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Salt: The Unsung Hero of Essential Nutrients

Salt: The Unsung Hero of Essential Nutrients

You all know I devour podcasts on a daily basis and love learning all things movement, nutrition, and how to optimize your health. I just finished listening to a fantastic podcast—High Intensity Health featuring leading cardiovascular research scientist, doctor of pharmacy, and author of Salt Fix, James DiNicolantonio. In the podcast, like his book, Dr. DiNicolantonio overturns our conventional thinking about salt and explores the little-understood importance of it, the health dangers of having too little, and how salt can actually help improve sports performance and stave off common chronic illnesses. Here are a few of the key takeaways we found essential and myth busting to previous beliefs on salt:

We used to eat a LOT of salt

Long ago, people consumed extremely high quantities of salt because there was no refrigeration and salt was a natural preservative. In 15th Century Europe, for example, people consumed an average of 100 grams of salt a day—100 GRAMS. Considering that today the daily recommendation is between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams (under a teaspoon) we’ve drastically reduced our intake … to our detriment.

Cutting back on salt is a near-sighted solution

The low-sodium craze in modern culture seems to consider nothing beyond lowering blood pressure. Sure, we know that reduced salt intake makes blood pressure go down. But it’s like restricting your water intake—low salt diets simply reduce blood volume. It seems we’ve conveniently ignored the fact that while low-salt diets lower blood pressure, they actually elevate heart rate. And heart rate effects are significantly stronger than blood pressure reduction.

Listen to your body: it needs what it craves

Think about this: animals find a salt lick when they need salt. This proves that the drive to get salt is controlled by the body. So, listen to your body—it knows what you need. Humans are driven to salt by the body activating the rewards system in the brain. When you’re craving salt and you finally get something salty, it tastes that much better. This activated rewards system will literally save your life if you’re deficient. Interestingly, with salt, our taste buds regulate our intake. So, when something tastes too salty, it’s because it is. If we add too much salt into one meal, for example, we’ll hold back on the salt in the next meal, thereby balancing out our intake perfectly.

Our daily activities deplete salt

When determining how much salt we should or should not be consuming, it’s important to consider all our daily activities that deplete salt. Caffeine, for example, causes a ton of salt loss in urine. Think about this: 4 cups of coffee a day will make you lose an entire teaspoon of salt. Considering that we’re being told to only consume one teaspoon or less, this automatically puts us at a deficiency. Exercising is another huge factor in salt depletion. One hour of exercise will make us lose, on average, a half teaspoon to a full teaspoon of salt. So, when you look at these calculations, it’s simple to see that we’re just not getting enough salt.

Salt-deficiency symptoms are common

If you’re exercising and being healthful but are feeling fatigued or your muscles are cramping, it could mean you’re salt deficient. Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)—a condition in which a change from lying to standing causes an abnormally large increase in heart rate is also associated with salt deficiency. You may discover you have this if you notice lightheadedness, trouble thinking, blurry vision, or weakness. Cutting too far back on salt also causes a spike in uric acid, insulin, and triglycerides. And it causes the good cholesterol to plummet and bad cholesterol to rise.

Another thing to consider: when you go below 3,000 mg of sodium per day, stress hormones noradrenaline and adrenaline kick in. Because we’re decreasing our sodium so much, these stress hormones remain chronically elevated, which can lead to adrenal fatigue. Over time, a low-salt diet can burn out your adrenals and wreak havoc on your sympathetic nervous system. We see this often with our elite runners especially in their blood work.

You shouldn’t be sensitive to salt

If you eat salt and your legs swell up, there’s something wrong. Your blood vessels are leaky and salt is going from the blood into the interstitial fluid. Likely from sugar, refined carbs, and insulin resistance. But certainly not from the salt.

Salt can help improve athletic performance

Dosing yourself with salt before exercise can dramatically increase your performance. Salt is the absolute best substance to increase blood circulation. It’s an incredible vasodilator. It helps release heat and increases sweat production, which cools our bodies and regulates our temperature. And because of the increased circulation, it reduces discomfort and cramping in the muscles.

Salt is an essential nutrient

We need the iodine, magnesium, calcium, potassium that’s readily found in natural salts. While our regular table salt is lacking in these nutrients, we can and should find them in alternative salts—and sea salts from our modern oceans are not the answer. Modern sea salts, not surprisingly, contain microplastics because they come from our polluted oceans. So, salts from ancient oceans are optimal because they are particularly rich in clean micronutrients. Some salts are higher in nutrients than others, and for optimum health, you may want to combine a few different salts to maximize your intake.

  •  Himalayan salt is the highest in potassium but is deficient in magnesium and calcium. And since most Americans are sorely deficient in magnesium, this may not be your best salt option.
  • Redmonds Real Salt is rich in magnesium, sodium chloride, potassium and calcium—it’s a great natural ancient sea salt.
  • Celtic Grey Salt has 40 mg of magnesium per 10 grams of salt, and since most of us are only getting 200 mg of magnesium a day, Celtic Grey Salt could be an easy way to boost your daily magnesium intake.

So, think before you decide to cut your sodium intake. Assess your diet, your symptoms, and your daily salt-depleting activities. Most importantly, listen to what your body is telling you. Salt is a crucial component to a healthy diet. For more information on health and wellness, explore Urban Wellness Clinic either through our blog, making an appointment with our nutritionist Dr Kaitlyn Clarke, or just shoot us an email at hello@urbanwellnessclinic.com

Best in Health xo

Dr Emily Kiberd

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