We’ve all been told that too much salt isn’t good for us. But what exactly is salt and should we limit our intake?
What Is Sodium?
Sodium is an electrolyte and is essential for many bodily functions. It regulates blood volume, muscle contraction, and cellular hydration. It’s also vital for nerve transmission, glycogen storage, and nutrient transport. Sodium is vital for maintaining proper fluid balance.
Sodium deficiency is serious and can cause
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle cramps
What About Blood Pressure?
High doses of sodium are safe as long as you don’t have chronic high blood pressure. It might make you bloated but that’s about it. While it does exacerbate chronic high blood pressure it doesn’t cause chronic high blood pressure. Sodium is processed through the kidneys and excess sodium is excreted through the urine. If your kidneys can’t filter out all the sodium it binds to water which increases blood volume and can increase blood pressure. However, there is little evidence that lowering sodium intake actually lowers one’s risk of death. High blood pressure is associated with an increased risk of death due to cardiovascular disease, but high blood pressure doesn’t directly cause death. It also doesn’t do much in terms of lowering blood pressure. Studies suggest that it does have more of an effect on individuals with chronic high blood pressure, but does very little for people with normal blood pressure. Related: Why Lifting Weights Is Good For Fat Loss.
As we’ve already established too little sodium can cause a whole host of problems. In addition, low sodium diets have been associated with an increase in LDL cholesterol (that’s the “bad” one), as well as an increase in insulin resistance, which is associated with type II diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome.
Salt vs. Sodium
While the terms salt and sodium are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Sodium (Na) is an element, salt (NaCl) is comprised of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. This is important to keep in mind because 1,000mg of salt is not the same as 1,000mg of sodium.
Table Salt vs. Sea Salt
While sea salt is usually touted as being healthier than table salt, they both typically have the same amount of sodium by volume. Most table salt has added iodine which is essential for proper thyroid function. So the salt you add to your food isn’t really better for you than the salt in processed food.
Sea salt can contain trace minerals like zinc and magnesium. Pink salt gets its color from trace amounts of iron oxide. The darker the salt the more impurities and therefore more minerals, but due to pollution, depending on where it came from it can also contain traces of heavy metals like lead. So there’s positives and negatives to both sea salt and table salt. It’s important to note that the minerals found in sea salt are very minute so unless you’re consuming buckets of salt (not recommended) it’s probably not going to make a difference.
When Would You Need More Salt?
Athletes/people who exercise frequently. When you sweat you lose sodium so you need more salt if you workout a lot.
People on low carb diets. Low carb diets lower insulin, insulin tells the body to hold on to sodium. So when you lower your carb intake, you lower your insulin, and in turn lower your water and sodium retention. That’s part of why people see quick results when they lower carbs. While aesthetically that might seem great, remember what we discussed before, sodium is essential. You CANNOT live without it. Period. So if you’re on a low carb diet it’s important to make sure you’re adding more sodium into your diet.
Potassium The Forgotten Factor
Potassium, along with sodium, is necessary for maintaining electrical gradients across cell membranes. This is critical for nerve transmission, muscle contraction, as well as other vital functions.
While sodium can raise blood pressure, potassium can lower it. So ensuring that you’re getting adequate potassium can help offset any negative effects of sodium.
Other Factors That Influence Blood Pressure
Stress. This is a big one. Stress has been shown to raise blood pressure. Learning to manage your stress levels can help lower your blood pressure. Meditation is a great way to help manage your stress. If you’re new to meditation or struggle with it, apps like Headspace can help.
Exercise. Exercise, especially weight lifting has been attributed to lowering blood pressure. Low-intensity exercise seems to have more benefit than high intensity. Studies found that exercising three times a week has positive effects on blood pressure after ten weeks. However, exercising more than three times a week did not have additional benefits. While weight lifting does initially raise blood pressure, it has long-term positive effects on blood pressure. It’s important to note that if you have high blood pressure you should talk with your doctor before you begin lifting. The benefits of lifting generally outweigh the risks, but there are still risks to weight lifting with high blood pressure.
Low carb diet. As I mentioned before, eating fewer carbs can lower your insulin which causes your body to excrete more sodium and water which can lower your blood pressure.
Increasing fruit and vegetable intake. Fruits and vegetables are high in potassium and other micronutrients that are essential for health. Plus they fill you up without a lot of calories.
To sum it all up, if you’re a healthy individual with normal blood pressure you probably don’t need to worry about your salt intake. If you do have high blood pressure there are other factors that have a greater influence on your blood pressure than sodium intake. Sea salt isn’t necessarily better for you than table salt so use whichever you prefer.
**Disclosure: I am not a doctor or medical professional. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new diet or exercise program. If anything in this post contradicts what your doctor has told you, your doctor’s advice supersedes mine.
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Gunnars, Kris. “The Salt Myth – How Much Sodium Should You Eat Per Day?” Healthline, Healthline Media, www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-sodium-per-day#section6.
“Salt.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Nov. 2017, www.cdc.gov/salt/index.htm.