In Defence of Salt…

Like so many other essential nutrients and foods, salt has been demonised in recent years. So much so, that I am now seeing sodium deficiency in many of my clients.  It has come up so often lately that I had the urge to write a blog post about it.  So here it is!

Sodium: the basics.

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Sodium is an essential mineral that attracts water and therefore controls fluid levels including our blood volume and regulates our body’s pH. It also plays other key roles in nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction, and together with potassium controls the movement of nutrients and other goodies across our cell membranes.

Fun fact: did you know that around 30% of sodium in our body is found on the surface of bone crystals? Why I hear you ask? Because it can be easily released into the blood stream if we don’t have enough sodium. Cool stuff eh?

Here’s another trip down memory lane to your high school science class… 

A “salt” is the combination of a cation (which has a positive charge) and an anion (which has a negative charge).  When we talk about the salt we eat, it is actually a combination of two minerals, sodium (a cation) and chloride (an anion) AND (if you are eating the good salt) many other essential minerals such as potassium, magnesium and iodine (in trace amounts).  Chloride is as important as sodium as it plays an essential role in maintaining pH balance, activating enzymes and is even a part of our stomach acid.  

When we are stressed and struggling with chronic fatigue, we need all electrolytes including sodium and potassium for our adrenals and mitochondria to work properly generate energy, which is why adrenally fatigued clients often crave salt.

We excrete salt via the kidneys in urine and when we sweat, hence why many athletes use electrolyte drinks to help them replenish their stores and maintain fluid balance (and prevent muscle cramps – see below).  

Salt “science” in the media.

I’m sure everyone has heard the campaigns that a high salt diet causes high blood pressure and leads to heart disease. And that we should eat less than 2000mg per day to stay healthy.  But did you know that this is actually not true?  

Swollen feet and ankles (a.k.a. fluid retention or oedema) is often blamed on salt intake, however the body will hold on to fluid and sodium if there is insufficient potassium.  It is NOT sodium’s fault, it is the rubbish processed table salt that is devoid of other minerals including potassium.  Even in kidney disease, sodium retention is only one factor in the development of oedema and it is a consequence of other hormonal system irregularities, not salt intake. Read more here.

From a genetic perspective, there are a number of factors involved in the development of hypertension and salt sensitivity is only one small factor.  In fact, for some people, avoiding or limiting salt intake won’t do a single thing to help their blood pressure. Don’t believe me?  Check out this meta analysis of randomised controlled trials.

There has also been a long standing belief that salt increases thirst, with the extra water you drink diluting the blood and thereby reducing sodium levels and altering pH, but this is also not true. In fact, salt can make you less thirsty and improve your body’s ability to conserve water. Read more here.

Yes, the media have been promoting health messages that are based on flawed science (again).

How do you know if you are deficient in sodium?

In terms of testing, we can look at a combination of blood test results (remembering that the body is super smart when it comes to regulating electrolytes, so these typically won’t be dramatically out of range until something more serious is happening) and hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA) testing (see below: this client has adrenal fatigue/chronic fatigue, take a look at her sodium and potassium levels).

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We can always look for classic body signs and symptoms too.

Signs of moderate/mild sodium deficiency:

  • fatigue
  • headache
  • irritability 
  • muscle cramps and weakness (yes, it’s not always magnesium!)
  • dehydration
  • postural hypotension (getting dizzy/light headed when you get up too quickly)
  • rapid heart rate/palpitations
  • dry mucous membranes i.e. dry mouth

A severe deficiency can be life threatening and includes symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and confusion, and if left untreated can result in seizures and coma.  

What can salt do for me?  

  1. Keep you better hydrated: This only really works when you have good quality salt as you need both sodium and potassium to maintain fluid balance. Remember your basic biochemistry – water follows salt so you will get fluid retention if you only consume table salt as there is no potassium to balance it out.
  2. Keep your heart healthy: Again, it’s all about the type of salt.  Table salt is a no no.  Stick to good quality mineral salt to keep your vascular health and blood pressure in check.  Read more here.
  3. Keep your muscles and nervous system happy and healthy: Our nervous system needs salt to function properly and your muscles will thank you for the salt love too (goodbye muscle cramps!).  Don’t forget the official party line – quality salt here too please!

Types of salt.  

Pink Himalayan salt or Celtic sea salt are your best choices, as they contains a plethora of other minerals such as potassium and magnesium.  Table salt is only sodium chloride, is heavily processed and devoid of all other minerals and won’t do your body any good at all. Avoid at all costs.

If you are eating processed foods, they are laden with hidden (and processed) salt too. This is why eating a whole food diet with your own added quality mineral salts is better for health (and tastes a whole lot better too).

We have a few great sources of natural salt here in Australia too such as the Ancient Lakes minerals that are sourced from Lake Deborah in Western Australia that includes a great balance of sodium to potassium (I recommend this to my clients).

Denise’s homemade electrolyte drink recipe – add a few slices of fresh citrus and cucumber, a few sprigs of fresh mint and a good pinch of quality sea salt to 1-2L of filtered water and drink throughout the day. It is delicious and hydrating!

A final word.  

As you can see, natural salt is not the demon it has been made out to be. Table salt on the other hand does literally nothing for our health and in my opinion actually causes more harm than good. The take home message here is trust in what mother nature has created for us (mineral salt) and avoid anything that is made in a lab (i.e. table salt).

Not only is good salt good for us, in fact, for my adrenally-depleted, over-stressed and over-worked clients, it is often an essential addition to a whole food diet, along with lifestyle changes including better stress management techniques, rest and self-care (you know, the good things we don’t have time for!).  And for those of you out there who are doing high amounts of exercise, replenishing your electrolytes with quality minerals is essential (and your muscles will thank you too).

Does this resonate with you? Want to know how we can determine your mineral status and how I can help you achieve optimal health? Book a FREE 15 minute discovery call today.