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Is That Grain Of Salt Really Killing Your Insides?

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I’m sure you’re familiar with the old story. Eat less salt. Reduce blood pressure.

Not really.

In reality, if you’re truly serious about how long you live and how much stress you put on your heart and your kidneys, you have to take that advice with a grain of salt. A big grain of salt.

As a matter of fact, the calls for sodium reduction you see plastered all over health magazines, doctor’s offices and popular news reports are not only unsupported by research, but have been proven to be dangerous for you.

And this topic is currently quite near and dear to my heart, since I just raced Ironman Hawaii two days ago. In the week leading up to the race, I ate over six times the recommended daily intake of sodium. That’s right. I had 6 teaspoons of salt a day (via a special form of Aztecan sea salt).

And I’m not nervous about that level of salt intake at all.

In this article, you’re about to learn why I personally eat salt by the spoonful, and why salt is not as bad as you may think.

The Facts About Salt

Let’s begin with the 4 most important things you need to know right now:

1. There is zero evidence to support a drastic reduction in sodium intake.

A recent review of a study by the Institute of Medicine failed to identify a health benefit associated with sodium intakes less than 2,300 mgs/day, and concluded that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether sodium intakes of less than 2,300 mgs are harmful or beneficial.

In other words, there’s no evidence that a salt reduction will result in a health benefit (nor do we do know the potential consequences of reducing the salt content of food).

2. Reducing sodium intake can have unintended health risks.

But here’s what we actually do know: recent research highly suggests that low sodium intake can indeed increase health risks. Here are some of the unintended consequences of drastic reduction in sodium intake:

• Insulin resistance (diabetes)
• Metabolic syndrome
• Increased cardiovascular mortality and readmissions
• Cognition loss in neonates and older adults
• Unsteadiness, falls, fractures
• Lifelong appetite cravings for salt

Despite this extreme lack of supporting evidence, here in America the Center for Disease Control and the New York Department of Health appear to remain intensely committed to their efforts to have us all consume less than 2,300mg/day, and for nearly half of us to consume less than 1,500mg/day.

3. Your total potassium levels and your “sodium to potassium ratio” are what is actually important for heart health.

But these calls to reduce long established sodium intakes by one-third to one-half not only threaten to make your food slightly tasteless, but are not currently supported by evidence. As matter of fact, we are now learning that the key to your health does not lie in any absolute amounts of sodium, but instead in the ratio between sodium and potassium – with the ultimate goal being to achieve a ratio ≤ 1.

Now I’m no math major, but this ratio seems pretty simple. You don’t need to limit sodium. You need to increase potassium. It’s a pretty easy-to-grasp concept once you realize that you simply need to shift your focus from massively reducing sodium intake to instead maintaining a healthy sodium to potassium ratio in your diets.

Here’s why this ratio is so important…

potassiumWe all know we need salt to live – after all, 70 percent of our body is made up of salt water. We also know that, in the body, sodium exists in a delicate balance with potassium. Potassium is also necessary for proper cell function, and is especially important for cardiovascular health. Recently, several studies highlight that the ratio of sodium to potassium intakes represent a more important risk factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease than each factor alone.

How could this be? It’s basically because sodium and potassium actually have opposite effects on heart function. High sodium intake can indeed increase blood pressure, while high potassium intake can relax blood vessels and decrease blood pressure.

But the unfortunate fact is that most of us consume more sodium and less potassium daily than recommended. Our average daily intake of sodium is 3,436 mg (150% of the recommended daily limit) while our average daily intake of potassium is 2,790 mg (60% of the recommended daily amount).

Once again, please understand that sodium is not inherently evil – and the big issue is not that 150% sodium intake, but instead the measly 60% potassium intake.

4. Big food industry’s interpretation of public health recommendations to reduce sodium intake can have a dangerous impact.

So why haven’t you heard about all this before? Why isn’t Dr. Oz screaming this from the rooftops? Why isn’t your local newspaper putting this information out as people screw up their bodies from nasty, processed and refined salt intake that severely disrupts your sodium to potassium ratio?

In a word: money.

ritzThe big food industry is happy to play along with the myopic sodium focus because it allows them to churn out highly processed and minimally nutritious foods – and then add the “low sodium” health halo to increase sales. Shifting the focus to include adequate levels of potassium is not ideal for the food industry because their high processing of foods actually slashes potassium content. And potassium is not as easy to add back via fortification because it’s expensive.

But championing “lower-sodium” processed food is not a real solution, because it completely misses the importance of potassium. You can’t expect much of a health boost if potassium is not simultaneously increased when sodium is lowered.

