Salt… is it really bad for you?

Photo by: Mark Schellhase

Photo by: Mark Schellhase

This incredible journey of healing through a plant-based diet has taught us an alarming fact – not everything we have been told to believe about food is true; from the very basic food guidelines provided by the government which are more about political jockeying then health, to the misguided proclamations made by the food industry about the healthy nature of their processed foods.

Today, I challenge you to reconsider your belief about salt.

We have been told over and over again that salt is bad for your heart. It all began when scientific research discovered that the over-consumption of sodium increases blood pressure and that hypertension (high blood pressure) is directly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The medical community took these two separate findings and theorized that reducing your consumption of sodium will directly reduce your hypertension and consequently your risk for heart disease. In turn, doctors began preaching the importance of a low salt diet. Sounds logical, right?

Here’s the problem. Their assumption that a low-salt diet is good for everyone is faulty. When salt is cut out of your diet, your body releases renin (an enzyme) and aldosterone (a hormone), which actually increases your blood pressure. Current studies have proven that a low salt diet is extremely harmful to your health, and, unless you have a salt sensitivity, moderate consumption of salt does not negatively affect your blood pressure.

THE FACTS: Sodium, an essential mineral your body requires, plays an important role in muscular contractions and the transmissions of nerve signals. Pure sea salt contains approximately 84 essential elements and minerals vital for maintaining a healthy balance of electrolytes that prevent dehydration. According the Mayo Clinic, having the proper amount of sodium levels in your body also helps to regulate your blood pH, an important indicator of overall health. Contrary to what we have been led to believe, sodium also plays a significant role in supporting the regulation of blood pressure and volume.

BELIEF BUSTER: In 2011, The Journal of the American Medical Association reported on a study that examined the sodium intake of over 30,000 people for about four years. The study found that those with low-level sodium intake (less then 2.3 grams) actually had an increased risk of cardiovascular death and hospitalization for heart failure. The low sodium intake group also had a 2.5 percent increase in their cholesterol and a seven percent increase in their triglyceride levels. Interestingly, the moderate sodium intake group (consuming between 2.3 and seven grams of sodium per day) experienced the lowest risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality from both the low-level and high-level sodium intake groups.

This is not the only study that disproves this basic assumption that a low salt diet is heart healthy. Learn more:

What does this mean? The above-mentioned research does not mean you should enjoy an extra helping of potatoes chips. Similar to most things in life, when consumed in excess sodium has many serious side effects. When the kidneys that naturally balance sodium levels cannot excrete sufficient sodium due to over-consumption, it begins to collect in the blood, leading to high blood pressure as well as fluid build-up. This causes the heart to work harder while placing more pressure on the arteries, resulting in heart failure, cirrhosis and/or kidney disease.

It’s not the salt that’s bad, it’s how we are consuming it. The Standard Western American Diet is overloaded in sodium. About 75% of the average American’s salt intake comes from ready-made meals and other processed foods. Read your food labels; salt is a key ingredient in most of your breakfast cereals, seasonings mixes, canned goods, premade meals, etc. Restaurant food is also one of the leading culprits. In order to accommodate our addiction with salt, most restaurants, from fast food chains to those with expensive white tablecloths, tend to over salt their food. We have become so accustomed to over salting that when we cut back our food tastes bland. Fortunately, once you detox from the overabundance of salt, you will be amazed at how flavorful food really is!

Yes, we should all consume salt in moderation, but here’s another important fact – salt is not the culprit of cardiovascular disease; it’s the Standard Western American Diet. In 2013, the US National Library of Medicine published an article from the Permanente Journal. The purpose of this article was to encourage doctors to support their patients in adopting a plant-based diet. The article states, “research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C, and cholesterol levels”. Further more, they suggested that physicians should recommend a plant-based diet to all their patients with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Read more to learn about the studies in the article that show a plant-based diet’s healing affect on heart disease.

TABLE SALT vs SEA SALT: Now that we all agree that salt is an important part of your diet, which is better for you – table or sea salt? All types of salt (table, kosher, black Hawaiian, Himalayan, Celtic) have the same basic chemical makeup – sodium chloride. The only significant difference is how the salt is processed and the amount of trace minerals it contains. Below is a chart to give you an idea of the contents in salt.

It is important to keep in mind that the amounts represented in the chart above are significantly small. As a result, it is not a compelling reason to select one salt over another on the basis of nutrition. When choosing a salt, it is also important to compare how it is processed.

Table salt is created through a process called solution-mining where the salt is extracted from underground deposits and then refined by stripping away the minerals and adding anti-caking agents. Furthermore, there are 18 food additives that the FDA allows in table salt. So if you are trying to avoid chemical additives, table salt is not the way to go.

Sea salt is created by evaporating ocean water until only the solid minerals remain. Natural sea salts range in color from off-white, rose, to sandy brown, depending on the location they were extracted from. The amount of trace minerals found in each type of sea salt varies depending on it’s color. The darker the sea salt, the higher its concentration of minerals. However, it is important to keep in mind that due to the pollution of oceans, sea salt can also contain trace amounts of heavy metals. One analysis of gourmet salts found negligible amounts of Arsenic, Cadmium and Mercury. Again, it is important to note that these amounts are extremely small.

Through all my research I could not find a study that compared the health effects of different types of salt. Because the mineral content is extremely low, I doubt any major difference would be reported. However, the Journal of Sensory Studies published a study comparing the taste of various types of salt. They discovered that minerals play an important role in salty taste perception, suggesting that sea salt takes less salt to obtain the same salty flavor, thus creating a lower sodium food product.

One last component to consider when choosing a salt is iodine. In it’s natural state, neither table or sea salt are a significant source of iodine (an essential nutrient that helps maintain a healthy thyroid). You can purchase both types of salt with iodine added into it or you can opt for using seaweed when cooking. It provides a wonderful flavor to cooked beans, lentils and stir-fries along with iodine, sodium and minerals.

After considering all the above, in the end, it simply comes down to taste and purity preferences. You be the judge.

 

 

 

 

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