Sodium: Why It’s Not So Bad For You

 

Real Salt

 

Salt really has gotten a bad reputation over the past few decades, and it’s not completely justified. Sodium is essential for muscle movement, relaying signals in the brain, and cooling off your body when you sweat. So, if you’ve ever been told to avoid salting food completely because sodium raises blood pressure and increases risk of stroke, then I have good news for you–a CDC review admitted that there’s not enough evidence out there to suggest a need for further reduction of sodium intake. Now, this isn’t giving us free reign with salt, but rather pointing out that certain amounts are necessary for good health, and eating too little can be just as dangerous as too much!

 

The current guidelines were made in 2010 and recommended 2300 mg (about 1 tsp) of sodium per day for the average American, yet the CDC review shows most people continue to get about 3400 mg (about 1 1/2 tsp) a day, without an increased risk of high blood pressure or other cardiac problems. In certain at risk populations, like people over 51 years old or people with kidney disease, diabetes, or heart failure, the recommendations were for only 1500 mg per day. After review, they found that this reduction in sodium to below 2300 mg actually increased risk for cardiac events. The review never defined what was too much sodium, but since most people never managed to get below the recommended 2300 mg anyway; it’s fortunate for us that the current amount consumed by most people is fine. At least now you can stop losing sleep about not meeting the recommendations–you were losing sleep right?

 

salt_sidebysideNow for the tricky part: not all salt is created equal. The salt you traditionally find in salt shakers, canned food, and processed foods is refined and lacks all nutrients except sodium and chloride; some salt even has dextrose (sugar) added in it too. Salt with sugar in it–that’s not natural! Watch out for sea salts too, because unless it specifically says it’s unrefined, it’s not any better than table salt. Real, unrefined salt not only contains sodium and chloride, but also a host of other naturally occurring minerals like magnesium, copper, and iron that our bodies need. So if you’re going to salt food at home, try Real Salt or Celtic Sea Salt. The scientific literature is lacking in the area of real vs processed salt, so I won’t tell you the real stuff is healthy in the same way a carrot is healthy, but it is mineral-rich and definitely a better option than the bleached kind.

 

Unrefined salt is not fortified with extra iodine–it does naturally contain some iodine, but it’s 35% less per serving compared to fortified refined salt. People who eat almost exclusively whole foods will want to make sure they are getting other sources of iodine for thyroid health.

Good real food sources of iodine:

  • Sea food and sea vegetables: cod, shrimp, canned tuna, oysters, kelp, seaweed
  • Dairy products: yogurt, milk, cheese
  • Strawberries, cranberries potatoes with skin
  • Navy beans

 

Everyone needs salt for health, so cook with it and enjoy its flavor!

 

5 Responses to Sodium: Why It’s Not So Bad For You

  1. Sean M says:

    So here’s my problem with the CDC study: if the participants reduced their sodium intake, but they were still taking in crap sodium products like table salt, shouldn’t the study have looked at the TYPE of sodium they were consuming, even if their levels of intake were decreasing?

    This is exactly like a study done on fish oil where the findings were contradictory to published “healthful” conclusions from earlier studies. Basically they were saying that fish oil could actually cause cancer! The problem with the study is that they never differentiated between the ethyl ester and triglyceride forms.

    Those two forms are vastly different, just like common table salt and variations of sea salt. While they say the studies are inconclusive, I’d like to see someone do a study where it truly defines the type of salt and fish oil the participants were ingesting. Without the separation, we’ll never get a right answer from any of this.

    • Ryan Baggett MA, RD says:

      I definitely think they should do a study comparing unrefined salt and refined salt and it’s effects on health too. Unfortunately I think it would be very hard to find enough subjects who eat only unrefined sea salt and no processed foods to make the conclusions valid. The main point I took home from this study, which reviewed a ton of independent studies, is that there is a such thing as too little salt, even too little processed salt. Whether or not there is an upper limit for unrefined salt is unknown at this point, but I’m sure there is, just like if you eat too many carrots you turn orange :-)

  2. Wow! Didn’t see that coming! Thanks for the info on research :))

  3. Thank you, this is what I’ve been saying for months. Glad there’s finally research to back me up.

    • Ryan Baggett MA, RD says:

      It’s nice to be right about health stuff every now and then huh; it does tend to change quite frequently!

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