Is Salt Really Bad?

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Salt has been accused of being one of the main causes of high blood pressure – but is that really true?  The reality is that several other causes play a much bigger role including high sugar diet, processed food diet and your sodium to potassium ratio.

In fact salt deficiency is fairly prevalent and can cause a range of problems including muscle fatigue, spasms, cramps an heart palpitations.

Keep in mind that in the 1600’s the typical person was eating up to 100 grams of salt per day coming from salty fish and meats.   Today people get 10 grams of salt per day or less, but at the same time we have much higher rates of high blood pressure.

Low salt diets can lower blood pressure, BUT the reduction may not necessarily mean better health or a reduction in heart attacks.     Low salt intake can potentially be harmful by increasing heart rate as well as weakening bones.

There are groups of people that do need to have a lower salt intake and monitor their intake according.

Salt Use

Salt has been used throughout recorded history, and it may surprise you that the longest living people in the world (the Japanese and South Koreans)  eat the most salt.

Another interesting fact is that the increase in high blood pressure rates and diabetes in the last 100 years parallels the reduction in salt intake because salt use went down heavily because of the advent of refrigeration.   This allowed the use of less salt to preserve foods.

Salt and Blood Pressure

The key reason everyone associates salt with high blood pressure is the “DASH” study aka Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension which appeared to show that low salt intake resulted in dramatic improvements in blood pressure.    However this diet was not only low in salt it was also very low in processed foods and sugar and high in potassium.

In addition a researcher named Lewis Dahl conducted population analysis showing that increased salt intake was associated with deaths from heart disease.   However his “research” was seriously flawed because he selected populations who fit his theory and neglected to include those that did not!    When you include all the populations the salt association with heart disease disappears.

In the 1988 study researchers examined salt intake and disease in 52 populations including four primitive cultures that consumed virtually no salt.   When they eliminated the four primitive cultures and focused on the 48 civilized populations they actually found a reduction of blood pressure as salt intake was increased!   The four primitive cultures are completely different in that they had huge intakes of potassium and magnesium, do not drink alcohol, do not consume sugar, and have a very high activity level so comparing them to modern civilizations is a big error!

Can Low Salt Intake Cause Problems?

Although lowering salt intake may lower blood pressure in some it also tends to worsen your total cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein ratio, which is strong predictor of heart disease along with increasing triglycerides and insulin.   The end result can be that your heart disease risk increases even though your blood pressure is lower.

Salt deficiency can increase insulin resistance because one of the ways the body preserves salt when intake is low is by raising insulin levels which helps the kidneys retain more salt.    Insulin resistance equals diabetes and increased fat storage!

Low Carb Intake and Salt

Another important factor relating to salt intake and health is that your body treats salt very differently if you are eating a diet that is low in sugar and starch.      When non-fiber carbohydrate intake is low, insulin is low and as a result the kidneys excrete MUCH higher levels of sodium (salt).    So the primary reason people switching to these types of diets experience “flu” like symptoms is low sodium levels.    By simply dramatically increasing salt intake the symptoms immediately disappear.

People who switch to a true low carbohydrate diet lose an additional 1 – 2 grams of sodium per day and because of lower glucose levels they absorb less sodium as well.  So bottom line is that it is necessary to dramatically up your salt intake if eating a very low sugar/starch diet!

Salt intake and Bone Health

Salt intake also strongly influences magnesium and calcium levels.   If you do not get enough salt your body pulls sodium from your bones along with calcium and magnesium to keep your sodium level normal!   So low salt intake can impact bone health.

Caffeine and coffee along with alcohol greatly increase salt excretion so if you drink either there is another reason to maintain adequate salt intake!

What does your body do with excess Salt?

The body is designed to precisely regulate sodium levels and will do so when given a chance so other than key groups mentioned below there is little risk of too much salt and if you eat a diet of unprocessed foods high in fruits and vegetables you get very little unless you add other salty foods or add salt to your foods.

Your body also tells you how much slat you need by regulating your craving for salt so pay attention to it!   Heavy sweating and exercise along with caffeine and alcohol intake all increase salt depletion, so you need to get more!

What Kinds of Salt?

When adding salt to food it is best to use natural, unprocessed salt.   Be careful with Sea Salts because they do NOT contain iodine which is a very common mineral deficiency which can cause or exacerbate thyroid issues.   Himalyan Salt and Redmond Real Salt are the best types of salt available and both contain iodine as does regular table salt.

People Who Should Avoid High Salt Intake

Salt Sensitive Group include people with:

Certain Endocrine Disorders

High Aldosterone Levels causing salt retention problems

Cushing’s Syndrome

Elevated cortisol levels

Liddle Syndrome which affects 1 in 1 million people causing salt retention

Problems that Cause High Sodium Excretion

Lower sugar and starch intake – under 100 grams per day

Inflammatory Bowel Diseases like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis

Bariatric Surgery

Kidney Disease

Sleep Apnea

Hypothyroidism – thyroid hormones help us reabsorb salt

Adrenal deficiency

Celiac Disease

Heavy Exercise and Sweating

Fasting

Sodium/Potassium Balance

You should consume about five times more potassium than sodium, but most Americans eat twice as much sodium as potassium. If you’re eating mostly processed foods and few fresh vegetables, your sodium-to-potassium balance is virtually guaranteed to be opposite.   So the key is heavy intake of vegetables along with nuts.