If your body is craving salt, you might imagine your body needs sodium. A logical assumption? Yes. A safe one? No. If you are already consuming a lot of salt and yet continue to crave it, while it might seem you need more sodium, in reality you likely need less. While sodium is a vital mineral, did you know that table salt increases your cravings rather than diminishing them and can cause dehydration and harm if consumed in excess?
Salt can be very healing for the body in the right form, however, salt in the wrong form can deplete the body. Most table salt is stripped of its nutrients and some studies suggest the iodine in iodized table salt is not bio-available. While specialized mineral salts such a sea salt or pink Himalayan salt contain more minerals than white iodized table salt, too much salt is still too much salt. Salt overload increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, kidney disease, diabetes, cataracts, asthma, ulcers, stomach cancer, dementia and more. So what kind of salt is good for the body and in what amount?
Natural sodium is abundant in many fruits and vegetables and is the most easily absorbed form of sodium. Hydrating to the body, raw spinach, fresh celery, carrots, tomatoes, apples and bananas are all good plant based sources of natural sodium. These same foods are also rich in potassium and help to decrease the negative effects of too much sodium in the diet. Potassium, one of the most prolific minerals in fresh fruits and vegetables, plays a vital role by eliminating excessive sodium from the cells and preventing the accumulation of excess fluids in the cells.
An important consideration is that when fresh foods like tomatoes or potatoes are cooked or processed, the amount of sodium rises sharply while the natural potassium in these foods decline. This ratio of sodium to potassium is critical for electrolyte balance. In small amounts, sodium helps with nerve and muscle function and to balance body fluids. In excess amount, the effect is counterproductive and can be damaging potentially causing cells to swell and ultimately burst due to pressure. Combined, sodium and potassium assist to regulate heart beats, help transmission of nerve signals, contraction of muscles, are crucial in the functioning of the kidneys, regulating fluid, and maintaining cardiovascular health and the acid base balance in the body. High levels of sodium and low levels of potassium cause heart disease, hypertension, strokes, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and even death. It is why a heart doctor will advise a patient to reduce intake of sodium and increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Early signs that you may be consuming too much sodium and not enough potassium include bloating, increased thirst, lack of energy, fatigue, rise in blood pressure and/or poor quality of sleep.
90% of the American diet receives its sodium from salt instead of from whole fresh foods which provide an ample supply of essential sodium. For our paleolithic ancestors, the average sodium to potassium ratio was 1 to 16 while in modern times that average has decreased to a startling ratio of 1 to 1.36. While our ancestors only consumed an average of 700mg of sodium per day and 11,000mg of potassium, today the average intake is a staggering average of 4,000mg of sodium per day and a mere 2,500mg of potassium per day. We consume nearly six times more sodium than our ancestors did and only a fraction of the potassium they consumed. The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sodium is 2,300mg and for potassium the RDA is 4,700mg per day. The trend of increased sodium and reduced potassium intake is one of the primary culprits of ill health.
Even more interesting is that when salt is consumed (white, pink or otherwise), whether added to the food during preparation or at the table, the production of a hormone called aldosterone is halted. Aldosterone is produced by the adrenals and is a vital hormone responsible for regulating the sodium and potassium balance. When aldosterone production is interrupted, it causes the body to shed sodium. It takes two months after the ingestion of salt is stopped for the adrenals to begin production of aldosterone again. Fortunately, the best way to stimulate aldosterone production is through an increase in potassium and the omission of all overt salt. Fruits and vegetables are a rich source of potassium. In their natural state, most will contain sodium and potassium in exactly the ratio that is best suited for the human body. Does it make sense to increase the consumption of these healthy and balanced foods?
Dr. Henney, who is a public health specialist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and chairman of the Institute of Medicine stated in a report that “population-wide reductions in sodium could prevent more than 100,000 deaths annually.” Next time you have a salt craving, understand that while your body needs sodium, the benefit you receive from sodium in fresh fruits and vegetables is far more advantageous to you than the overload of sodium derived from cooked, processed or packaged food which contributes to a potassium sodium imbalance. Sodium is as important to health as it is to dis-ease. Too much sodium throws off the sodium to potassium ratio, which is vital to achieving and maintaining optimal health. All doctors agree, ‘enjoy more fresh fruits and vegetables.’
Resources and Sources:
Cleveland Clinic: Health Essentials: Nutrition: “Is Salt Bad for Your Health?” 18, February 2022 https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-salt-bad-for-you/
Farrow, Lynne and Brownstein, David MD. “The Iodine Crisis What you Don’t Know about Iodine Can Wreck Your Life” Devon Press, USA. 2013
J Lowenstein, J M Steele Jr PubMed National Institute of Health: Kidney Int. “Aldosterone production during dietary sodium restriction and beta-adrenergic blockage” 11 February 1977. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/846064/
Kristen, LaRen. Hala`i Healing Place Wellness: Articles: Worth Your Weight In Salt” 2011 https://halaihealingplace.com/wellness/articles/
McGuire, Shelley. Oxford Academic: Advances in Nutrition. Institute of Medicine (IOM) “Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States” 21 October 2010 https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/1/1/49/4591553
Sanjay B. Natural Health Cure: Diet and Diseases: Ayurveda: “Effects of Salt on the Body” 16 January 2011 https://www.naturalhealthcure.org/diet-and-diseases/side-effects-of-salt-on-body-health.html
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should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.
While adopting healthy dietary changes
coupled with exercise can work wonders for the body,
you are advised to consult a licensed physician
before starting any new regime,
especially if you have any medical condition.
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