It’s Time to End the War on SALT

6 min read

It’s Time to End the War on SALT

Is Salt Bad or is it Good? There is a wide range of research done on the topic, yet it still remains controversial. In this following article I am going to lay out the research I have compiled sharing some of the resources I used, including the book – ‘The Salt Fix’ by James J. DiNicolantonio. Referencing will be found at the bottom of the article.

We’ve all heard the suggested guidelines. 'Exercise is good for our heart, a good amount of fruit and vegetables will help us live longer, cut out the saturated fats, say no to cigarettes and alcohol, and cut salt from our diets.' All you need to do is walk down the grocery isle and see a list of overpriced products that have a big label that states ‘low sodium’, or ‘no added salt’. It’s a great marketing tactic to get people to spend more and buy these products because it’s a so called ‘healthier choice’.

Meanwhile, the white crystal we’ve demonized all these years has been taking the fall for another.

A white crystal that, consumed in excess, can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease: not salt, but sugar! Yet some people still remain adamant that salt is the killer crystal we need to eliminate from our diets. And because of this many of us will continue to struggle with insatiable hunger and hold on to extra weight despite following recommended lifestyle changes.

“Salt to taste.” Perhaps it’s been a long time since you've had the salt shaker on the dinner table. Some days you might struggle to fight the urge of enhancing your food's flavour, and salt cravings.

You don’t need to feel guilty anymore: Human beings hold on average 50-70% of water. Around a third of that water exists outside your cells, in extracellular fluids. Extracellular fluid surrounds all cells in the body, like blood.  The main electrolyte in the extracellular fluid is sodium and much of your body’s total sodium reserves are found here. That sodium helps you absorb and retain more of the fluid you take in, and this boosts your blood plasma volume. The more blood you have, the less strain on your cardiovascular system as it works to deliver oxygen to your muscles and dissipate heat to cool you down when needed.

Sodium plays a fundamental role in dozens of critical functions in our bodies which include:
- Maintain optimal amount of blood in our bodies.
- Essential for digestion.
- Cell to cell communication.
- Bone formation and strength.
- Keeps us hydrated.
- Proper functioning of cells and muscles.
- Increase in blood circulation.
- Regulates body temperature.
- Decreases heart rate.
- Decreases muscle cramping.
- Maintains fluid balance.
- Plays an important role in nutrients in the gut.
- Maintains cognitive function.

Our bodies also rely on electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium in our bodily fluids to help carry out electric impulses that control many of our bodies functions. 

So as you can see salt/sodium is extremely important. But where did this notion of Salt being bad come from then?

Back in 1977, when the government’s dietary goals for the United States recommended that Americans restrict their salt intake, according to the U.S. Surgeon General there was no real evidence to support this claim. The first systematic review and meta-analysis on the effects of sodium restriction on blood pressure did not occur until 1991. James J. DiNicolantonio states that this review was based on weak, nonrandomized scientific data and by then, we had already been telling Americans to cut their salt intake for almost fifteen years. By this point, those white crystals we had been demonized, have already been ingrained into the public’s mind as a primary cause of high blood pressure and other health conditions. The hypothesis of the study went like this: we eat salt, so the theory goes, we also get thirsty—so we drink more water. In the salt-high blood pressure hypothesis, that excess salt then causes the body to hold on to that increased water, in order to dilute the saltiness of the blood. Then, the resulting increased blood volume would automatically lead to higher blood pressure. All of this did make sense, in theory, and for a while there was some circumstantial evidence supporting this claim. Data was gathered on salt intake and blood pressures in various populations, and correlations were seen in some cases. According to James J. DiNicolantonio the main problem with this particular study that it only focused on one metric which
was Salt and excluded any other variables.

So what happens when we try to lower salt intake too much?

A Low Salt diet is known to be associated with an increase in Insulin Resistance. A study published in 2010 looked at 152 healthy individuals who were studied after 7days of a Low Salt diet and 7days of a High Salt diet, in random order, the findings concluded that a Low Salt diet did in fact raise Insulin Resistance despite the variables such as age, gender, ethnicity, etc.

Furthermore, when eliminating salt, the kidneys also work harder to replenish salt then they do to excrete salt. Similarly, with restricted salt the heart has to pump faster resulting in less blood and oxygen being circulated into the body, heart and brain. Another issue with salt depletion is that the body may react by stripping sodium (as well as magnesium and calcium) from the bone to maintain normal sodium levels. This may lead to osteoporosis, osteopenia, and/or weaker bones.

And what about the notion of Salt being bad for the heart and causing high blood pressure? A meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. Another large study published in 1988, compared sodium intake with blood pressure in subjects from 52 international research centres and found no relationship between sodium intake and the prevalence of hypertension. In fact, the population that ate the most salt, about 14 grams a day, had a lower median blood pressure than the population that ate the least, about 7.2 grams a day. Studies that have explored the direct relationship between salt and heart disease have not fared much better. Among them, a 2006 American Journal of Medicine study compared the reported daily sodium intakes of 78 million Americans to their risk of dying from heart disease over the course of 14 years. It found that the more sodium people ate, the less likely they were to die from heart disease.

So how much salt/sodium do we actually need? Most people generally should have enough sodium in their diet and may not have to increase or decrease their salt intake, but this also differs daily depending on a number of factors (it is a good idea to check with your Doctor first). Though according to James J. DiNicolantonio, the general population have low sodium levels and would need to increase their consumption of sodium in their diet. We lose salt through drinking caffeine, perspiration, and low-carb and ketogenic diets.

So if you consider yourself as an active person or someone who consumes caffeine regularly, this is an indication that you will need to increase your salt intake. The reason being is that when we exercise we are more likely to sweat and during this time we also loose sodium. The more sodium we lose through sweat, the higher chance of muscle cramps and longer recovery is needed. Indicating the loss of sodium. So for highly active individuals high sodium diets is critical.

To conclude this article here are some key points to take away:
- Our body is enriched in salt.
- Sodium is an essential mineral we need to survive.
- Sodium/salt has many health benefits.
- We lose a good amount of sodium during exercise, and excess coffee consumption.
- Increasing your salt consumption will help with sugar cravings.

There are many people that would disagree with this article and that is fine. Many articles and websites who discuss this topic would very much likely go down the path of why salt and sodium is bad. It is good to do your own research and experiment yourself. For me personally I was very sceptical until I read the book called ‘The Salt Fix’ by James J. DiNicolantonio. James J. DiNicolantonio is a doctor who did great amounts of research on the topic. And by experimenting, I noticed for myself that my sugar cravings are not so crazy anymore, I enjoy more healthier, clean foods because of the extra added flavour (extra salt). My energy levels have increased also, and I don’t swell up as much as I used to. Experiment and try it yourself, and let me know your thoughts. Enjoy!

Co-founder, Freak Athletiq

- ‘The Salt Fix’ by James J. DiNicolantonio

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