Of course, some food processors don’t even worry about the low sodium selling point at all. Large amounts of sodium are often added to foods during processing, which also affects the sodium to potassium ratio of your food. For example, before processing, a 100-gram (about 3 1/2 ounces) serving of fresh pork contains roughly 60mg of sodium and about 340mg of potassium. But after industrial processing, the average deli ham ends up with 920mg of sodium and only 240mg of potassium, a ratio of over 3:1!

You’ve probably already guessed at the best solution to this conundrum. Stand up to the man. Defy processed and packaged food. The best way to achieve a healthy sodium to potassium ratio is to simply eat a minimally processed diet comprised of real, recognizable food that doesn’t come out of a box or bag.

What You Can Do About The Sodium Problem

The majority of the sodium that most people eat comes from processed foods like deli meats, soups, baked goods, cheese and fast foods. Only a shockingly low 11% of your sodium intake comes from adding salt to a meal either in cooking real food or sprinkling it on your food at the table.

So if you really want to adjust your sodium to potassium ratio, the best way to cut back on high levels of unbalanced sodium intake is to:

A) reduce your intake of pre-packaged, processed and fast foods (yes, I said it again)…

and…

B) to only salt your food while you’re cooking or at the table, preferably using a 100% natural source of unrefined salt (more on that later). This not only allows you to see exactly how much salt you are putting on your food, but it also ensures that you’re using natural salt in a correct sodium to potassium ratio.

Easy, eh?

And when you do eat your food, choose stuff high in potassium and low in sodium. When it comes to that, your best bet is raw fruits and vegetables, preferably from trusted sources such as the organic section of your grocery store, or your local farmer’s market. Good sources of potassium with balanced levels of sodium include vegetables and fruits, especially leafy green vegetables (spinach and collards), orange vegetables (sweet potatoes and winter squash), and citrus fruits (oranges and grapefruits), dried beans, nuts, seeds, and “pseudograins” like quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth.

This tasty produce is naturally high in potassium and low in sodium – and if you’re concerned about whether or not it was grown in mineral rich soil, you can fix that with what you’re about to learn.

Should You Salt Your Food?

Table_SaltRefined table salt – the white stuff on the table at most restaurants or probably in your kitchen cupboard – is the same sodium source that those big food processors use to salt their foods. It is usually 99% sodium chloride, the last 1% is saved for the anti-caking agents. Problem is — anti-caking agents are essentially heavy metals, which are toxic to your body

Refined table salt has aluminum, ferrocyanide, and bleach in it. Anti-caking agents are added to increase its shelf life. The chemicals added to keep salt from absorbing moisture on the shelf interfere with one of salt’s main functions: to regulate hydration in the body. The sodium chloride in table salt is highly concentrated, denatured, and toxic to your body.

Ever put salt on an open cut? It burns!

Refined salt has that same burning effect on your internal tissues and causes a negative reaction: your body retains water to protect itself, and your cells release water to help dilute, neutralize, and break down the salt. This loss of water dehydrates and weakens your cells and can even cause them to die prematurely.

Refined table salt is poisonous to the body and is responsible, in great part, to the onset of many terrible diseases including thyroid and metabolic dysfunction.

So what’s the alternative to common, nasty, iodized, sodium chloride and chemical laden table salt?

Sea salt.

Natural sea salt contains 80+ trace minerals including potassium and it is only 92% sodium chloride. It is free of aluminum and other toxic substances table salt is exposed to during the refining process. Sea salt is also known for its coarse, crunchy texture and superior flavor.

salt workersPeople often ask me what kind of sea salt I personally use – and while you’ve probably heard me talk about Himalayan salt before, there’s actually another kind of salt I’ve been using that has less sodium chloride and more minerals than Himalayan salt.

This salt alternative – my new source for maximizing my daily electrolyte intake – is harvested in Mexico by traditional salineros (salt farmers) using environmentally friendly techniques that are over 150 years old. The salineros who make AztecSeaSalt™ use the same saltpans where the Aztecs made their salt over 500 years ago… even before the Spaniards arrived.

They are migrant working families. (You can only make salt in Cuyutlán between February and May, only 16 weeks).

They are entrepreneurs. (They get paid for the amount of salt they produce).

Their traditional techniques are passed from generation to generation – taking care of the land and each other.

And you can’t surf to your local grocery store and grab a bag of this stuff. AztecSeaSalt™ is not sold in stores. Due to the 16 week harvest and micro batches, all orders are limited to just 4 bags.

