Real Salt is Good for You!

Real Salt is Good for You! 960 639 Janie

We have been told that salt is bad for us – that it will raise our blood pressure and increase our risk of heart disease – and so we must reduce our intake, but is this really true? Recently we have seen some long-held beliefs about saturated fat and cholesterol starting to be reversed, so maybe salt is just another innocent victim of the 1960s dietary guidelines that incorrectly removed some vital foods from our dinner plates.

The latest dietary guidelines from the USA recommend we eat no more than 2300mg of sodium per day – or 6 grams of actual salt (1 teaspoon) – everyday. And those over the age of 50 should reduce their salt to no more than 1500mg of sodium per day[1]. Nutrition Australia says all Australians should be eating no more than 1600mg of sodium per day[2]. That’s just over half a teaspoon of salt.

On what basis are we told to eat this much little salt? Tribes and cultures all over the world have used salt as a preservative for food for aeons, and heart disease has really only emerged as a prevalent disease in the last century, so could salt really be to blame?

Well there are certainly some studies that show a correlation between increased salt intake and hypertension[3]. A good question to ask is by how much does salt restriction reduce blood pressure? Eating less salt has been shown to mildly lower blood pressure – this study[4] showed that those with normal blood pressure can reduce their average blood pressure by 2.42 mm Hg systolic and 1.00 mm Hg for diastolic with a salt-restricted diet (the reduction in blood pressure was greater for those with high blood pressure, but let’s focus on the normal range people who are also being told to cut salt intake). That’s reducing blood pressure from 140/90 to 137.6/89. Honestly does that sound like it will make a tremendous difference to health? Your blood pressure can fluctuate more than that when you stand up.

And there are other studies that show that even though our sodium intake is staying relatively stable[5], hypertension is going up[6], so perhaps the evidence on salt restriction is not as clear cut as we are led to believe. This leads us to the second important question we should be asking which is whether salt consumption is linked to the actual incidence of heart disease. And according to the science, not really….

A recent report by the Institute of Medicine[7] found that reducing sodium to the recommended levels not only did not confer any health benefit for most people, but could be detrimental to some people. This was backed up by a recent Australian study[8] which found that people who consumed less than 3000 mg of sodium per day had a 25% increased risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events compared with those who consumed between 4000 mg and 5990 mg/day. That basically means if you follow the current salt guidelines of 2300mg that your overall mortality risk is increased by 25%! Not sure what that translates to when we reduce our salt intake further to the recommended 1500 or 1600mg… but probably not so great. And in this study[9] the risk for heart disease was 56% higher for the low-salt group than for the group who ate the most salt. Wow.

And then we find a lot of studies linking salt restriction to increased LDL and triglycerides[10], insulin resistance[11], type 2 Diabetes[12] and sodium deficiency[13]. Cutting back on salt is not sounding so good now, really is it…

Another interesting point to consider is that critically ill patients in hospital who cannot eat or drink are given a drip containing saline to keep them healthy. A standard 2 litres of 0.9% saline every day equates to 18 grams of salt which helps sick people get better without any negative effect on their blood pressure (even heart patients!), but apparently 6 grams of salt (or 3.75 grams for some) for the healthy people on the street is somehow dangerous? How can that be?

So we have some conflicting evidence – salt consumption does appear to increase blood pressure a bit, but overall a higher salt consumption is linked to a lower chance of heart disease and dying early. Now this is where it gets interesting, because the final question we should be asking is what kind of salt?

There is no question that salt is vital for life so of course when we restrict it we are opening up the possibility of health issues related to mineral deficiencies. Real natural salt contains over 80 minerals that are essential for many processes in our body including nerve communication, nutrient transport, cognitive function, balancing sugar levels, bone health, hormone health, fluid regulation, metabolic rate and drumroll… blood pressure regulation. So it seems pretty important, doesn’t it?

