Stop Avoiding Salt! | The Salt Myth
By Tyler Woodward
What Is Salt?:
Salt is a compound made up of one molecule of sodium and one molecule of chloride. This makes up sodium chloride or what we often refer to as table salt. Table salt is an ionic compound, meaning that it’s made up of two charged particles that come together to form an electrically neutral substance. Sodium has a charge of +1, while chloride has a charge of -1, so table salt as a whole has a neutral charge of 0. When table salt is digested it separates into its separate pieces, sodium and chloride.
Both sodium and chloride are types of electrolytes, minerals that hold an electrical charge in the body. Every cell in the body holds an electrical charge via its concentration of electrolytes. There are 6 main electrolytes in the body:
In order for our body to function properly each of our cells need to be able to properly regulate their electrical activity. To do this they must maintain a proper electrolyte balance which involves keeping enough of the intracellular electrolytes like potassium, calcium, and magnesium inside the cell, while keeping the predominant extracellular electrolytes like sodium and chloride outside the cell.
For the purpose of this article, I’ll be referring to sodium and salt interchangeably as that is how they are most commonly referred to, but sodium can also occur in other forms like sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).
Why Do You Need Salt?:
Although low salt diets have been all the rage lately, salt believe it or not, is an extremely essential ingredient in maintaining your health. Salt is the main positive extracellular electrolyte and as you likely know it’s infamous for its role in attracting water. For these reasons, salt’s primary role in the body is the maintenance of blood volume and blood pressure.
Sodium levels in your blood are primarily regulated through your kidneys which readily pump excess sodium out of your body through your urine. Sodium is also lost in relatively large quantities in sweat and in feces, specifically diarrhea.
When your serum (blood) sodium drops too low your body activates its Renin-Angiotensin-Aldosterone System (RAAS) in order to prevent further sodium loss. This occurs in a number of steps
- Your kidney releases the peptide hormone renin
- Your liver produces the hormone angiotensinogen
- Renin & angiotensinogen react in the blood to form angiotensin I
- Angiotensin I is converted into Angiotensin II (the most active form in the lungs by the Angiotensin Converting enzyme (ACE)
- Angiotensin II signals through the body to vasoconstrict (tighten) the blood vessels in order to increase blood pressure
- Angiotensin II eventually travels into the brain where it signals the release of aldosterone, which signals to the body to retain sodium, and vasopressin or antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which signals to the body to retain water.
Low sodium levels directly cause water retention and an increase in blood pressure. Ironically, low salt diets are often used with the intent of lowering blood pressure, but can actually raise your blood pressure. Additionally, low-salt diets are commonly used in conjunction with diuretics to eliminate bloating, but it’s oftentimes a lack of salt causing the bloating in the first place.
Salt draws water out of your cells and into the bloodstream, bloating is largely a result of too much water in your cells!
While excess salt can cause high blood pressure by drawing too much water out of your cells and into the blood, you would need to consume an insanely large amount of salt to do so because your kidneys are very efficient at excreting excess salt.
In fact, for thousands of years before the invention of refrigerators, salt was virtually our only means of preserving food. In order to preserve food, it would quite literally be coated in salt. Our ancestors likely consumed huge quantities of salt compared to what we consume today and did so without issue. Again, this is because our kidneys are very efficient at dispelling excess salt, but they.
“Normal kidneys accommodate vast increases in sodium intake without changes in blood pressure” ~ Journal of The American Medical Association
Basically, the only time hypernatremia (excess serum sodium) occurs is during severe dehydration, which drastically increases the concentration of sodium in blood relative to the amount of water in the blood.
And while it’s known that limiting sodium intake can lower blood pressure, the effect is pretty marginal. In 2018 the Cochrane institute perfromed comprehensive review on the literature on salt and found that salt restriction lowered blood pressure in people with normal blood pressure by .3% and in people with hypertension by ~3%. In addition, the study Cochrane Institute found, “Renin increased 55%; aldosterone increased 127%; adrenalin increased 14%; noradrenaline increased 27%; cholesterol increased 2.9%; and triglyceride increased 6.3%”. Salt restriction doesn’t have a significant enough effect to restore high blood pressure to its normal values, but it does incur a host of of other issues.
Read More: The Sugar Secret
Dangers Of Low Salt:
1. Loss of Potassium & Magnesium (and maybe calcium)
If the body doesn’t have extra sodium to spare it’s forced to utilize the other electrolytes in its place. This forces the intracellular electrolytes out of the cell and into the blood. Interestingly, hypokalemia (low potassium levels) can also cause high blood pressure.
2. Insulin Resistance
3. May Increase Risk of Heart Disease & All-Cause Mortality
A number of studies have been published in recent years that found an inverse relationship between the amount of salt consumed and mortality rates or rates of cardiovascular disease. Basically, the people that consumed the most salt in the study’s were the least likely to die (1, 2)
4. Increases Water Retention & Bloating
As I explained before, low salt intake can actually causes your cells to swell as water accumulates in the cell instead of your bloodstream.
5. Increases Stress Levels
Aldosterone is the primary hormone that regulates sodium and in it of itself is considered a stress hormone, but low sodium levels also upregulate the synthesis of the stress hormones adrenaline & noradrenaline.
How Much Salt?
The World Health Organization recommends that you limit salt consumption to less than 2300 mg daily, while the USA recommended daily allowance is abou 3,400 mg. Both of these values are entirely too low and are more often than not associated with detrimental health outcomes.
While I could give you general guidelines, they're quite honestly useless for most people being that 99% of people don't even track their caloric intake not to mention their sodium intake. So here's my recommendation... salt to taste
There's a reason salt is one of the 5 tastes we're able to sense and there's also good reason why we crave salt and why it tastes so good. Salt is extremely essential to the diet and it's nearly impossible to get too much of it unless you are literally drinking salt water. Adequately salting your food to taste will likely ensure you are consuming enough salt daily and if you're craving more salt, feel free to add more.
Additionally, if you are an athlete or someone who frequently exerts themselves and sweats as a result you will have a significantly higher salt requirement than the average person. Salting your food, again, is a great place to start, but you may even want to consider using salt tablets to ensure you are adequate replenishing your sodium stores (recommended by Jayton Miller AKA The Research Cowboy).
Read More: The Science Of Stress & How To Manage It
The Best Salt’s To Buy:
- Redmond’s Real Salt
- White Salt
- Icelandic Sea Salt (White)
- Kosher Salt
Colored salts are filled with impurities, meaning there are other elements in the salt besides sodium and chloride. These impurities can be good or bad depending on the elements, but generally I just recommend sticking to plain old white salt. Additionally, make sure to purchase a high-quality salt that does not have any added caking agents.
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My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across within this subject. I really hope you found this article interesting and if you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism, feel free to reach out to me on our facebook groups or on Instagram @tylerwoodward_fit. Also, please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time… be good