Written by: Kelley Herring, Healing Gourmet
For years we’ve been told to take it easy on the salt shaker. Conventional wisdom says that eating too much sodium can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney stones. Almost universally, the medical establishment recommends that we adopt a “low sodium” diet.
But “conventional wisdom” will often lead you astray. And we certainly know that the medical establishment is not infallible. And so it goes with their recommendations about sodium.
The truth is that we need sodium for our bodies to function properly. This vital mineral helps carry nutrients into cells. It assists the transmission of nerve impulses. It influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles, impacts hormones and helps to regulate blood pressure.
So how did this essential substance get such a bad rap?
Just like many other examples of flawed conventional wisdom, in this case, the baby got thrown out with the bathwater. The blanket generalization that “sodium is bad” does not take into account two important factors.
1. All salt is not created equal.
2. Your ratio of potassium intake to sodium is far more important than the absolute level of sodium that you consume.
Let’s explore these two critical factors…
Refined Versus Unrefined Salt
The unrefined, primordial salt that our ancestors consumed is very different than the bright white, free-flowing “table salt” found in grocery stores and packaged foods.
Common table salt is a chemically-refined product. First, all of the critical trace minerals are stripped away and sold to industry. Then bleaching agents and other chemicals are added to keep the salt from caking. The remaining product is 97.5% sodium chloride and about 2.5% other chemicals, preservatives and iodine.
The anti-caking agents that prevent salt from combining with moisture and “clumping” in the box or shaker also prevent it from performing its most essential role in the body: Regulating hydration.
And while these chemicals make table salt flow more easily, and make it more appealing to the eye, they have also been linked with kidney problems, heavy metal toxicity and high blood pressure.
It should be no surprise that this form of highly-refined and chemically-altered “salt” is found in virtually every packaged and processed food and comprises 77% of American’s sodium intake!
You should definitely avoid “table salt.”
But this industrial imposter only has a superficial similarity to natural and unprocessed salt. Real salt is rich in minerals. In fact, these minerals typically give it an off-white, gray, or even pink color. The typical makeup of unrefined salt is approximately 84% sodium chloride and 16% other minerals (including calcium, magnesium, potassium and nearly 100 other essential trace minerals).
In just a moment, I’ll discuss how to choose the best salt. But first, let’s cover the second critical factor about your salt consumption that “conventional wisdom” fails to consider…
Do You Know Your “Vitality Ratio”…
It’s true that Americans consume too much sodium. But the real problem is not just about too much sodium. It’s also about too little potassium.
The average American consumes about twice the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sodium. On the other hand, we consume only half the RDA of potassium. And most experts believe the RDA for this essential mineral is too low. That means we’re not getting nearly the amount of potassium we need.
The ratio of sodium to potassium is so important; it has been called the “vitality ratio.”
One study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, looked at the effects of sodium and potassium on the health of more than 12,000 adults over a period of nearly 15 years. The researchers discovered that a high ratio of sodium to potassium is clearly associated with heart disease and a significant increase in death from all causes.
Another review of nearly three dozen studies, performed by scientists at Johns Hopkins, found that optimal potassium levels are clearly associated with healthy blood pressure. They also discovered that those getting the most potassium have the lowest risk of heart disease.
To maximize your “vitality ratio” focus on reducing sodium consumption, while increasing potassium. To do that, you should:
• Forget about bananas…eat more avocados: Despite what banana growers want you to believe, bananas are not the best source of potassium. A typical banana provides about 420 mg of potassium. You would have to eat more than 10 bananas daily (more than 140 grams of sugar!) to get the amount of potassium recommended by the Institute of Medicine. Eat avocados instead. They provide three times more potassium (and none of the sugar).
• Eliminate processed foods and eat more whole foods: Swap high-sodium packaged foods for fresh or flash-frozen organic fruits and vegetables, fresh or flash-frozen wild seafood and pasture-raised meats.
• Cook at Home: Restaurants and fast food are notoriously high in sodium – some providing more than 3,000 mg of sodium in a burger! But when you’re the chef, you have complete control.
• Boost the Flavor, Not the Sodium: Rely on fragrant herbs and spices, spice blends, citrus zest, and cooking wine for fabulous flavor without the sodium.
• Start from Scratch: Packaged soups and broths can be exceptionally high in refined salt and sodium. Make your own stocks and broths from scratch using marrow bones or chicken backs. They add great flavor and a bevy of nutrients to your dishes and can act as a base for soups, dressings and sautés.
• Beware of Bottles: Salad dressings, sauces, dips, ketchup, mustard and relish all contain sodium. It’s easy to make your own salad dressings, sauces and dips that go easy on the sodium, but heavy on the flavor.
Finally, of course, you should avoid “table salt” and be sure to add some real, unrefined salt to your diet…
Choosing the Right Salt
Sea Salt: Depending on the brand, “sea salt” is typically processed through evaporation of ocean water or saltwater lakes. And while it does contain some trace minerals, it contains roughly the same amount of sodium as table salt by weight. However, it may also contain the contaminants found in the source… and in the age of Fukushima and other polluted waters that’s something to consider.
Himalayan Pink Salt: Unrefined, and mined from the Himalayan Mountains, this salt contains the same elements as those found in primal oceans. Because this salt comes from salt caves that were formed 250 million years ago, it is a pure source of vital minerals without modern contamination concerns.
Real Salt: Geologically speaking, Real Salt is very close to Himalayan Pink Salt. It is harvested from an ancient ocean that is free of modern toxins and rich in trace minerals. It is unrefined and pink in color, and is mined in Redmond, Utah.
So the next time you hear that you need to “cut back on salt.” You’ll know better. Be sure that you’re getting enough potassium to optimize your “vitality ratio.” And feel free to add a healthy sprinkle of mineral rich, unrefined salt to your steak and broccoli and other foods…knowing that not only are you bringing out the flavor…but doing your body a favor too.
Read more articles by Kelley Herring here.
Kelley Herring is the Founder and Editor of Healing Gourmet – the leading provider of organic, sustainable recipes and meal plans for health and weight loss. Be sure to grab Healing Gourmet’s free books – Eating Clean & Saving Green: Your Guide to Organic Foods on a Budget (includes 100+ foods at the best prices) and Eat Your Way Into Shape: Flip Your Body’s Fat Blasting Switch and Melt 12 Pounds in 2 Weeks (includes a delicious 7 day meal plan!). Claim your free copies here…Claim your free copies here…
1. FDA FoodFacts. Sodium in Your Diet: Using the Nutrition Facts Label to Reduce Your Intake
2. JAMA: Sodium and Potassium Intake and Mortality Among US Adults
3. FDA: A Pinch of Controversy Shakes Up Dietary Salt
4. Barron, Jon. A Pillar of Salt