Is Salt Bad For You?
The NHS, world health organisation, UK government guidelines and most conventional healthcare providers will insist that salt is bad for you and that you can only benefit from restricting salt as much as possible. They tell us that the problem with processed foods and fast food is the salt and fat! Fat is a whole other topic that I won’t go into right now, but let me tell you that it is not the salt that you need to worry about.
So why has there been so much drama about salt? Well, old, poor quality and biased research indicated that too much salt caused high blood pressure in a small percentage of the population. As it turns out, the salt sensitive among us become desensitised to salt when sugar intake is reduced. Consequently, salt has been demonised ever since. There has been very mixed research results since leaving everyone understandably confused.
Here’s the science behind how sugar causes salt sensitivity:
High sugar= increased cortisol= insulin resistance = increased salt sensitivity= increased blood pressure on high salt diet.
Also: Insulin resistance can lead to fructose begin formed in the brain from glucose= increased ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone)= increased cortisol (as above)
So Should We Just Restrict Salt Anyway?
No! Some of the few helpful findings from this early research was that severely salt restricted diets actually lead to an increase in blood pressure and in some cases heart failure and even death! The important fact that has been completely ignored is that we actually need salt; or sodium, which is an electrolyte and essential for life.
Salt is required for many physiological functions and, therefore, lack of salt will mean your body performs sub-optimally.
Physically you might experience salt inadequacy or deficiency as:
– muscle cramping
– muscle pain
– brain fog
– poor exercise recovery
– sugar and or salt cravings
These are symptoms that I see in my clients frequently. If said clients eat well (few processed foods) and also doesn’t consume much salt, then I get them eating more and very often the symptoms disappear. Interestingly, it’s those who eat very cleanly (meaning very few takeaways and processed foods) that are most at risk of developing salt deficiency. Add to that a good exercise routine and lots of water and you’re almost certainly deficient! Did you know that you will lose around 2g of salt per hour of exercise! If you’re someone who is prone to sweating you’ll be losing even more.
Dr DiNicolantonio, cardiologist and author of the fascinating book ‘The Salt Fix’, outlines many reasons why restricting salt intake is detrimental to health. Here’s just a few complications restriction can cause:
– high bad (LDL) cholesterol
– low good (HDL) cholesterol
– high triglycerides
– hardening of the arteries
– reduced kidney function
– insulin resistance
– increased cortisol (a stress hormone)
– increased risk of blood clots
– increased heart rate
– sugar cravings & increased appetite
– weight gain
– fat retention
– fatty liver
– increased anxiety
If you have tried eating cleanly but haven’t managed to correct some of the above stubborn issues, try adding a little more salt to the diet.
How Much Salt Should You Have?
Dr DiNicolantonio has concluded that between 3-6g daily of natural salt (rock salt or sea salt, not chemical salt) is optimal. Your individual need will vary greatly depending on your activity level, food choices and over factors like stress. Also, conditions like chronic kidney disease can make you a salt waster, meaning your kidneys struggles to retain salt. In this instance, you would likely require a greater intake of salt. I recommend consulting a functional medicine practitioner (that includes nutritional therapists and some private doctors) if you have serious medical condition.
It can be difficult to measure your salt intake but there is an easy way of determining whether you need more salt.
The body regulates salt intake in the same way it regulates water intake. If we need water we feel thirsty. If we need salt then we will crave salt or salty foods. Sometimes though, sugar cravings can mask the salt cravings. So if you’re finding yourself craving sugar this could be another sign of salt deficiency. I personally find that sugar cravings are banished almost instantaneously after having a pinch of salt. Salt makes vegetables taste better too so a good way to start is to add salt to your vegetables. This should help you to consume more vegetables too!
Here’s one final pearl of wisdom, your body strives to keep an ideal balance between sodium and water. If you are salt deficient you’ll likely struggle to drink enough water!
I cannot recommend enough the book ‘The Salt Fix’ by Dr DiNicolantonio. He takes you through how we are salty beings and how we have evolved from the salty sea. He discusses the research in-depth and takes you through human physiology and fascinating case studies.