Salt Health Effects – The Positive Side Of Salt

Salt Health Effects – The Positive Side Of Salt
Heather Nicholds, C.H.N.

A few years ago, I fainted a couple of times. Passed out cold in the middle of work. This was not only embarrassing, but troubling (because I didn’t know why) and potentially problematic (because although I wasn’t working as a pilot, I still fly for fun and the aviation authority doesn’t look well on pilots who faint).

Luckily, there was absolutely nothing wrong with me, except that I have chronically low blood pressure. A lot of you are probably thinking, ‘wow, you’re lucky!’ Well, if you see me get up too quickly and have to hang on to something you might understand that it’s not that great.

When it comes to health, there are very few black and whites. High blood pressure is bad, but low blood pressure causes problems too. Being overweight is bad, but being underweight can also cause some serious problems. It’s all about staying in balance.

The same is true of salt, and there are many positive salt health effects. In fact, the cardiologist I went to when I had to rule out heart problems to keep my pilot’s license told me I should eat more salt.

Since people with cardiovascular disease are told to drastically reduce their salt consumption, salt is usually seen as a bad thing and almost everyone consciously reduces their salt intake now on a healthy eating plan.

But – some salt is necessary for your body to function properly. Sodium, which is the main component of salt, works in balance with potassium to regulate the pressure of all the fluids in your body – including blood. If there was absolutely no sodium in your blood, you’d be in trouble.

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Luckily, there’s not a very good chance of that happening. There are natural salts in foods, and sodium in forms other than salt – like baking soda. The absolute minimum amount of sodium you need is half a gram but standard recommendations put it at 1-3g per day.

The average American diet contains about 3-6g of sodium per day. This comes, on average, 30% from naturally occurring salt in food, 40% from processed foods, and 30% from adding salt in cooking or at the table.

If you take that average and do the math, someone eating 6g of sodium per day can cut back to 3.6g just by eliminating processed foods from diet plans. Of course, not everyone will fit neatly into these average numbers, but it’s a pretty good incentive to move from processed foods to cooking your own healthy recipes with whole foods, right?

Foods with high salt/sodium content:

  • Table salt
  • Smoked or salted meats, i.e. bacon, hot dogs, bologna, sausage
  • Soy sauce and MSG (Chinese and some other types of Asian food from restaurants in North America usually have both)
  • Brined foods, i.e. pickles, olives, sauerkraut
  • Canned and instant soup
  • Salted and smoked fish
  • Processed cheese
  • Commercially-prepared condiments: ketchup, barbeque sauce, mayonnaise, salad dressing, mustard, gravies and sauces
  • Snack foods: chips, salted peanuts, popcorn, pretzels, crackers
  • Any foods with added soda or sodium salts, such as sodium phosphate

Notice that most of the foods on that list are processed – the kinds of food you find in packages in the grocery store. These are the kinds of foods you want to steer clear of – completely eliminate – and replace them with your own meals and snacks made from whole foods. That way you can control what goes into your body.

I get a ton of questions and comments about the use of salt in cooking. I don’t think of salt – whether it’s sea salt, Himilayan salt, or any other type of salt – as adding nutrients to my food, or that it’s healthy in and of itself.

But I also don’t think salt is evil – it plays an important role in your body, and brings out flavors and softness in your meal that make a healthy dish more appetizing than it would be otherwise. I use it every day in my cooking (and I teach you how to use it in the 28 Day Healthy Meal Plan).

If you eliminate processed foods and salt added at the table, you can feel free to enjoy the natural salts in foods and a small amount added during cooking, in order to get those positive salt health effects.

I’ve found that for most people, using some salt while cooking means you’ll be more likely to stick to healthy whole foods despite the ever-present temptation of processed foods and restaurants. I’ve also read that increasing potassium intake is actually more important for a healthy diet plan than reducing sodium.

The best source of potassium is fresh vegetables and fruits. Cooking vegetables with a pinch of salt makes them so much more appetizing that you wind up eating more of them. Overall I think the benefits of eating a big plate of veggies is more important than worrying about that pinch of salt!


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