Our Salt Habit Is Bad For Our Health: Some Facts And Some Suggestions


We need salt –it is essential in small amounts. We need it, along with potassium, to maintain the right balance of fluids in our body. And more. But we don’t need a lot. Too much is not good. Our body is very efficient at holding onto salt if it needs it. There is salt in our natural foods. If we added no salt we would probably get enough. Our taste for high salt foods is a learned behavior.  People who lower their salt intake gradually start to appreciate the taste of healthy foods and find many foods they used to eat too salty.  

The dangers of too much salt are well documented in many research studies in different populations. Joel Fuhrman MD has extensively researched the literature and found salt consumption is linked to high blood pressure, blood clots, heart attacks, stomach cancer. High blood pressure is a major killer in the world. Fuhrman says that if you don’t have high blood pressure now that does not mean you do not have to worry about salt. Even if it’s low now, 90% of all Americans eventually get high blood pressure from using high salt earlier in life and then it’s not so easy to get the pressure down by taking salt away. High sodium diets have been shown predictive of death from heart attacks, independent of other risk factors including high blood pressure. “It’s not just blood pressure – there is emerging evidence that salt is harmful to the heart in other ways.”  

The epidemic of autoimmune diseases parallels our increased consumption of processed foods. Three research studies published in Nature Magazine on March 6, 2013 suggest that “salt may be the missing link that might explain the recent marked increase of multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases.” One researcher wants us to be clear this does not mean it’s just due to salt but that salt could be “one more thing on the list of predisposing environmental factors that may promote the development of autoimmunity.” “This research is still preliminary and by no means proof “said Bruce Bebo Jr. PhD, of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in New York, but “It’s another reason to encourage patients to follow a healthy lifestyle, including a diet that’s low in salt.” Dr David Hafler a neurologist at Yale said people should already be on a low salt diet” for general health concerns.  

We may not realize it but we are on salt overload and it is putting our good health at risk. We usually get about 3400 mg a day of sodium. That’s way too much. The maximum recommended amount is 1500 mg/ day. It’s not the salt we add that gets us in trouble. It’s the hidden salt, especially the salt in processed foods. 75% of the food we eat these days is processed.  It is loaded with salt and sugar to make it taste good – to make us come back for more. It’s an unhealthy learned appetite. We love salt and sugar but they can literally kill us. Of course the manufacturers know what they are doing. It is very good for their bottom line.

Yesterday I picked up a packet of salt in the hospital cafeteria and was about to about to put some on my dinner, but I changed my mind. Would you believe that tiny little single serve packet contained salt, sodium silicoaluminate, dextrose, and potassium iodide?  

Salt from the shaker, salt from the sea – the saltiness of tears all have the ion sodium. Potassium is another ion which like sodium carries a charge and moves in and out of the cells via a sort of magnetic attraction. So what?  Well it is important to your waistline and well-being. Take in more sodium than potassium and you can retain excess water. Sodium drives body fluids into the cells, plumping them up and plumping you up. It interferes with your cells functioning.  And it can cause you to be bloated, have  puffy eyes, swollen feet.  Potassium helps keep water out of cells – it deflates what sodium inflates. Here again balance is vital. You want as much potassium as sodium in your diet.

In Paleolithic times I understand people ate a 50/50 balance of potassium and sodium.  Today we get way more sodium than potassium. Since it comes mostly from processed, packaged, convenience and fast food avoiding those would help a lot. Unprocessed food generally has more potassium than sodium. We can eat a truckload of natural foods without getting into trouble, but if we take potassium supplements it is easy to get into trouble with too much potassium.   

Together sodium and potassium choreograph such vital metabolic dances as muscle contractions and nerve cell transmissions. Too little or too much potassium can result in heart rhythm disturbances. Too much sodium meanwhile can raise blood pressure in susceptible individuals.

There are other players too, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium all essential, and balance is important.  Sodium increases urination and promotes increased loss of calcium through the kidneys which can promote osteoporosis. My point is we need a balance of these minerals, these nutrients.

While it is important to reduce our salt (sodium chloride) intake, we may want to use a little salt, and sea salt is better. I like Celtic Sea Salt though there are other good ones as well. It is mined from ancient sea beds, and contains many minerals. Our blood salt concentration is similar to that of the sea. Refined table salt is processed, toxic and does not have the nutrients that are in unrefined sea salt. It is the salt that is used in processed and packaged foods.

Check out “The salty six” -6 popular foods that can add high levels of sodium to your diet. It includes breads, cold cuts, pizza, poultry (they often inject salt solutions into poultry and there is no requirement for putting that on the label), soup, sandwiches.  

It is wise to read labels. Sodium by the way goes by many aliases, including sodium bicarbonate, brine, caseinate, citrate, chloride, phosphate, propionate, and nitrate. Any food ingredient that has the word “sodium” in the label is also salt – for example sodium benzoate, and MSG – monosodium glutamate. Stay away from all packaged foods labeled low fat – that pretty much means it is loaded up with salt and sugar to make it taste “better” . Also home water softeners can be a source of high salt.

Salt substitutes are not a good idea. My concern is that these substitute products sometimes are seen as a license to let loose a snow of seasoning all over the dinner plate. They are not. They contain potassium. They taste awful. Most people just pass out the excess potassium in their urine but if your kidneys are not up to par that could be dangerous. They could create heart rhythm disturbances.

Check out the labels on your supplements – even vitamin C tablets can be salty! If it’s sodium ascorbate you are getting salt. There are many other supplements and remedies that can be loaded with salt including antacids, laxatives, sleeping aids, and many more. Read the labels and find the ones labeled no salt or sodium free.    

When a recipe calls for salt, you don’t have to add it. Compare labels for sodium content – you’ll find that some have considerably more sodium than other brands. They may not even taste salty. Corn flakes, for instance, can contain more salt than salted peanuts. Opt for the least sodium/salt. Better yet opt for fresh, natural unprocessed foods.  

To your good health, Love, Dr Joan


Information shared here is not intended as medical advice, and cannot substitute for professional medical advice and information. Information provided is general in nature and may be helpful to some people but not others, depending on their personal medical needs. Always consult with your personal physician before changing or undertaking a new exercise program or following advice designed for general audiences only. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay getting care because of something you have read here.

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