Winston Churchill said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, (toil,) tears and sweat” when WWII was looming before his people. This powerful offering became common verbiage among those who want to express their deep devotion. It encompasses everything innately valuable humans have to give: hard work-sweat, physical wellbeing-blood, mental wellbeing-tears. Do you know what these three things have in common? Salt. Whether we realize it or not, salt is an intricate part of our wellbeing and has been a highly valuable commodity for centuries. The importance of salt today is severely undermined.
Today, we work for a “salary” to support our livelihood: a word which comes from the practice of paying Roman soldiers in salt. Salt is incredibly important for sustaining life on Earth. The composition of the Earth is 70% salt water and the human body is about the same; overall, it has almost the same mineral content as the salty oceans! However, over the last forty years this essential mineral has become demonized. Since the ’80s we’ve been sold the diet dogma: if you don’t want to die of a cardiac event, eat a low sodium diet by avoiding salt. These claims were not grounded in science but rather in opinion to support big money agenda, particularly the sugar industry.
The other white substance
The sugar industry villainized salt. The more salt food has, the less sugar it needs to taste delicious–this is bad for business. Through pervasive fear, the sugar industry has been able to infiltrate almost all of our food products. The average American now eats ~180 pounds of sugar per year and avoids the essential mineral sodium. Does it surprise you to know that Japan and South Korea have the longest living citizens on Earth and they consume the most salt? Furthermore, the highly regarded mediterranean diet is high in salt with olives, artichokes, aged cheese and seafood being salty staples. Today, we are experiencing the repercussions of “low” everything diet and we are unhealthier and fatter than ever.
What’s the deal with salt?
First, it makes food taste good. A surefire way to get your children to eat veggies is to load them with sea salt. In scientific terms, salt is sodium chloride, a compound of two elements that are essential to our health but the body cannot manufacture. They work in concert with electrolytes potassium, magnesium and calcium. Sodium chloride regulates blood pressure, blood circulation, helps with digestion, as well as the absorption and transportation of Vitamin C. We become dizzy, light headed, experience cramps, muscle spasms, dehydration, sleep issues, immune distress, and cravings when deficient in sodium chloride; consuming a low salt diet is miserable and dangerous. Don’t undermine the importance of salt.
Before modern refrigeration, the importance of salt was derived directly from its ability to preserve food. People consumed as much as 10,000 milligrams of salt a day and were not dropping dead of heart attacks. Why did we turn our backs on our long history with salt? The other white substance, sugar may be the real culprit. When salt (and fat) is removed from food, like it was starting in the 80s, it must be replaced, often with sugar-cardboard tasting food is not palatable or marketable.
Sugar and the hyperpalatable foods with exorbitant amounts of added sugar confuse the body. The body knows the nutrients it requires to maintain ideal function. When the body needs a specific nutrient the brain sends a signal that we recognize as a craving for that specific food. Overconsumption of sugar and processed carbohydrates have put us out of tune with our body signals. We often confuse the reward systems of salt and sugar, meaning we think we are craving/needing sugar when we really need salt. The “foods of commerce,” as Dr. Weston A. Price called the processed foods of the Western World, make it very hard to understand what our bodies need because they hijack our taste buds and our gut.
To reclaim taste buds and freedom over food people often do a reset diet or transition to low carb or keto, or even plant-based by cutting carbohydrates and added sugar. The first two weeks of this transition are often miserable because of the “keto/carb flu” which is actually an electrolyte deficiency. There are a few processes in play that contribute to this. Ketones, which it what your body produces when it uses fat for fuel, are negatively charged which attracts positively charged sodium ions and strips them from the body leaving a severe sodium deficiency. Also, as you transition to low carb the body produces less insulin. Insulin helps the kidneys retain salt so the body excretes more as the kidneys learn to regulate salt without insulin. This also means when you cut salt intake, insulin (also known as the fat storage hormone) increases to help the body making you insulin resistant, the first step in becoming diabetic.
Your daily dose
James DiNicolantonio debunks the dangers of salt in his new book, The Salt Fix. He recommends consuming 3,000-4,000 milligrams of salt a day, which is almost double the government’s recommendations. Not all salt is created equal. Table salt is highly processed and has none of the nutritional value unrefined sea salt has–table salt even has sugar. Redmond’s Real Salt, Celtic Sea Salt or Himalayan Sea Salt are excellent choices to add to your everyday meal routine. It’s a good idea to keep a few different kinds on hand to give you an assortment of trace minerals. Nature doesn’t create nutrients in isolation: there is a lot more in sea salt than just sodium chloride and each salt has a unique makeup. For example, Celtic Sea Salt is high in iron, zinc and manganese, while Redmond Real Salt is high in calcium, potassium and magnesium. Sea salt is similar to veggies in the way that you never just eat one variety and expect to get all the nutrients you need for vibrant health. The importance of salt in your diet should be prioritized just as your daily dose of fruits and veggies are.
On a daily basis we lose salt in a variety of ways including: consuming caffeine, exercising, eating low carb, sleep apnea, being a diabetic, and taking prescription medications. If you fall under one of these categories, it’s incredibly important to ensure you supplement with a high quality sea salt. Salt is absorbed in the colon so people with inflammatory bowel diseases such as IBS, crohns, celiac or chronic diarrhea are all at risk for sodium deficiency and need to consume extra. There are very few exceptions of people who should consume low sodium diet: people with rare conditions such as Liddle’s Syndrome, Cushing’s Syndrome, or high aldosterone.
Isak Dinesen wrote, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” Salt as a part of a healthy lifestyle can be a more than a cure but a preventative for to many of the chronic illness that have become a part of “normal” life.