Just like saturated fat, salt has a very bad reputation.
Just like saturated fat, salt is actually needed in the body for it to work optimally.
Salt is not totally harmless, but it’s not the devil in disguise either.
Confused? Most people are.
Basically our body needs salt but at the same time research has proven that too much of it can also be bad for us.
Today I will explain why this confusion has arisen and what you need to know and what you can do about it.
I will provide you will some solutions to help you avoid the negatives and gain all the positives to be had from salt.
Firstly let’s have a quick look into the history of salt and find out how it got such a bad name for itself.
How Salt Got it’s Bad Name
There was one big study carried out in the 1980s called ‘Intersalt’, this study aimed to find out if there was a relationship between high blood pressure and salt intake.
The study showed a very small link between the two.
It was found that some undeveloped non industrial people who had very low salt intake were found to have low blood pressure.
The leaders of the study were happy with this and used this as proof that if a low salt diet gave low blood pressure then high salt diet must = high blood pressure.
But then there was another group in the study who mucked up the results and put the first “result” into question.
This was a tribe called the Kuna from Panama.
It was again found that they had low blood pressure and low salt intake. They decided to test their hypothesis further by increasing the salt intake of the Kuna, sometimes up to 6 teaspoons a day.
The result was there was no change in the hypertensive statuses (blood pressure) of the tribe, no matter what age they were.
However these days it’s widely accepted, it’s been proven over and over, if you drastically cut your salt intake there probably will be a slight drop in your blood pressure.
This drop is mostly due to the immediate drop in body weight which you get when you cut out salt.
But there is a lot of evidence to suggest that although salt reduction can lead to slightly lower blood pressure all out salt reduction can also lead to health problems.
In this study in 2011, it showed that after 7 days on a low salt diet the healthy male and female subjects, insulin resistance was increased when compared to a diet high in salt. (insulin resistance is bad and can lead to hormonal problems and weight gain)
Another study which was testing the relationship between blood pressure and salt intake found that a reduced salt diet had negative effects on cholesterol levels and stress hormone levels. (A sure sign the body is not happy)
This study found that you are more at risk of strokes and heart attacks if you eat under 3 grams of sodium a day than you are when you eat 6-7 grams of sodium a day.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that salt is OK when eaten in the right form and the right amounts.
Salt has been used as a bit of a scapegoat by health and nutrition experts who suggest that salt causes obesity and countless other health problems.
Most of the salt in a western type diet (ours) would come from salt “already added” to your foods.
I personally feel that the type of hidden salt in food is worse that the stuff you sprinkle on top of food.
This is where your main focus should be, cutting out these high salt – processed foods.
The best overall indicator of health is ultimately how long you live!
A study found that people with an average salt intake tend to live longer than those who consume too much or too little salt.
The figure of the average salt intake was just under 2 teaspoons a day.
I personally think salt quality is more important than quantity, and 5-10g of salt per day is OK for the average person. I also believe salt intake should fluctuate, for example, it should increase if you sweat or exercise lots, and decrease if you are totally inactive (the same as for food in general, if you do more you need more).
If you, like me, are a salt lover, you will be pleased to hear that there are more benefits.
Salt is good for you when you exercise, it helps to keep you hydrated.
You may have heard about electrolytes, and how, when we exercise, we need to replace them, that’s what big brands like lucozade and powerade brag about.
(Tip – never use this stuff, especially if your an athlete, it contains a neuro-toxin, aspartame)
This study has found that if you increase your sodium intake before exercise in warm conditions it increases fluid volume (water in the body) and reduces the physiological strain of the exercise.
This doesn’t only apply to hot weather conditions, it works for all sports and conditions. Don’t just start taking salt before you train or play – buy some salt tablets look on nuun.co.uk. Take as recommended by them.
If you eat a low salt diet and you exercise regularly, I could make a good bet you are not going to be performing at your best. If you don’t exercise don’t think you get of scot free. The same could be true for you as it is an athlete as it could for a corporate executive, their performance in their job would be diminished on a low salt diet.
High flying corporate clients of mine enjoy being compared to athletes!
Even if they don’t feel like they are one, they learn from me, they need to act like one (regarding their nutrition, exercise and rest anyway). Being at your best physically and mentally is essential if you want to progress in your job and secure better earnings for the future.
