The Truth About Salt

closeup of large salt crystal

Salt, or technically, sodium chloride has become the great bugaboos for anyone with a blood pressure or heart problem of any sort. Recommendation number one for anyone with a heart condition is usually, "get rid of all the salt in your diet." Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, made the statement in the Journal of the American Medical Association that reducing salt consumption will save hundreds of thousands of lives, and warning that 90 percent of Americans eat too much of it. What you don't know is that this 55 year old "truth" is actually based on now-debunked science and has been perpetuated ever since, despite the fact that there has never been a clinical study that can link salt intake with an increase in hypertension, heart disease or death of any kind.

It all began with the research done by Lewis Dahl at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in the early 1960s. By feeding rats the equivalent of 150 times the average salt intake of Americans, he claimed that it induced high blood pressure in the rats. [1] He gave the rats 500 grams of sodium a day where Americans only eat an average of 3.4 grams of sodium each day.

Dahl also published a study that showed people living in countries with high salt consumption, namely Japan, claiming that they suffered a higher incidence of strokes and high blood pressure. Strangely, today, Japan is number one when it comes to life expectancy. Women live to age 87 and men to age 80. This is compared to the U.S. where women live to 81 and men to 76. I did a little research of my own which you can do also, Search Google for the countries with the highest salt consumption. This InsiderMonkey page did the trick: http://www.insidermonkey.com/blog/11-countries-that-consume-the-most-salt-359878/ Then, in Wikipedia find the list of countries by life expectancy. If you go through the list of countries by salt consumption you can quickly see there is no real correlation between salt consumption and increased mortality. For example you will see that South Koreans have a much higher daily salt consumption than Americans, but also have a much higher life expectancy. So, I think we just debunked the basic facts that led the government to recommend salt restriction by as much as 50 to 85 percent. That's what happens when you have politicians setting health goals.

Modern Research and Salt Intake

A major review of published data in a Cochrane Review in 2012 indicated that there was no benefit of prescribing a low salt diet in caucasian populations. The jury is still out in asian and black populations, which may react differently to salt. Another Cochrane Review involving a total of 6,250 subjects found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death.

The 1988 Intersalt study found no relationship between sodium in the diet and the amount of hypertension. In fact, the population that ate the most salt, about 14 grams per day, had lower blood pressure than the population that ate the least, about 7.2 grams a day.

A 14 year research study published in 2006 in the American Journal of Medicine was a look at of the daily sodium intake of 78 million Americans and saw that their risk of dying from heart disease was higher on a low sodium diet.

Minerals and Health

We are all under-mineralized. This has been a problem for more than a hundred years. Strangely, and this is probably more than you want to know, but it all began with the synthesis of ammonia, the Haber Process in 1909. It wasn't until then that we could make chemical fertilizer. It changed farming forever, and our health. The ground could be pumped full of chemical fertilizers rather than be allowed to go fallow and regain things like minerals.

Salt is one of those minerals. Now, you're thinking, oh but I use a lot of salt, or eat salty foods. Doesn't that make up for it? And hey! I thought we were supposed to eat less salt! Well, the salt we eat is refined like crazy. It's bleached and cleaned and processed and anti-caking agents like sodium aluminosilicate, magnesium carbonate, or sodium ferrocyanide are added. Anti-caking agents have been added since 1911 when magnesium carbonate was first added to salt to make it flow more freely. Salt is also heated to very high temperatures, changing its structure. Basically other than taste it's barely salt.

Back in the 50s when people started writing articles about "what's bad for us," salt was shown to raise blood pressure. It's true. If you eat salt, your blood pressure goes up. But here's the rub, it doesn't stay up. It goes up temporarily until the salt goes through your system and the amount of salt we need is moved by osmosis into our "salty" blood stream. We NEED salt because all that fluid we're made of, it's salty. It's not a super high amount of salt (Na= 135-145 mmol/L) but think about it. Runners eat salt tablets to replenish the salt after they've run. When we get an IV, we get saline solution.

Balance of Potassium and Sodium

Where do we get salt naturally? We can get salt in our diet by eating sea weed, fish, shellfish, and meat. Additionally we can eat plants like beets, carrots, celery, spinach, and turnips. But while the focus has, for decades, been almost solely about how much salt we should eat, a more important issue is about the balance of sodium to potassium.