So while it needs to be ordered online, it’s well worth it. This is the best tasting sea salt you have ever tried and it has a lifetime, no questions asked, money-back guarantee to back that up.

Summary

So just a few quick notes. I want to give you a heads up that aside from making food incredibly tasty and adjusting your sodium to potassium levels into a proper and healthy range, there are a few other uses I’ve found for this salt:

Aztec Salt1) Mix 1-2 teaspoons into a glass of water before bed to eliminate insomnia due to hard workouts or overtraining. If you can’t get to sleep or you wake up and feel your heart “pounding in your ears”, then this stuff will fix that.

2) If you struggle with making tasty foods, or you want to impress your friends with the sudden burst of flavor in meals that you make, a pinch of this type of salt is pretty much the equivalent of expensive, fancy truffle oil. In other words, it automatically makes food taste amazing – even if you’re a crappy cook like me.

3) As I mentioned earlier, this type of salt also works extremely well for topping off your natural electrolyte stores if you take a bunch of it (like 5-6 teaspoons) every day in the last week leading into a hot race like a marathon or Ironman. In other words, it’s definitely a heat hack. You can also mix it with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a touch of raw honey, and unsweetened coconut water for an all-natural sports drink.

So make an order quickly today and get free shipping before they are sold out (over 27,000 people read these daily blog posts, and they do indeed have only a few hundred bags of salt due to their ethical and quality harvesting practices, so you’ll want to get in early).

Questions about sea salt, or whether salt is really bad for you? Leave your comments below and I promise to reply!

Scientific Sources:
http://ajh.oxfordjournals.org/content/26/10/1198.full
http://ajh.oxfordjournals.org/content/26/10/1187.full

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31 Responses to “Is That Grain Of Salt Really Killing Your Insides?”

  1. MatthewTS says:

    So how did you keep your potassium levels up while ingesting the extra salt?

  2. Patrick says:

    How, if at all, does this play into what Dr. Noakes has been saying?

    • Dr. Noakes makes a good point that electrolyte intake DURING exercise drives electrolyte loss. But you still have a certain storage of electrolytes that it is good to keep "topped off", especially leading into a hot and humid event such as Ironman Hawaii. I've always salted liberally, especially in that last week, but now I use the Aztecan stuff, which is amazing.

      • Carinasha says:

        Being in constant ketosis myself and trying to figure out the science behind it by taking notes day to day about how well my body functions with varying intakes of salt and different types of sport, I still do not know enough about the electrolytes and the amount of water one should drink a day. Especially since in one of the podcasts with Peter Attia attending, he said of himself that he'd drink about 6 litres of water a day. This goes against what Dr. Noakes advices.
        I hope, you can help me out here!

        I often drink 3 litres a day because i am just that thirsty, and this is on a day I do not workout in any way.
        This would probably too much again?

        • All Noakes says is that excessive intake of 5-7%+ carbohydrate solutions during exercise, along with electrolyte intake during exercise and HIGH amounts of water (e.g. 24oz+) during exercise is often not necessary, especially for single day events. In the light of ketosis, shedding of water weight/natural sodium loss, need for increased hydration for beta oxidation, etc. this does NOT mean you need to stop drinking water! All it means is to take the advice from Gatorade with a grain of salt. ;)

        • Pone says:

          Why do people collapse during marathons and end up with low sodium? That part is simple: they drink more water than they sweat. The kidneys shut down while you are running, so the excess is not being urinated out during the race. Over time you increase water volume in the body, dilute sodium, and you end up with hyponatremia (low sodium). So the first part of Noakes’ thesis makes sense: do not drink more water than you sweat.

          Where I fail to understand (or agree?) with Noakes is regarding electrolyte replacement during a race. You cannot say *a priori* that a given racer is in sodium balance when he/she starts the race. Some will be high normal. Some will be low normal. It’s impossible to generalize that electrolyte replacement during the race will force the body to excrete excess sodium. Because maybe – for a given person – it is making up a deficiency.

          Assuming that you are at a perfect sodium level entering a race, why wouldn’t you want to mix in a minimal amount of sodium into drinking water, just enough to keep your electrolytes stable and replace amounts you lose in sweat? It might be complicated to make that calculation, but that to me seems like a much more rational racing strategy than just “don’t supplement sodium and make it up later”.

          So

          • I think Noakes is making the assumption that you are electrolyte balanced going into the race. If NOT, then I agree, electrolytes may be necessary. It's why I salt load going into a race like Ironman Hawaii.

          • pone1 says:

            What would be the harm of:

            1) Drink as much water as you sweat, not more.