Screen-Shot-2013-08-06-at-9.10.18-PMAnd this is where the confusion about salt begins. All salt is not created equal. The salt I am talking about here is REAL salt – like pink Himalayan salt or grey celtic sea salt – you can tell it is real because it is coloured pink or grey or brown from the mineral content, it is rarely pure white. And it breaks down in humidity (because that’s what salt is supposed to do in the cycle of life: things are supposed to break down – even us). Instead we have developed refined table salt separating out only 2 of the 80 minerals found in natural salt – sodium and chloride – which do not exist in nature on their own. We heat them to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit to alter the chemical structure by forcing the sodium and chloride molecules to stick together and add some aluminium so they do not break down in humidity, and then we bleach it to make it pure white (ooh that looks better!). But if this refined man-made salt can’t break down in air as it is supposed to, can it break down in our body? And that is precisely the problem.

Our bodies cannot break the permanent heat-forced bond between sodium and chloride. We can’t use the minerals in refined salt, so instead of being a life-giving nutrient, it becomes a poison that our body has to detoxify and secrete. And not only are we consuming a toxin in the form of refined salt, but we are missing out on the other essential 80 minerals that come with salt in its natural form that are essential to health. All because we want a salty product that does not degrade in humidity and is nice and white.

Interestingly one of the main uses of chloride in our body is to make hydrochloric (HCl) acid for the digestion of food in our stomach, and since we can’t separate the chloride molecule away from the sodium molecule in table salt, we can’t make stomach acid. This could explain the current HCl deficiency in many people which leads to acid reflux or GERD. That’s right – acid reflux is not caused by too much stomach acid – it is caused by too little stomach acid! The book Why Stomach Acid is Good for You: Natural Relief from Heartburn Indigestion, Reflux and GERD by Johnathan Wright provides a great overview of why.

Refined salt destabilises blood pressure and water levels in our body while natural salt regulates it. This is why we see conflicting evidence – it all depends on what salt you are consuming.  Refined salt also advances aging, disrupts metabolism and digestive processes and contains aluminium which is implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.

So ditch the refined table salt and salt in processed foods and switch to REAL coloured salt that breaks down in the air and which provides the essential minerals that your body needs. As well as providing the building blocks for all the body processes mentioned above, switching to this type of salt can maintain regular heartbeat, clear sinus and nasal congestion, alkalise the body, prevent muscle cramps, improve libido, prevent gout and help with varicose veins among many other things.

Salt has given us health for our whole existence – it has been a sought after commodity for all of human history. Homer called it a “divine substance”, Plato said it was “near to the gods”. Even the origin of the word salt is believed to be derived from the roman word “sal” meaning “health-giving”. Nature did not play a terrible trick on us and suddenly decide to make salt bad for our health a half century ago. WE decided to make salt bad for us by changing its molecular structure. And we decided to put it in all our processed foods to make them addictive taste nicer and last longer on the shelf.

So the easy solution to all this is just to eat the real natural salt we have evolved to eat.  Ditch the table salt and processed junk and just eat real food. And trust your taste buds when it comes to how much real salt to add to food – we have evolved to eat salt over our whole existence so we have pretty good appetite regulation for it. If you have a craving for salt it is because you need some (real salt). If your food tastes too salty then you don’t need any. It’s that simple.

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/salt/pdfs/sodium_dietary_guidelines.pdf

[2] http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/frequently-asked-questions/salt-and-hypertension#.U9LrzqNfayc

[3] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199704173361601

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23558162

[5] http://eathropology.com/2013/05/20/the-nacl-debacle-part-1-salt-makes-you-fat-2/

[6] http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/resources/docs/2012_ChartBook_508.pdf

[7] http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=18311&page=R1

[8] http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/824749?src=emailthis#2

[9] http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=899663

[10] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12535503

[11] www.metabolismjournal.com/article/S0026-0495(10)00329-X/abstract

[12] http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/34/3/703.full

[13] http://cjasn.asnjournals.org/content/2/1/151.long