Dear Dot,

The human body uses salt in all kinds of different ways. Salt helps the cells in our bodies do their jobs, it helps the muscles contract and it plays a big part in keeping us hydrated.

But as you’ve pointed out, too much salt can cause problems. My friend Catalina Aragon told me all about it. As an assistant professor at Washington State University Extension, she works with communities all across the state to share information about food and how it impacts our health.

When humans eat food, they can get lots of nutrients such as calcium, potassium, iron and sodium. Sodium is the mineral our body gets when we consume salt. The sodium gets absorbed into the blood and gets delivered around the body through channels called blood vessels.

Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, or hypertension. Over time, high blood pressure can make the blood vessels stiff and narrow. That makes it harder for blood to pump through the blood vessels and deliver all the important things the body needs. High blood pressure can lead to stroke and heart disease.

It’s important to be mindful of how much salt we eat, Aragon said. While it depends on the person and what their doctor recommends, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans generally recommends that people 14 years old and older limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams a day. That’s equal to about one teaspoon of salt.

“A lot of people think about the salt they can see and sprinkle on top of food,” Aragon said. “But 70 % of sodium in the American diet comes from prepackaged and prepared foods.”

She said one good rule of thumb is to read nutrition labels and look at the Daily Value (DV) percentages per serving. If the amount is below 5% of your Daily Value, that’s a low amount of sodium. If the Daily Value is above 20%, that’s a high amount of sodium. Maybe you can use these guidelines to check out some of the nutrition labels around your house to learn more about what’s in your food.

Some of the top sources of sodium are bread, rolls, pizza and sandwiches. A lot of people really enjoy salt because it adds flavor to their food, but there are some other ways to make food taste good.

Aragon said one thing that can be fun to try is experimenting with a variety of spices in the kitchen. Instead of going right for the salt, you might try something like garlic, sage, paprika, oregano or even cinnamon. Maybe even a little lemon juice, depending on your recipe.

With help from a grown-up, the kitchen can be a great place to learn more about different types of food and all kinds of science. You can practice your math skills when measuring, learn how different food ingredients interact with each other— and the best part is when you are all finished, you might even be able to eat your experiment.

Dr. Universe