Why additional salt is harmful to your health

Karl Lauterbach28 Years without salt

Our bodies need salt, but too much of it is unhealthy. Karl Lauterbach has lived low-salt for almost 30 years - he only eats the salt that is naturally in our food.

Karl Lauterbach has not used salt since 1989. He only eats the small amounts that are already contained in many foods such as fish or fruit.

"If you do not consume any additional salt, the salt receptors on the tongue or in the palate adjust themselves in such a way that smaller amounts can be tasted as much as usual," says the SPD politician and professor of clinical epidemiology. In principle, he says, there is nothing wrong with him. In addition, many dishes simply taste better without additional salt, says Karl Lauterbach.

"In principle, the salty taste covers up many better tastes that you would otherwise feel."
Karl Lauterbach on a life without salt

When Karl Lauterbach goes out to eat, he prefers to go to restaurants that he knows. "You already know my eating habits and I am served effortlessly without salt," he says. When he's in a restaurant where there's nothing without salt, he just skips a meal. "You get used to it. It's actually a lot easier to do than you think."

The human body needs around 500 milligrams of sodium per day, which is contained in around one gram of table salt. Current studies show that 3.5 to 6 grams of salt per day is completely harmless. However: "We consume about 8 grams on average," says Anja Kroke, professor of nutritional epidemiology at the Fulda University of Applied Sciences.

Too much salt is unhealthy and among other things it increases blood pressure. "Salt binds water," says Anja Kroke. "And it does that in our body too". This increases the pressure in our tissues and that increases the blood pressure. In the long run, this is bad for our organs and our brain. It is true that salt is not solely to blame for high blood pressure. "But salt has the largest share in the increase in blood pressure that we can observe worldwide," she says.

For Karl Lauterbach, the renunciation of salt was actually just a joint experiment that he undertook with other researchers. They advised not to use salt and wanted to test how it is to live without salt. And then he stuck with it.

Abolishing salt shakers in restaurants, as Bolivia has done, does not make sense, however. "The salt shaker is the least problem," says Karl Lauterbach.

"Most of the salt that people consume is prepared in bread, cheese, canned food, ready-made meals and frozen food. There are much larger amounts in them than in the salt shaker."
Karl Lauterbach, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology

Politically, however, abolishing the salt shaker is attractive, says the politician. "Because you can give the impression that you are doing a lot. But of course it changes very little in the salt consumption of the population."

Instead, Karl Lauterbach has been calling for traffic light labeling on food for years. So that the salt, fat or sugar content can be checked by everyone.

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