Salt is good for you?!
Perhaps you’ve heard some of the buzz in the health blog world about salt. Perhaps you are asking yourself, salt is good for me? Yep, it is! The idea is contrary to the pretty blatant lies told to us by the American Heart Association… and thank goodness, because salt makes food taste amazing.
There is no need to suffer through bland, unsalted meals in the sake of health. Here are 12 reasons why salt is good for you:
1. The premise that salt leads to hypertension has never been scientifically supported. On the contrary, studies show that a reduced-sodium diet leads to health issues. In one study, subjects consuming less than 2300 mg. (the recommended daily allowance) of sodium per day had significantly higher mortality rates (meaning a higher risk of death) than the subjects consuming 2300 mg. or more sodium per day.
2. Salt aids blood sugar control by improving insulin sensitivity. A low-salt diet increases insulin resistance and even moderate dietary salt restriction is shown to cause systemic insulin resistance (study #1 and #2).
3. Salt is a natural antihistamine. A pinch of salt sprinkled on the tongue may help improve an allergic reaction or an asthma attack (source).
4. Your body needs salt to maintain the proper stomach pH. Stomach acid is hydrochloric acid and salt is sodium chloride. Proper stomach acid levels are absolutely foundational for good digestion, but 90% of Americans have low stomach acid. Learn how to correct low stomach acid naturally.
5. Salt lowers adrenaline spikes. Adrenaline is a necessary and important stress hormone, but it is just that… a stress hormone. When adrenaline patterns are out of rhythm, it takes a toll on the body (source).
6. Salt improves sleep quality. It boasts anti-stress and anti-excitatory qualities due to its suppression of stress hormones and it increasing of the metabolic rate. This may explain why many people report that a low sodium diet interferes with sleep and an adequate amount of dietary salt improves sleep quality.
Interestingly, if you often wake up with your heart pounding between 2 and 4 AM, it is probably because of an adrenaline spike. The most important change is to reduce both physical and mental stress, as well as eating a healthy diet. But one immediate fix to help you go back to sleep is just a pinch of salt and sugar (or salt and honey, if you prefer) sprinkled on the tongue to calm the adrenaline peak (read more about it in this book!).
7. Adequate salt consumption encourages a healthy weight and fast metabolism. First, one study showed that increased salt intake leads to an increase in the elimination of cortisol and lower blood cortisol levels. Imbalanced or excess cortisol means weight gain and a stagnant metabolism.
8. Salt supports thyroid function by reducing circulating stress hormones. For example, cortisol is anti-thyroid, but salt combats excess cortisol.
9. Salt supports hyperosmolarity of the extracellular fluid. Slight hyperosmolarity–more solutes in the extracellular fluid than in the cell–actually increases the cell’s metabolic rate (source). That means salt can speed up your metabolism! On the other hand, when the extracellular fluid is hypo-osmotic in relation to the cell, it impairs the breakdown of proteins and glucose and thereby lowers the cell’s metabolism.
10. Increased sodium intake also correlates with increased thermogenesis–heat production by the body (the study is here).
11. Adequate salt supports balanced hormones. Hormone and nutrition researcher Ray Peat explains the correlation between the salt-regulating hormone aldosterone and mineral loss:
One of the things that happen when there isn’t enough sodium in the diet is that more aldosterone is synthesized. Aldosterone causes less sodium to be lost in the urine and sweat, but it achieves that at the expense of the increased loss of potassium, magnesium, and probably calcium… Magnesium deficiency is extremely common, but a little extra salt in the diet makes it easier to retain the magnesium in our foods.
12. Salt makes food taste good. Salt adds a satiety factor to food and makes meals enjoyable. Adequate salt content of food makes it easier to enjoy quality instead of quantity, thereby encouraging mindful eating and weight management.
What salt is best?
Salt is good for you if it is the right type. With that said, regular processed salt is better than no salt, that’s for sure. But the better option is unrefined salt, which is rich in trace minerals and free of additives.
I had the opportunity to speak with a salt expert at Real Salt, and I asked him how the popular types of unrefined salt compare. We discussed Real Salt, Himalayan Salt and Celtic Sea Salt. As it turns out, these salts share an extremely similar mineral profile. While some producers of himalayan salt boast that their salt contains 84 trace minerals, that is a false marketing claim. These three types of unrefined salts all contain about 60 important trace minerals, although the amounts of minerals vary slightly from salt to salt.
Oh, this is obvious but I should say it anyways… don’t rely on high-sodium processed food for salt! That is not a good source of sodium. Make food from scratch and salt it yourself.
How much salt should I eat?
Food should be salted freely and to taste. When the metabolism is slow and the thyroid is not optimally functioning, it may be beneficial to consume extra salt whenever possible. This could include salting all beverages and using liberal salt when cooking and baking.
If you have kidney disease or hypertension, it is a good idea to consult with a medical practitioner before increasing salt intake.
Most importantly, listen to your body. Let your salt craving and desire for seasoning dictate how much salt to consume.
Have you been on a low-sodium diet? How does salt fit into your life now?