, but If you eat a few salty foods over your day, it’s easy to find yourself over the recommended intake. For example, salt is found in bread, cheese and processed meats, which means a regular ham and cheese sandwich can pack a sodium punch. Just one sandwich can contribute almost 40% of the upper limit of salt for the day for an adult, and a whopping 70% for a child.

Choosing fresh foods, and lower salt versions of your favourite products all helps to lower the amount of salt you’re eating which and reduce high blood pressure (hypertension).

Are different types of salt better for me than others?

Unfortunately, salt is salt. It doesn’t matter if its pink, red, black, natural or in crystal form, it all has the same effect on the body. Although some natural salts may provide other minerals to the body, the sodium content will be the same.

Your Health Starts with YOU

Three risk factors for heart disease that you can't control are your gender, your age, and your family genes. Everything else is up to you. If you’re living with heart disease or you want to prevent it, here's what you CAN do:

Reduce Your Stress

Reducing Stress may seem like it is easier said than done, but there are many ways one can easily reduce stress. First, identify what makes you stressed and then eliminate it or channel that energy towards something like yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi or just do something that makes you smile and laugh and relax.

When it comes to the health of your heart, it is important that you are getting proper circulation. Exercise goes a long way to helping to promote circulation and reduce high blood pressure. Exercise daily. Start off by incorporating a daily walk into your routine. Make a scheduled time every day to exercise and stick to it. If you are limited by knee, hip, or back injuries, try swimming, yoga, rebounding, or using a recumbent bike. Aim for 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity when you exercise if you want to lower blood pressure or cholesterol.

  • If you are a smoker, then Quit smoking - NOW!
  • Get active, start an exercise program, and lose excess weight
  • “Eat heart-healthy” - more fruit, vegetables, fiber - less fat, less salt (sodium causes hypertension), sugar and processed foods
  • Manage your stress and make wise lifestyle choices
  • Know and manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Get regular check-ups

If it took you 12 minutes to read this article then in that 12 minutes one Australian just died from Cardiovascular Disease (CDV). That is is the real cost of excess salt in our diet.