I am a salt fiend. I love salt and liberally sprinkle it on everything. I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth, but give me something salty and it’s over. But isn’t that, like, bad for you? Doesn’t salt make you totally bloated and puffy? And isn’t it bad for your heart? Let’s discuss.
Reducing salt intake is a common recommendation by doctors and nutrition guidelines as part of healthy lifestyle. But why? The American Heart Association says it raises blood pressure. Doctors have associated it with issue like osteoporosis, kidney stones, and gastric ulcers. That doesn’t sound good. So why am I cool eating so much salt?
Salt is a mineral made of sodium and chlorine, which are vital and essential for sustaining human life. Every cell in the body needs salt. We sweat it, we cry it, and we bleed it. It get’s a bad rep for raising blood pressure and causing bloating. There have been studies to show lowering salt intake can decrease blood pressure, but there is zero evidence that doing so prevents heart attacks, stroke, or death. Before I continue, I want to clarify the kind of salt I’m talking about…
TABLE SALT is the most common salt used and is found in processed foods and most restaurant food. It is highly refined and stripped of nearly all of its minerals. Anti-caking agents are often added to keep it from clumping. Table salt is nearly pure sodium chloride at 97% and the rest is caking agents. It is then dried out at 1,200= degrees Fahrenheit.
SEA SALT has gotten more attention in recent years, and it’s made by evaporating sea water. It is usually much less processed than table salt and contains minerals like potassium, iron, and zinc. The darker its color, the less processed, or stripped, it is. So when you see a greyish variety, that’s what you want.
HIMALAYAN SALT is mined from the Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan. It contains calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium and gets it’s pink color from tiny amounts of iron oxide, or rust. It contains the full spectrum of 84 trace minerals the body needs and is a very high grade natural salt. This is what I like to use most often!
CELTIC SEA SALT is harvested from the Atlantic off the coast of France. The Celtic method uses wooden rakes instead of metal to harvest the salt. It is air and sun dried in clay and gathered with wooden tools. It doesn’t have any chemicals additives or preservatives in the finished product.
So as you can see, table salt is a totally different thing than less processed salts like sea salt, Himalayan salt, and Celtic salt. Table salt is totally stripped of all its natural minerals, is heated to super high temperatures, and contains additives to keep it free flowing because it’s milled so finely that it clumps easily. Unrefined salts contain the natural minerals that are found in salt before it is stripped, providing the body with over 80 trace elements and is usually sun dried. Minerals help alkalize the body and are necessary nutrients for survival Here are a few more reasons why (unrefined) salt is really good for you and not to be avoided like the plague:
– Salt improves insulin sensitivity. Studies have shown a low salt and even just moderately restricted salt diet increases insulin resistance.
– Salt maintains a healthy pH in the stomach, which is essential to good digestion. Stomach acid is called hydrochloric acid and since salt is sodium chloride, it helps build up levels of stomach acid, which the majority of Americans are deficient.
– Salt improves circulation.
– Salt is a natural antihistamine. A sprinkle on the tongue improves an allergic reaction and asthmatic episodes.
– Salt helps improve sleep with its anti-stress properties. Those on a low sodium diet have been shown to have disrupted sleep.
– Salt promotes a healthy weight and speedier metabolism by reducing blood cortisol levels. Excess cortisol (a stress hormone) has been linked to weight gain and a sluggish metabolism. It has also been shown to increase thermogenesis, or heat production by the body, which increases metabolic rate.
– Salt creates an electrolyte balance and prevents muscle cramping.
As with all things, too much or too little can cause problems. Too much salt in excessive amounts certainly will raise blood pressure and cause water retention because salt binds to water in the blood. However, that’s no reason to be afraid of salt and go on a low salt diet, because that causes problems as well. Studies have shown that people on low salt diets (<3g/day) have an increased risk of death and a major cardiovascular event compared to those not following a low salt diet. People on a very high salt diet (>7) also have increased risk for both of those things, but significantly less than those on the low salt diet. People consuming 3-6g per day were in the best predicament, which proves that salt is not the problem – too much or too little of it is. We tend to avoid things altogether when we hear they can be harmful, but salt is nothing to be afraid of and is actually quite beneficial and necessary to overall health. Too much exercise is harmful, but would you avoid it altogether? No. Nor would you avoid food altogether because too many calories can he harmful. So next time you’re at the store, check out the salt section and pick up a high quality natural salt you like and experiment with adding a bit more to your food if you don’t usually use salt or have been avoiding it!
Have you been avoiding salt and if so, what have you heard about it that has compelled you to do so?