Salt has been given a really bad rap in recent years. Along with eggs, red meat, saturated fat and cholesterol, salt has been vilified for all sorts of things: hypertension, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and even gout. We’re told to cut down on sodium by every doctor, nutritional “expert” and product label. The “low-sodium” industry seems to be booming. Which is great, since this low-fat, low-sodium, whole-grain-including diet really seems to be making us healthier, right? Um, no. Not even close.
Some of you have probably finally come to terms with the fact that saturated fat and cholesterol are actually necessary for our bodies, that grassfed red meat is an amazingly healthy food, and that grains (yes, even whole grains) will ultimately wreck your health, but you’re probably still a little confused about salt.
Is salt really all that bad?
Yes. Common table salt (found in all processed foods and on most restaurant tables) is bad. This kind of salt is chemically produced 97% Sodium Chloride (NaCl), is bleached and devoid of most other nutrients and has been known to contain aluminium, which is linked to conditions such as Alzheimers and cancer.
This is not, and I repeat NOT, a naturally occurring salt. And so, yes, avoid it where possible. But do not avoid it by eating “low-sodium” foods. Just as gluten-free processed foods are often just as bad as their gluten-filled counterparts, low-sodium foods will usually contain all sorts of other nasty additives such as MSG to make up for their lack of taste.
But what about REAL salt?
In the same way as artificially produced table salt (and note that almost all restaurant foods and processed foods are loaded with the stuff) is bad for you, REAL salt is actually the opposite.
Our bodies contain high concentrations of many minerals and nutrients, and we need to keep these concentrations in balance in order for our organs, bones and blood to function properly. Just as we need to keep hydrated by drinking enough water, our bodies also require us to replenish the minerals (including salt) that are flushed out of our body through functions such as sweating and urination.
We require a minimum of 1500mg of sodium (3.8 grams of salt) per day to replace what we lose. Sodium is a vital nutrient and a main component of extracellular fluid. It is necessary for maintaining plasma volume and for normal cellular metabolism. Maintaining extracellular fluid volume is especially important in regards to cardiovascular health.
Sodium and chloride ions also play an important role in the nervous system, facilitating the exchange of signals between neurons, thus allowing nerve transmission as well as mechanical movement.
Chloride ions are also used in the production of hydrochloric acid (HCL) in the stomach, which plays a vital role in digeston and the neutralisation of food-borne pathogens.
A sodium deficiency can lead to a condition called hyponatremia which can result in symptoms such as brain swelling, congestive heart failure, cardiovascular collapse and coma. In other words, salt is IMPORTANT. Contrary to popular belief, a diet too low in salt may lead to serious health consequences and higher overall mortality, particular in relation to conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Read more about the dangers of a diet that is too low in salt here. As Gary Taubes explained over a decade ago, “the data supporting universal salt reduction have never been compelling, nor has it ever been demonstrated that such a program would not have unforeseen negative side effects.”
In summary, there is a healthy range of salt consumption for most people. If you are eating a diet consisting of whole, unprocessed foods, it is likely that you will be consuming appropriate amounts of salt simply through the seasoning of those foods, since we have an innate threshold for preferences to salt levels. It is unlikely that your intake will ever be too high.
Here are some other reasons to eat salt: 5 reasons to eat salt.