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Salt - Healthy Eating Friend or Foe?

by Jessica House(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 227 - January 2016

Salt is often considered the baddie when it comes to healthy eating - but is it really as simple as that? Is making sure there’s some salt in the diet actually beneficial? Is there such a thing - as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ salt? Or is salt eating simply a harmful addiction?

Let’s look at the role salt plays in our health, and weigh up the pros and cons of this moreish mineral.

 

Salt-227

Foe?

Salt is an inorganic mineral which means it cannot be digested, assimilated or utilized by the body. Salt has no vitamins, no organic minerals and no nutrients of any kind. It is actually thought to rob the body of minerals from muscle and bone.

Salt makes the body hold onto water. This is because in order to keep this highly irritating acidic substance from attacking the lining of the body’s tissues, water is pulled out of cells to buffer the salt and hold it in a suspension.

Salt is shown to cause weight gain and increase blood pressure - at least until the kidneys flush the salt out of the system. But it is believed that the effect is actually more long-lasting, and can lead to hypertension, stroke and even death if unchecked. The DASH-sodium study carried out in the USA in 2001 found that subjects on a lower sodium diet had significantly lower blood pressure than a control group.

Thus it can reasonably be proposed that common table salt is not really a food.  There is no more justification for adding it to your food than potassium chloride, calcium chloride or other chemical from the pharmacist’s shelf!

Canned, bottled, frozen meals, milk, ice cream, prepared vegetables and most commercial foods, cheese, canned vegetables, bread, potato and corn chips are saturated with salt

It may be because the modern diet is so deficient in sodium rich vegetables and sodium depleted mass produced grains, such as wheat, that we crave salt. Salt is addictive and acts on the adrenal glands as a stimulant similar to caffeine.

Friend?

Sodium - rather than salt specifically - is actually an essential electrolyte. An electrically-charged molecule, sodium along with potassium maintains electrical gradients across cell membranes - critical for nerve transmission, muscular contraction, and all sorts of other bodily functions. 

There is enough naturally occurring organic sodium in most vegetables, particularly celery, soy beans and seaweeds to give us the sodium required by the body.

Studies at the University of Pennsylvania suggest that slashing your salt intake can actually be dangerous. The kidneys will secrete an enzyme called renin they are starved of salt, and this can actually trigger hypertension.

Research published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (2014) has linked low sodium diets to heart failure and type-II diabetes, citing low sodium-to-potassium ratios as a damaging equation. 

A Healthy Solution

It’s important to understand that each person has a unique sodium requirement - your sodium requirements may be different to that of others.

Until 2009 the American Heart Association recommended that healthy adults reduce their sodium intake to no more than 2,500mg a day. But the body’s actual physiological requirement is less than 500mg day! The AMA recently changed the recommendation to 1,500mg/day. 

So we can reasonably postulate that an ‘adequate’ amount of sodium per day, for an adult, is around 500mg, and the tolerable upper limit for daily sodium intake is generally agreed to be 2300mg.  Unfortunately, the average UK citizen is a salt addict, usually consuming 2-5 times this sodium tolerance. (NHS Choices, 2015). Consulting a nutritionist for more specific, personalized guidelines is always recommended.

Some healthy solutions for maintaining a healthy balance of salt in your diet:

  1. Upping your vegetable intake while reducing your table salt consumption can overcome the potential problem of hypertension when slashing your salt intake;
  2. Do you eat salt and salty foods? Suspect you may be addicted to salt? I have found that four days following a vegetable juice fast can de-(table) salt the body. When the inorganic salt is passed from the body you may notice how freely your kidneys function, how moist your mouth is and that you have no abnormal thirst. You may also notice differences in your muscle and skin tone. Lumpy waterlogged spots may vanish and you will become more streamlined;
  3. Unrefined varieties of salt, such as sea salt and Himalayan pink salt, are known for being the healthier options for seasoning food. These types of salt also contain various trace nutrients. However, this salt is still inorganic, although it is preferable to table salt because table salt contains calcium silicate, dextrose, and potassium iodide.  Calcium silicate is used as an anti-caking agent.  This keeps the salt flowing in humid conditions.  Dextrose is used to stabilize the iodide; 
  4. There are sea salts that are certified as organic salts.  This means that the salt has been collected from protected, pollution-free environments, and is unrefined;
  5. Experiment with other ways of seasoning your food. Pepper is great for seasoning chips or a bowl of soup, and lemon imitates the acidic bite of salt when squeezed over fish. Capers are wonderfully salty too, but all-natural and full of protein and goodness. Get to know your herb garden and invest in a good balsamic vinegar, umami paste or soy sauce to bring a briny saltiness to your meals. Herbs, garlic, onion, lemon, kelp and spices are brilliant natural zesty flavourings. There is no end to the options for seasoning without salt, and it’ll encourage you to experiment further with tastes and ingredients;
  6. Processed foods are absolutely packed full of salt - far more than is generally healthy. So, eat ‘real food’ whenever you can and look at the sodium levels on packets before you purchase. It’s not just your blood pressure that’ll improve: ditching convenience food for fresh meals means giving up all those nasty additives and preservatives. You’ll also lower your fat and sugar intake and you’ll burn more calories, since processed food tends to digest more rapidly than whole foods;
  7. You can obtain natural sodium from sea vegetation (seaweed and kelp), celery, beets, kelp, watercress, soya-beans, turnips, carrots and watercress etc. This is organic sodium and only organic minerals can be utilized by your body’s living cells;
  8. Cured meats, cheeses, pickled foods like gherkins and capers, and salted nuts are all good ways to get some sodium into your diet, though keep your eye on specific salt amounts - especially with foods where salt is added, like peanuts. Feeling thirsty? You’ve probably had too many salted cashews, delicious and moreish as they are;
  9. Essentially, regulating your sodium intake is all about creating a balance and being aware of what you are eating and what it contains. Having fun with your food and trying new things is another way to broaden your repertoire and cut down on added salt. Cut out ready meals as much as possible as these are among the main offenders. Banish table salt completely, choose healthier salt options, boost your natural sodium intake and get freedom from harmful habits like salt addiction!

Humans have always tended to build communities around sources of salt, or where they can trade for it. All through history the availability of salt has been pivotal to civilization. The word ‘salary’ comes from the Latin word for salt because the Roman Legions were sometimes paid in salt, which was quite literally worth its weight in gold. So perhaps salt - like the vast expansive sugar trade - has been motivated by the financial gain of big merchants and corporations and not by our health and wellbeing.

To surmise then: making sure there is plenty of salt in the form of organic sodium (from vegetables) is highly beneficial. This is good salt. So-called-bad salt is the inorganic mineral from land and sea - and there are gradations of bad. Processed table salt is the worst of the worst, while the less adulterated Sea and Himalayan salts are the lesser of these two evils. Finally, eating inorganic salt (i.e. not from plants) is highly addictive and cravings can simply indicate a need for more vegetables.

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About Jessica House

Jessica House BSc Hons CNHC BANT is a qualified Naturopath and Nutritional Therapist working in-house at the MyDetoxDiet Clinic. Jessica has 10 years clinical experience supporting clients to restore their health naturally and specializes in dealing with food intolerances and allergies. MyDetoxDiet.co.uk provides a range of clean, natural and easy ways to clear your body of toxins and regain your natural health, vitality and energy.

Jessica may be contacted via www.mydetoxdiet.co.uk   www.facebook.com/Mydetoxdiet

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