This is what too much salt is doing to your body

If you’re fond of salty snacks and always sprinkle a little extra salt on your dinner, you may be consuming too much. Experts are researching the impact that too much sodium – the dietary mineral found in salt – is having on our health.

New research from the British Heart Foundation shows people are consuming “far higher levels of salt than they realise”.  The charity believes introducing a levy to curb the salt content in food could potentially save lives.

“Excess sodium intake is extremely common across the world,” agrees cardiologist Dr Jay Shah. “The average intake of sodium is about double the recommended amount.”

It’s true we need some salt in our diet. The recommended amount of sodium for Australian adults is 2000 milligrams per day – which is equivalent to about five grams of salt or one teaspoon.

However, a target of 460 to 920mg per day (equivalent to 1.15 to 2.3g of salt per day) is the daily average intake that may help the Australian adult population prevent chronic disease – such as high blood pressure. It also aligns with World Health Organization recommendations. It’s also okay to consume less than that.

Read: Explore alternatives to food packed with salt

Part of the problem though is that many foods we buy already contain lots of ‘hidden’ salt, particularly processed foods such as bread, sauces, soups, cereals and bacon/ham.

So, what is excess salt really doing to our bodies?

Water retention

Ever feel puffy or more bloated after salty meals? These things are often linked to water retention – and salt can be a factor as sodium plays an important role in how the body regulates fluid levels.

High blood pressure

This isn’t just about puffiness though. It’s also a major factor in high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke – a leading cause of death and serious disability in Australia. According to experts, some 80 per cent of strokes could be prevented, largely by addressing high blood pressure – and reducing salt intake is key.

As Dr Shah says: “High salt intake is one of the causes of high blood pressure, which is the most common reversible risk factor for cardiovascular death and disease.”

Blood pressure being monitored by doctor
Getting your blood pressure checked regularly is important. (Alamy/PA)

Senior dietician Victoria Taylor explains: “We need some salt in our diet, but consuming an excess is linked to raised blood pressure. This is because the sodium in salt makes our bodies hold onto water and the more water in our blood vessels, the higher our blood pressure gets. High blood pressure can put you at risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases.”

It’s important to note that high blood pressure usually doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms, which is why having it checked regularly is so important. Keeping salt intake to a suitable level can help, but some people require medication to help manage high blood pressure too.

Read: Himalayan salt: Is pink salt worth the hype?

Stomach cancer

Stomach cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the world, and a diet high in salt has been associated with the disease.

Stomach tumour
Salt may play a role in stomach damage. (Alamy/PA)

According to World Cancer Research Fund International, the stomach lining “may develop lesions if too much salt is consumed, which can eventually lead to enough damage to cause cancer to develop”.

It’s believed a crucial element here is how salt influences H.pylori, a bacterial infection that can damage the stomach and is associated with a higher risk of stomach cancer. High salt intake has been found to worsen these effects.


A number of things are recognised as risk factors for osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become thinner and weaker – such as hormone changes in menopause, certain other conditions and medications and nutritional deficiencies. Excess salt may also have an impact on bone health.

According to World Action On Salt, Sugar and Health (WASSH), high salt intake may increase urinary excretion of calcium – and calcium is vital for healthy bones. Research suggests this is particularly important during adolescence, a vital time for developing strong bones.

What can you do about it?

“The majority of salt in our food is already there before we buy it. This means we end up consuming more than we realise,” says Ms Taylor. “Cutting down on salt in our diets is an important way we can help to keep our blood pressure under control and reduce our risk of having a heart attack or stroke.”

This means thinking twice before adding salt to meals, and getting in the habit of checking salt/sodium contents on food labels.

Read: Remind me again, why is salt bad for you?

“To keep your heart healthy, focus on eating more fruit, vegetables, fish, pulses and wholegrains, and cutting down on foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fat such as cake, biscuits and sweets,” she adds. “Exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight are also important ways to reduce your risk of heart and circulatory diseases.”

Always speak to your doctor if you are worried about your health or diet.

Do you keep an eye on how much salt you consume? Let us know in the comments section below.

– With PA

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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