Salt has played a critical role in ancestral and traditional food preparation for thousands of years. Sadly, in the last few decades, salt has been made into somewhat of a villain and has been associated with hypertension and heart disease.
The notion that a low salt diet is the preferred options began was founded on flawed science about 200 years ago. Doctors knew then that the body required salt to maintain blood pressure balance and falsely assumed that too consuming much salt contributed to high blood pressure and heart disease. This resulted in huge (unsuccessful) government campaigns to get people to eat less salt.
Current research is discovering that this fundamental theory is not as clear cut as once thought. A large meta-analysis study found there was no actual link between salt intake, high blood pressure and risk of heart disease. Similar to many of the current dietary recommendations, beliefs surrounding salt need to be re-examined.
The Need For Salt
There is a common misconception that the body is unable to adequately regulate its own sodium levels. For example, it was believed eating excess salt would result in thirst, causing you to drink more water, which would in turn cause you to dilute the sodium levels in your body.
However, studies are finding that salt has many benefits in the body, including increasing body water conservation and making you less thirsty – the exact opposite of what is generally considered ‘common knowledge’. This means that your body can prioritize its salt levels, which has been shown help manage metabolism in a positive way.
Sodium is an important part of your extracellular fluid and that makes it a vital component in optimal cardiovascular functioning. It often gets a bad rap, but it is an essential part of human life.
Benefits Of Salt
Your body needs a delicate balance of sodium and potassium in order to maintain adequate levels of hydration. Water follows sodium, resulting in water retention if you have an excess. Potassium works to balance this out. This explains one of the reasons sea salt is a superior option over sodium chloride or table salt. Sea salt like Celtic or pink Himalayan contains both sodium and potassium, which helps balance your levels naturally.
Promotes Good Vascular Health
Sea salt has been shown to be cardioprotective and supports preventing heart disease. It is important, yet again, to differentiate between sea salt and table salt, which is much less beneficial due its nonexistent mineral profile. The findings on how sea salt helps heart disease markers directly contradict the years of recommendations against salt in diets. The nuance is the type and quality of the salt being consumed as opposed to simply the quantity.
Sea salt is an excellent source of electrolytes, which are known to prevent muscle cramping during exercise. Sea salt contains sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium, all of which are necessary for optimal health. These minerals must come from your diet because your body cannot make them – they are essential. Without sufficient electrolytes you can experience irregular heartbeat, fatigue, nausea, and even seizures.
Stimulates Muscle Contraction
Your nerves rely on salt to stimulate muscle contraction. This is why an intake of salt before exercising can help to prevent muscle cramping. Electrolyte replenishment with salt (not sugar) after exercise has also shown to improve recovery times and regulate post-exercise cravings. Salt also keeps calcium and other minerals in the blood stream.
Supports A Healthy Nervous System
Sodium regulates water flow throughout your body, which plays a critical role in maintaining the health and integrity of your nervous system. Additionally, the water within your nervous system requires salt for electrical conduction - to send and receive signals and stimuli. Similar to other bodily organs and functions, the brain needs the correct balance of sodium to other electrolytes, which, again, is why sea salt is a much better option than table salt.
Supports Healthy Sleep
When you read about salt and sleep, it initially appears there are mixed reports. However, on closer inspection, it is evident that the advice against eating salt before bed is referring to table salt and processed foods. The can, and do, cause an imbalance in the ratio of minerals and electrolytes in the body. Sea salt is thought to improve sleep because it contains so many helpful electrolytes for regulating hormones.
Salt activates an enzyme in the mouth called salivary amylase which allows your taste buds to taste the food. Good digestion begins in the stomach and if the stomach environment is unbalanced everything else goes downhill. Hydrochloric acid helps to kill bacteria which is why people with low Hydrochloric Acid frequently suffer from stomach flu. This is where salt comes in. You need adequate levels of chloride to produce hydrochloric acid and the best source of chloride is salt.
Salt Deficiency & Restriction
A lack of salt is dangerous
Sodium deficiency is a health condition where the body doesn’t receive enough sodium. This can become a problem in hot weather when the body will perspire more heavily than normal and dehydration will set in. One large study tracked more than 100,000 people from 17 countries over 3 years and found that cutting back on salt actually poses health hazards. It found that those who consumed less than 3 grams of sodium a day had a 27% higher risk of suffering from health problems such a heart attacks or stroke than those whose sodium intake was between 3 and 6 grams.
Failure to consume sufficient salt (specifically sodium) can cause problems within your body and for your health. Salt deficiency from salt restriction can result in:
- Reduced hydration, especially in athletes
- Muscle cramps
- Higher risk of heart attack
- Cognitive decline in elderly
There are four common types of salt.
- Table salt
- Sea salt
- Himalayan pink rock salt
- Celtic grey sea salt
It is vitally important to differentiate between a natural salt and table salt. Table salt is mostly sodium chloride (usually about 40% sodium and 60% chloride), is heavily processed, stripped of its. Nutrients and often filled with additives and anti-caking agents. Natural salts come in their complete, whole form. Examples of natural salts are sea salt and pink Himalayan rock salt. Always choose a natural salt, and try to avoid the processed table salt variety.
A good quality salt will have all of its additional elements present. Varieties like Himalayan salt or Celtic Sea Salt maintain all other ingredients to salt that pack health benefits you simply don’t get from table salt. Celtic Sea Salt contains a higher mineral content than Himalayan and even contains trace amounts of iodine, naturally.
Regular Natural Sea Salts contains a small amount of natural iodine, although not nearly as much as iodized table salt. It is typically much less refined than table salt and comes in both fine and coarse varieties. Sea salts contain many more beneficial minerals and tastes better to most people.
Pink Himalayan Rock Salt is rich in minerals, containing all 84 essential trace elements required by your body. Pink salt can assist in many bodily functions, such as reducing muscle cramps, promoting blood sugar health and promoting healthy pH in your cells.
Celtic Sea Salt is an unrefined, unprocessed and sourced from clean coastal waters along the Guérande Region of Brittany, France. Containing unprocessed and naturally forming minerals, this grey Sea Salt is harvested by traditional Celtic methods using a paludier, a craftsman salt harvester.
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For the most part, salts have similar tastes and flavor profiles, unless they contain a large amount of trace minerals. If you do find a strange taste in your salt, try changing brands as there may be contamination.
When you swap your table salt for a natural salt you might find you have better sleep, are less thirsty, hungry, and more satisfied when you eat. It is also important to make sure you get enough salt anytime you exercise as you lose a large amount of sodium through sweat. For anyone who participates in high intensity sports or competition, adequate electrolyte replenishment is key and a high-quality salt is supportive of restoring and maintaining balance.
Salt is one of those food items where it is necessary to specify which kind is being discussed and referred to in order to make the right decision. There is a huge difference between table salt and sea salt. Make sure you swap out all that not-so-great-for-you table salt for Celtic Sea Salt or Pink Himalayan rock salt.
Salt is an essential mineral of life. Every cell of your body requires it to survive and its consumption should be based on your health, needs and goals. Be sure to always consume a high quality, naturally mined or harvested salt, free from additives and preservatives. This will ensure you get the appropriate electrolyte balance and it simply tastes better!!
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com