Side note: Next week I will tell you a remarkable story about a local businessman, one of my coaching clients, who is on testosterone replacement therapy(TRT). He says as a result of the exercise, nutrition and hormone work, he is making more money. He says he will enjoy a better retirement, if the last ten years of the business are anything like the one he just had. Now that’s life changing, all from treating himself like a peak performer.
I digress, back to salt…
A little story about a good school friend of mine Dean Llewellyn, who is an Ironman.
Dean was competing in his biggest, most difficult and most important race up to that point – Lanzarote Ironman.
(Ironman triathlon distance, for those who dont know, you have to complete a 2.4 mile Swim, 112 mile bike ride and run a full marathon to finish!)
Unfortunately as he was nearing the finish line, literally in the last mile, he collapsed and went into a coma. He told me he remembered thinking he had been run over by a car.
It turned out he had suffered Hyponatremia – which is a condition caused when there is not enough sodium (salt) in the body fluids.
Firstly we couldn’t figure out how or why it had happened his race prep had been perfect and then he realised.
During the 4 or 5 days of his pre race preparation, he drank loads of water. I mean loads.
The strategy was partially correct as Lanzarote is a hard Ironman because of the hot weather conditions.
The trouble is when you drink loads of water you actually flush the salts out of your body, we now firmly believe that’s what Dean had inadvertently done.
Lesson learned. He went back a couple of years later and completed the course successfully. He is a hell of a guy, really tough man and has overcome many challenging injuries since.
Salt Makes Food Tastier
This is one of the big ones for me!
I admit that vegetables and salad can taste boring on their own, but drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, and add some salt and pepper and you have a completely different tasting meal.
Same as kale – delicious with salt and oil – bitter without it.
I believe we should enjoy our food, and not many people will be able to stick to a flavourless diet, I know I can’t.
Salt does make a whole world of a difference to food so use it, if adding salt to your veg or salad helps you to avoid unhealthy dressings and sauces then do it, it’s a lot better for you.
The second main point of the article, after getting the quantity of salt correct, is the quality of salt.
Often people make no distinction between the different types of salt – BIG mistake.
Some salts are a lot better than others.
Types Of Salt
There are basically three different types of salt:
1. Sodium Chloride – This is the normal table salt that you get. This is the kind of stuff contained in all of the crap processed foods, it’s toxic and it’s bad for your health. This is the salt that gave salt as a whole a bad reputation!
It’s been heated to 400 degrees, bleached, stripped of most of its nutrients during the refining process and has lots of chemicals added to it. It’s as far from salt as salt can get.
I personally find table salt and salt from the chippy (yes I eat chips on occasion!) – very strong salty taste (which is lovely but very moreish) compared with the salt I now use at home. What do you think? Can you taste the difference?
2. So called ‘sea salt’ – This should be good for you but unfortunately it has been processed and refined so much that it has lost so many valuable minerals that often it isn’t much better than the normal table salt mentioned above.
Unprocessed salt contains: Calcium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Magnesium and Zinc.
Processed salt does not contain the same nutrients in the same quantities, they are mostly stripped away by the processing.
3. Celtic sea salt – This is the salt that you should be eating. It is sometimes known as ‘macrobiotic, hand harvested, sun dried sea salt’. This is real salt and this is what we need, this will help us achieve optimal health. It contains no additives and nothing has been removed which would alter the salt. I get my salt here.
You can try to use organic unrefined sea salt or something similar.
Celtic sea salt has been found to help regulate heartbeat and blood pressure, improve brain function, balance blood sugar, alkalise and energise the body and promote sleep. Not bad for something you sprinkle on your food to boost the flavour.
As I have told you in the past, our bodies are made up of a community of cells.
Salt is contained in every single one of these trillions of cells, if it wasn’t important I don’t think that it would be in every cell.
Every time we sweat, cry or go to the toilet we lose salt, so it is important that these are replaced.
So don’t believe everything bad about salt and don’t be put off.
It’s all about quality and quantity.
As long as you have the right types of salt in the right amounts you can experience many benefits. If you sweat lots because of exercise or in hot weather, remember you need more.
Thanks for reading,
PS – This is all based on my research and my personal experience with salt. Please share with me your views on salt, do you think it is good or bad?
References: Mark’s Daily Apply Website: Salt What Is It Good For. 12/06/2013