Salt is one of the most controversial topics in nutrition. You've likely heard that salt raises your blood pressure, puts you at risk for heart disease, and makes you puffy and retain water. You've also likely been told to limit your salt intake and choose low salt options. Most people are shocked when I actually recommend consuming salt, especially during pregnancy.
Plenty of studies have found that eating less sodium leads to modestly lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. However, many other studies found restricting sodium actually increased the risk of heart disease, and a meta-analysis concluded that lowering sodium offered no benefits to our health. On top of that, a summary of 23 studies in the American Journal of Hypertension restricting sodium to less than 2500mg per day found that it causes hormone dysregulation and makes plasma renin go up, which increases the risk of a heart attack. Even the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which guides the practice of dietitians in the US, suggested removing salt from the "nutrients of concern" list in 2015. That's a bold move for an organization that has been preaching about salt restriction for decades.
Why We Need Salt
- Salt is vital for electrolyte balance so our hearts can beat and our cells can communicate
- It's important for maintaining the correct plasma volume in the blood stream for regulating fluid levels
- It's required for neural signaling so we can think clearly and move muscles on command
- It supports normal stomach acid levels by supplying chloride for HCl, necessary for the absorption of minerals, Vitamin B12, protein digestion, and killing off pathogens in the stomach
- During pregnancy, it helps create amniotic fluid for the baby (amniotic fluid is 98% water and 2% salt and cells) which keeps the baby warm, provides lubrication, transports nutrients, helps the lungs develop, and acts like a liquid shock absorber by distributing any force that may push on mother's uterus
Is Salt Really The Problem?
Animal studies have shown that high-fructose diets up-regulate sodium and chloride transporters, resulting in a state of salt overload that increases blood pressure. The more sugar consumed, the higher the blood pressure.
Roughly 36% of the sodium consumed in North America comes from cereal and cereal-based products. Breads and cereals are high in carbs, and it turns out that lower carbohydrate diets have been shown to lower the severity of hypertension. Lower carb diets are also highly effective for weight loss and normalizing insulin and blood sugar levels, both which directly impact blood pressure. This is consistent with what I have seen anecdotally. I have witnessed many people lower their salt intake while eating a low fat, high carbohydrate diet and still struggle with high blood pressure. On the other hand, most people following a lower carbohydrate diet actually become more efficient at excreting sodium via the kidneys, so much so that they may need to diligently eat more salt to prevent electrolyte imbalance.
In addition, the amount of potassium consumed in the diet also plays an important role in regulating blood pressure. Potassium and sodium work closely together and when we get plenty of potassium in the diet, sodium stops raising blood pressure. In fact, getting enough potassium lowers blood pressure more than cutting out sodium does. We want to be consuming about 4000-5000 mg/day of potassium from high potassium foods such as avocado, cooked spinach, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, wild salmon, and hazelnuts rather than lowering our salt intake. What I have noticed through hair testing and confirmed through research is that lower salt intake increases stress on the adrenals and increases the risk of heart attack.
Salt Quality Matters
Refined table salt is stripped of trace minerals during high heat processing, bleached, and treated with anti-caking agents so it doesn't clump. The result is added chemicals and a higher concentration of sodium with no trace minerals (contains roughly 2.4g of sodium per tsp compared to 1.9g of sodium per tsp in sea salt or himalayan salt). High quality sea salt or pink himalayan salt naturally contains over 80 essential trace minerals along with sodium and potassium. The trace minerals also give it a more complex flavour than table salt so less is required for a robust flavour.
A craving for salt is a craving for minerals and a sign the adrenals need more support, thus it is a chance to fulfill a nutritional deficiency and help the adrenal glands. Stir high quality sea salt or himalayan salt into water, sprinkle it on avocado, or on veggies with pastured protein. I typically recommend consuming roughly 1 tsp per day throughout pregnancy by drinking my amniotic fluid boosting lemon chia hydrator daily.
If you'd like to learn what specific minerals and micronutrients are a priority for your unique body, you can find out by booking an optimize wellness hair test here. I have noticed an influx in clients following a ketogenic/lower carbohydrate style diet who require more sodium in their diets based on their test results. It's worth it to test instead of guess!
Now I’d love to hear from you. What type of salt do you consume? Have you been fearing salt? Share and let me know!