            2) Replace the electrolytes you lose as sweat, not more.

            The best objection to this is that most people would calculate the amounts incorrectly.

          • No harm. Except extra $ spent on Gatorade, unnecessary fueling/hydrating slowing you down, people drinking too much water as discussed in Waterlogged.

  3. Brenda says:

    What a great article! Thank you for sharing! Thank you for sharing the health hazards of table salt! I do Sea Salt but will be looking into the Aztec. I also do Himalayan. I hope you reach the masses with this one!! I know I will be sharing! Have the BEST day Ever!

  4. BobbyD says:

    35 years ago my dad had a non-fatal heart attack, back then everyone blamed salt, so from that day forward, I never picked up a salt shaker again, other then to “pass the salt please.” Having taken many BP tests over those years, I certainly can’t ever remember a reading over the so-called normal of 120/80, but more typically 105/65 or lower. I can’t say for sure, but I think my low salt diet has contributed to that. I generally don’t cook with salt, but I also don’t go out of my way to seek out low salt options in restaurants (although, “no-salt on that Margherita please”). Prior to giving them up completely, I did seek-out low sodium in processed foods, as I don’t like the taste of overly salted foods. We do have sea salt in our kitchen, but it got very little use, until I recently started fermenting. I am not a triathlete (yet), but have run a few marathons (PR 3:19 in NY @ age 52) and long distance cycling, without salt supplementation, except for the on course sports drink. I have given up those sodium-laced sports drinks, so I do realize, I will need to supplement salt, especially in hot conditions. I’m not opposed to sea salt, but will have to become more conscious in using it as an endurance aid.

  5. David Fyhrie says:

    Ben,

    What about the iodine that comes in table salt? I understand that iodine is not in sea salt.

  6. Jeff says:

    He kept up the potassium levels with Coconut water

  7. meijin2k says:

    So Ben…pink Himalayan salt or this sea salt?

  8. Gary Kirwan says:

    Great post Ben. Do think that the best way to quantify your sodium:potassium ratio is checking your blood pressure? There isn’t a specific test, right?

  9. vegpedlr says:

    Considering the studies I’ve seen on salt intake and cardiovascular health, to say there is “zero evidence” is premature. Is the IOM study you linked to what led you to this conclusion, or were there others? Where did you find evidence of the health risks you listed? Where did you learn that sodium chloride is so damaging internally? Is that why salt in a wound stings, but sea water doesn’t?

    Point well taken on sodium-potassium balance and processed food. Real food is always best.

  10. megs1768 says:

    Hey Ben,
    I have heard that you are suppose to take the tsp of salt in the AM to help jump start the adrenals? Which do you think is better? Or do both?

  11. megs1768 says:

    P.S.
    How do you take the salt? It's hard to swallow with just water? any tricks?

    • Sprinkle on food, or down with water. I ignore taste quite often. ;)

    • Carinasha says:

      But be careful the way you take the teaspoon of salt. It is always best to stop and relax (or meditate) before that. I became too used to this daily procedure that I did this often while being in haste. That surely will never happen again, since it is burning like crazy if the salt ends uptoo far in the back of one's mouth and you are forced to swallow it without having the possibility to take a sip of water to help it down.

  12. Ildi Urban says:

    I did a lot of research about Himalayan Sea Salt….but recently read on the internet that some salt that goes by this name is inferior. Please explain how the genuine Himalayan Sea Salt compares with the Aztecan salt. I have been using the Himalayan stuff for over 12 months and really thought I was doing the right thing. Now I am really confused. Please help.

    • Much of the Himalayan salt available in stores and online is mined in Pakistan and shipped halfway around the world to North America. The Aztec from RealGoodSalt is solar evaporated in Mexico and is a renewable resource with a lower carbon footprint. Himalayan is a very beautiful salt and is dry making it easier to grind. But, it has a higher concentration of Sodium Chloride than the Aztec Sea Salt. Aztec is about 92% and Himalayan is about 95%. In the end, both salts are better than refined iodized table salt.

  13. pone1 says:

    Great article, but several questions:

    1) Just to make this explicit, when you take six teaspoons of sea salt, that is 12 grams of sodium per day? Even if you were fully ketogenic and shedding a massive five grams of sodium per day, that is a LOT of sodium!!

    2) Why doesn't anyone ever recommend taking a small amount of potassium chloride (or other type of potassium) mixed in with the sodium in water?

    3) Make sure you understand that by switching over to sea salt from iodized table salt that you are removing one of the few sources of iodide in most peoples' diets. You can worsen an iodine deficiency.

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