Hello, My Name is Vanessa, and I am a …
Anyone who knows me very well would call me a salt-aholic. I unabashedly admit to it, but prefer to consider myself a salt connoisseur. I carry a saltshaker with pink Himalayan salt in my lunch bag to work every day and it is always plateside at the dinner table. When we have a family dinner, one like-minded son and one like-minded son-in-law sit at my end of the table next to me so that we have easy access to our own salt and we rarely share with others. Hey, sometimes you have to be like that.
However, salt gets a bad rap. For instance, it is accused of causing or worsening hypertension (aka high blood pressure).
But, is salt really detrimental to your health? Do you really need to watch your salt intake? Read on, but before I get to the nitty gritty, the really surprising information that I am excited to share, we will just briefly look into some of its benefits.
Salt is commonly known for being a great flavor enhancer, and for ages has been used as a preservative. More importantly to your health, salt (NaCl) is an electrolyte with a normal range in the blood of 135-145 mEq/L. Proper salt balance is necessary for optimal cell function and for life. Both hyponatremia and hypernatremia (too little or too much sodium in the blood) can be life-threatening emergencies. However, a body is usually very good at regulating this electrolyte, keeping it in a healthy balance.
Now here is the surprising thing. The American Journal of Medicine, August 2017 issue, has an amazing article on the subject of salt called, “Is Salt a Culprit or an Innocent Bystander in Hypertension? A Hypothesis Challenging the Ancient Paradigm”, (DiNicolantonio et al, 2017), which challenges the notion that excessive salt intake causes hypertension.
Studies Show the Benefits of Salt
The authors inform (or remind) readers that the body maintains homeostasis (balance) with certain controls such as the hypothalamus driving thirst and salt cravings. They postulate that because people are warned to limit salt intake, they inadvertently consume more food, processed foods, and junk foods to satisfy their sodium needs, and end in the eat more added sugars. They go further to suggest several more very important considerations about salt regarding your health.
- If one limits salt intake, they likely limit their intake of vegetables and nuts, which have important nutrients and calories. Unfortunately, these are likely to be replaced by less nutritious foods too. Double trouble.
- Studies have shown that salt restriction leads to insulin resistance and an increase in insulin, which leads to fat storage, obesity, and hypertension. In fact, they think that a high salt diet can even protect one from the harmful effects of a high sugar diet by stimulating the insulin-independent glucose uptake.
- Studies have shown that sugar, not salt, can cause increased total body water content. They point to the fact that 20 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, and another 80 million are prediabetic with the problems that ensue with blood pressure, kidney function, vascular resistance, etc.
I, for one, was ecstatic to read an article that salt has been unfairly vilified.
But Let’s Discuss the Salt Issue a Bit More
Not all salt is created equal. There is Himalayan salt, sea salt, Celtic salt, kosher salt, and table salt to name just the first 5 that come to my mind.
- Himalayan Salt- This is my favorite and is mined in Pakistan near the Himalayas. This beautiful pinkish salt is purported to have around 84 trace minerals and elements. It is one of the purest salts you can buy.
- Sea Salt-This is produced from the evaporation of sea or ocean water and therefore there is some concern that some may be contaminated.
- Celtic Salt- Grayish in color, this salt is mined in a coastal region of France. It is also rich in trace minerals.
- Kosher Salt- This salt is known for its larger flake size and is less likely to contain anti-caking agents and other additives.
- Table Salt- This is a highly processed salt, usually has aluminum derivatives and other anti-caking agents, and is devoid of nutrients.
So How Much is Good for You
In my opinion, it is best to use salt intuitively, guided by what your body is telling you. For instance, on hot days you will likely be craving more salt and salty foods to replenish what you are losing in sweat. If your adrenals are stressed you will also want and need more salt.
The Jaminet’s, in their book Perfect Health Diet, state that the American Heart Association advises that people should consume less than 1,500 milligrams of salt daily. They go on to say that according to one survey involving 33 countries most people don’t follow this. In fact, it was found that people consumed about 3,700 milligrams of salt daily. Furthermore, the Jaminet’s cite a study from the Journal of the American Medical Association that after assessing mortality rates it appears that an intake of between 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams of salt daily seems to be the healthiest.
Dave Asprey, the fun and quirky author of The Bulletproof Diet claims that increasing his salt intake helped improve his health. And he has found that he has higher energy levels when he drinks salt water in the morning, using 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of sea salt. He states, “That’s when the body uses salt the most efficiently”. Of course, this is anecdotal, but it may be worth trying.
Something Else You May Want to Try
So far I have been unable to substantiate this with research, so this is also anecdotal, but I heard that drinking salt water helps with allergy attacks and autoimmune flares. So far I have only tried this a couple of times, and it seemed to help. If you have any experience with this, please leave it in the comment section.
DiNicolantonio et al (2017) conclude that, “Salt restriction may actually worsen overall cardiovascular health through numerous counter-regulatory mechanisms, and may lead to other unintended consequences (insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity)”. They go on to advise that people reduce sugar and refined carbohydrate intake and not make salt intake a big issue.
My taste buds and gut says go with that.
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You are might be interested in reading some other articles that I have written:
Asprey, D. (2014). The Bulletproof Diet. USA: Rodale, Inc.
DiNicolantonio, J., Mehta, V., & O’Keefe, J. (2017). Is salt a culprit or an innocent bystander in hypertension? A hypothesis challenging the ancient paradigm. The American Journal of Medicine, 130, 893-899.
Jaminet, P., & Jaminet, S. (2012). Perfect health diet. New York, NY: Scribner.