The popular media and mainstream food industries in western countries has enjoyed demonizing salt over the last few decades. Linked with health issues such as heart disease, strokes, and hypertension, salt sounds like it can do no right! Unfortunately, this mineral-packed substance has not been clearly separated in the news from sodium–the most prevalent chemical in salt–or other preservatives commonly along for the ride. Sodium is hidden in most processed foods, skyrocketing total daily sodium intake among Americans to over 3 grams per day (Febuary 2012, Centre for Disease Control & Protection). Many scary reports (which mysteriously have no citations for the last 30 years of evidence against high sodium intake) speak about the supposed effects of high sodium on blood pressure & cardiovascular conditions, and the Nutrition Database for Standard Reference (USDA) recommend drastically reducing sodium intakes from the reported averages (American Heart Association). Now, the Institute of Medicine says that humans need the AHA daily recommended total (1500mg) sodium as the minimum for homeostasis after normal sweating and urinating without exercise perspiration (sweating) added to the equation. (Institute of Medicine, 2004) Confusion abounds…
Sodium (Na), is a crucial piece of the human machinery. It is absolutely essential for processes such as fluid homeostasis (Rose, 1994), hormone balance (Sagnella et al., 1989), basic cellular metabolism, and the sodium-potassium ion exchange (Layman’s terms: your brain’s ability to communicate with the body) (Logan et al., 2006). Yet sodium is still demonized!
- Clinical Science (London) 2008: “Low-Sodium Diets result in WORSE clinical outcomes for people with congestive heart failure, due to detrimental kidney and neurohormonal effects”.
- A 2009 study of large-bone fractures in the elderly found the incidence of hyponatremia (low blood sodium concentration) in patients with fractures was MORE THAN DOUBLE that of non-fracture patients. They postulated the reason for the sodium deficiency might have been the use of selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs), the most popular type of antidepressant pharmaceutical (or prescription) drugs.
- Meta-Analysis AJH 2011: “Despite collating more event data than any previous systematic reviews, there is still insufficient power to exclude clinically important effects of reduced dietary salt on mortality or cardiovascular disease morbidity”.
Ok so now you’re thinking you need to intake more sodium!?….Hang on, there are always two sides to every story! Most recent reviews of the literature and studies into the area of low sodium intake suggest that reducing sodium intake can reduce future risk of cardiovascular disease and blood pressure (Graudal et al., 2012; Aburto et al., 2013). It may be sexier to take one extreme stance, but the truth is always somewhere in the middle.
What to make of all this? We must differentiate between salt and sodium. Sodium is, in unpleasant forms, stuffed into most processed foods.
However, it still hasnâ€™t been proven to have negative effects on health, and you shouldn’t be consuming processed foods anyways!!
Salt is not entirely made up of sodium, and unrefined sea salts such as Celtic and Himalayan contain many trace minerals that are very useful nutritionally. Go out and buy these unrefined salts and put them in your cooked meals to see what real salt tastes and feels like. Better yet, mix 1x level tea spoon of that salt in a glass of water right when waking up and going before bed. See what proper hydration does for your morning energy, sleep quality, flexibility and more!
If you are a sedentary schlob sitting around pounding cans and boxes of processed foods, you may want to worry about the junk sodium and other preservatives stuffed inside…but you’ve probably got bigger (No pun intended haha!) problems! If you are an active person who eats real foods, salt is quite simply one of the best tools in your arsenal. Foods which have been staples of civilisation for tens of thousands of years are generally not bad for you unless they have been altered greatly, like grains (a recent invention, but that’s a story for another day!) have been. Salt is a nutrient-dense food which should be a part of everyone’s diet. Go eat some unrefined sea salt today and thank me when you actually enjoy what your dinner tastes like tonight!!
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