Confused about salt? You are not alone. We’ve been made to believe that salt is a villain especially when it comes health problems such as high blood pressure. The FDA warns you to consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. But, there’s much more to salt than just the scary warnings, here’s why salt is an important factor in a healthy diet.
Why are we so afraid of salt?
First, let’s talk about sodium versus salt. While they are often used interchangeably, table salt is combination of sodium and chloride.
Sodium occurs naturally in foods like celery, beets, and milk, and it makes up about 40% of table salt. Manufactures often add pure sodium as a preservative to prepackaged foods so you’ll often find a high sodium content in frozen meals or canned soups.
So now that we’ve determined the difference between salt and sodium, let’s talk about why we’re are so scared of it!
The theory of why eating salt causes high blood pressure is that when you intake sodium, your body holds on to extra water. This extra water results in high blood pressure. Consistently high blood pressure then leads to a slew of other problems, specifically, poor heart health.
As studies have delved deeper into the connection between high blood pressure and salt, researchers are actually finding that salt may not be the villain we think it is.
The biggest study showing this came from Boston University where researchers studied the blood pressure and sodium intake of 2,632 individuals involved in the Framingham Offspring Study for a period of 16 years. What they found was that those who had followed a low sodium diet actually had higher blood pressure than those who didn’t!1
Other studies are consistently finding that there is what researchers call a J-shaped relationship between sodium and cardiovascular risk. This means that those with low-sodium intake (lower than an average American) and those with very high sodium intake (higher than an average American) had higher blood pressure.
In this study it was found that people with higher intakes of both sodium (3,717 mg) and potassium (3,211 mg) per day had the lowest blood pressure.
These findings show that the daily recommended value may be misguided!
Why We Need Salt
Your body will not function correctly without enough sodium, and the easiest way to get sodium is through salt. Studies have shown that low salt increases insulin resistance2 and could be associated with higher levels of low density cholesterol.3
Adding salt to your diet will help you stay hydrated in addition to preventing muscle cramps. It even promotes a healthy nervous system and metabolism.
On the keto diet, it is especially important to add salt to your diet. You lose a lot of water and sodium the first few weeks, and you lose even more if you workout. If you don’t, you will experience fatigue, headaches, and muscle cramping.
Try adding an additional 1,000-2,000mg through consuming pink Himalayan sea salt, broth, or shellfish.
How much do we need?
While the American Heart Association states that we need a minimum of 500mg per day and no more than 2,300mg, studies are indicating this number should be higher. Dr. James DiNicolantonio, author of The Salt Fix and a cardiovascular research scientist and doctor of pharmacy at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, states in his book that scientists have found 3,000-4,000mg of sodium is a more optimum level.
If you plan to incorporate more salt into your diet, it’s important to keep track of how you’re doing. Add a little at a time, drink lots of water, track your salt intake, and monitor your blood pressure. It’s a good idea to add more potassium to your diet as well considering your body needs a balance to work at an optimal level. Be sure to listen to your body, and always be aware of how you feel.
1. Low Sodium Intakes are Not Associated with Lower Blood Pressure Levels among Framingham Offspring Study Adults
2. Low-salt diet increases insulin resistance in healthy subjects.
3. Effects of low sodium diet versus high sodium diet on blood pressure, renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterol, and triglyceride.