Our bodies were built with a means for conserving sodium and eliminating potassium, but not the other way around. So our bodies were not equipped to eliminate excess sodium, something we didn't really have to deal with as cave men. [2] Humans ate a great deal more potassium from plants than they do today, and a lot less salt, about 11,000 mg of potassium compared to only about 700 mg of salt a day. Today, that balance has shifted with daily averages at 3400 mg of salt and 2500 mg of potassium consumed a day. 10

A high-sodium - low potassium intake influences vascular volume causing an electrolyte imbalance and results in a condition called hypokalemia. People with hypokalemia can expect to see high blood pressure. hypertension, arrhythmia, and muscle cramps.

So, we've seen no correlation between high salt diets and death, but we do see a direct correlation with not enough potassium when eating a lot of salt. It makes sense to look at how to get more potassium in your diet.

Where to get Potassium

Yes, you can take potassium supplements but lets first look at where you can get it naturally. Anyone paying attention to their health probably thinks of bananas when they hear the word potassium. While a banana has a reasonable amount of potassium, about 422 mg for the average Chiquita banana, it's certainly not the highest source. For instance, a baked potato can give you 1081 mg per spud. But be aware that this potassium also comes with with carbs that are definitely not low on the glycemic index. Remember when mom said, "Eat your lima beans."? She was doing you a favor. Lima beans pack an amazing 955 mg per cup. Here are some other vegetables super-high in potassium: winter squash 896 mg per cup, cooked spinach 839 mg per cup. Here is my personal favorite, avocados have 487 mg in only half the fruit. That's more than a banana.

A Bit More About Salt

Here is what I did. I replaced my table salt with some of that expensive Himalayan pink stuff, and a good quality sea salt. First, as a condiment, you will use less salt because this stuff tastes saltier. I found that out by following recipes that called for certain amounts of salt and didn't adjust for the increased salty taste of sea salt. Big mistake.

First off, natural salt is only 84 percent sodium chloride, and also contains 16 percent naturally-occurring trace minerals, about 60 to 84 different elements that are vital for health. These maintain the electrolyte balance in the body, a health PH balance in our cells, and therefore slows the aging process.

Regular old table salt contains 97.5 percent sodium chloride, and no natural elements. Instead it contains 2.5 percent man-made chemicals, such as moisture absorbents and anti-caking agents. A small amount of iodine may also be added.

What about kosher salt? It has big crystals. Is this healthy? Kosher salt isn't always really even kosher. It's salt that is simply dried in larger crystals to better brine (kosher) meat. So, technically, it's koshering salt and has no added health benefits over table salt. It usually doesn't have added iodine, but can often contain anti-caking agents.

Think of salt as your friend. You aren't just made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails as they once told you. You are made of salt. Oral problems, gargle with salt water. I use a salt-based underarm deodorant. I don't like the big salt rocks so I found a spray on salt spray. It's so much healthier for you. Sea water compresses fix skin problems. If you're not diabetic or completely messed up in some other way, a good amount of a healthy salt is good for you. I do moderate how much salt I eat. I found a "salt" that has celery in it, which is a natural flavor enhancer. Celery and other spices added to this salt grinder, allows me to get max flavor out of the food and use less salt over all.

Fun Facts

Did you know that salt is a natural antihistamine? Adding just a pinch of salt to your tongue may help improve an allergic reaction or an asthma attack

Here is something you've probably never heard. Salt can improve your sleep quality. Try putting a pinch of salt and sugar on your tongue next time you wake up in the middle of the night stressing about work or family.

One study showed that increased salt intake leads to an increase in the elimination of cortisol and causes lower blood cortisol levels. If you've been reading my other articles you know that cortisol has been singled out as one of the causes of belly fat.

One little warning, drinking a glass of salt water should be done next to the bathroom because it's one of nature's best laxatives!

Live longer,

Ted

Legal: I'm not a medical professional. None of these statements have been reviewed by the FDA and nothing in this article claims to be a cure for anything. This is for informational purposes only.

More importantly, buying things from the Live a Longer Life page supports these free articles.

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  2. High sodium-low potassium environment and hypertension,.Am J Cardiol. 1976 Nov 23;38(6):768-85. Meneely GR, Battarbee HD
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Posted by Ted Coombs

Ted Coombs
Ted Coombs is a medical anthropologist, futurist and author who is passionate about health through knowledge.

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