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  • Sarah Newland

Salt! Too much or too little? Is it actually bad for you?

“They” have been telling us for decades that a high sodium diet leads to high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems. But is this as simple as it sounds? A 2018 systematic review (of 9 studies) showed that a low-sodium diet did not benefit those with heart failure. Further, a 2022 RCT carried out in 6 countries over 6 years showed no significant impact of a reduced sodium intake on patients with class 2 or 3 heart failure. So what’s the real deal with salt then?



Sodium is an essential electrolyte that helps regulate the water content of your cells and blood pressure. If you get too low on salt you can end up with chronic dehydration. Diuretics are often prescribed to high blood pressure patients which can make matters worse.


Every single cellular process in the body requires sodium in some way. And contrary to what we have been led to believe, it is easy to be sodium deficient and actually quite difficult to ingest harmful amounts of sodium.


What are the symptoms of sodium deficiency?


Muscle fatigue

Cramps

Muscle spasms

Water retention

Heart palpitations

Brain fog

Confusion

Lethargy


What’s the deal with coffee consumption and sweating?


Coffee consumption is very common and depletes salt stores rapidly, however this is rarely considered by those recommending low-salt intake. Sweating also depletes salt stores but is never mentioned in low salt recommendations. If you consume 4 cups of coffee in one day you can expel more than 1 teaspoon (2,300 mg sodium) of salt, which is the maximum daily amount you are told to consume. Add sweating into this scenario and seriously low salt levels could be a real problem. Even moderate coffee consumption combined with sweating could place you at risk of sodium deficiency.



The universal low-salt advice doesn’t make sense historically or scientifically.


In the 1600’s in Sweden the average person consumed 100g of salt p/day. Today we generally get 10g of salt p/day. High blood pressure kicked off in the early 1900’s – and coincides with salt reduction as refrigeration took the place of salt food preservation.


The Japansese and South Koreans boast the longest life expectancies in the world, and also consume the highest amounts of salt.


The 1999 DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) study involved low salt, however it was also low in sugars and processed foods which could have had a far greater impact on blood pressure than salt.


Can low salt guidelines cause more harm than good?


Yes, because low salt guidelines can distract you from your responsibility to consider other health and dietary factors. Insulin resistance, cholesterol and cholesterol ratios, magnesium and calcium levels, and many more factors are imperative when looking at the perceived benefits or problems with adjusting salt intake. It is unwise to draw conclusions about any single nutrient without considering the whole health picture of an individual all potential nutritional excesses or deficiencies. If unsure, seek professional nutritional advice.


Take away message:


If you eat well, there is no reason to be concerned about getting too much salt in your diet. Obviously, quality matters – ie a natural sea salt or rock salt contains mineral benefits beyond just sodium. Conversely, consuming too much processed food is worthy of worry, but not simply because it contains sodium. The correct approach to nutrition and health management will ensure your intake of all essential minerals and vitamins will meet requirements. Please enquire about an online assessment with Sarah at info@happybellynutritionalmedicine.com if you would like to get peace of mind about your mineral intake.




For some further reading about salt, try “The Salt Fix: Why the Experts got it all wrong – and how eating more might save your life” written by James DiNicolantonio, Pharm.D.


And as water quality is essential to all areas of health and vitality, consider a Waters Co water filter which takes all the crap out of your water (including fluoride) and re-alkalises it – you will never be able to drink crappy water again!



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