Wonder whether you're eating too much salt? A recent study from Japan has linked frequent night-time toilet trips to diets high in salt. Waking up several times a night with an urge to go is just one of many tell-tale signs your intake could be excessive – and you'd be far from alone. “As a nation, we're still eating too much salt,” says dietitian Helen Bond. “The average person eats 7.2g of salt daily. It should be below 6g.”
The more salt you consume, the higher your blood pressure, and excessive levels in the diet over time can increase your risk of osteoporosis and other chronic conditions, so it's important to restrict your daily intake to no more than the recommended 6g a day, which is about a teaspoon's worth. We reveal 10 warning signs you might be going overboard.
Health problems caused by too much salt
How to reduce water retention
You need the toilet. A lot
Whether at night or during the day, frequent urination is a classic sign of excessive salt intake, but it can also be a symptom of a number of other conditions, from an overactive bladder or urinary tract infection to type 2 diabetes. While it's usually nothing to worry about, see your GP if you notice a change in your normal urinary habits.
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You're constantly thirsty
If you often find your mouth gets drier than a stale shortbread and your thirst is unquenchable, chances are you could be going OTT on the salt. Excessive amounts draw water from cells, which fire out signals that stimulate the brain's thirst centre. Like frequent urination, constant thirst can be a sign of other conditions such as type 2 diabetes, so make sure you get it evaluated by a doctor.
How much water do you need to drink
You live on ready meals, takeaways and processed food
Ready meals, takeaways and processed food such as bacon, canned soups and breakfast cereal tend to be laden with salt. In fact, according to the NHS, a whopping 75% of the salt we eat is already in these everyday favourites. Check product labels when possible and avoid or limit foods with a red label for salt or that contain more than 1.5g per 100g. If you can, cook whole foods from scratch more often. That way, you control your salt intake instead of the supermarket or pizza joint.
You get puffy under-eye bags
If you're prone to puffiness under the eyes, it could be a sign you're consuming too much salt – when you're overdoing it, your body holds extra water to balance out the excess salt, which leads to swelling (oedema). Under eye bags can be caused by other factors, such as lack of sleep and allergies, or may be a side effect of certain medications, so again, see your doctor if they are a problem.
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Your ankles swell
An excess of salt in the diet can also lead to swollen ankles. Like bags under the eyes, swollen ankles can be caused by water retention as a result of eating too much salt, but other conditions can give rise to ankle oedema, and in any case, it's normal for your ankles to swell a little after a long day on your feet. As always, visit your GP if the swelling is persistent and/or troublesome.
Swollen ankles: causes and cures
Your rings are sometimes tight on your fingers
If you wear a wedding or similar ring, you may notice it feels tight on your finger now and again. Again, an overload of salt could be the underlying cause of this intermittent swelling, but another condition such as an allergy could be the culprit. Limit your salt intake and if the oedema persists, see your doctor.
Swollen fingers explained
You find a lot of food tastes bland and boring
Wish your food had more flavour? An excessive intake of salt could be to blame. Too much of the white stuff can desensitise your taste buds, which may become accustomed to overly high amounts, making anything that isn't loaded with salt taste of nothing. Instead, try to flavour your meals with strong-tasting spices and herbs like black pepper, cumin, rosemary and thyme.
Recipe: low-salt roast chicken
10 reasons to add spices to your diet
You crave salty, savoury food
Likewise, if you find yourself craving salty snacks like crisps, peanuts and olives, you could well be consuming too much salt. You'll enjoy your food so much more if you cut your salt intake to within the official guidelines, and according to Action on Salt, it only takes three weeks for the taste buds to recover.
You get frequent mild headaches
If you suffer from frequent mild headaches and have no idea what's causing them, you might want to reduce your salt intake. An overload of salt in the diet can lead to dehydration-induced headache symptoms. If cutting down on salt has no effect, your doctor will be able to help you figure out the root cause.
12 types of headaches and what they could mean
You can't think straight at times
Given excessive salt in the diet can lead to dehydration, it can trigger brain fog and mild confusion, too. As with the other signs in our round-up, this disorientating brain fog can be a symptom of a whole host of other conditions. Discussing any symptoms you have with a GP is the way forward, especially if they are frequent and/or debilitating.
Find out more about how dehydration can cause confusion and how to avoid it
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