Salt: Hero or Villain?

salt loveAs a confessed Salt-Aholic, I was happy to see an article debunking some of the common myths about salt in general and opinions about WHICH salt you should be using.

Heavy Sweating

Playing most of my tennis in hot and steamy Florida, my naturally heavy sweating takes on new proportions – and those who have seen my soaked shirt/pants/shoes and puddle under me can testify. I have longed believed that as much as goes out of me, I must replenish the salt in my body; and as long as I do not have a high blood pressure issue (which I do not), taking salt is good for me.

Here are highlights from an article on this subject from BenGreenfieldFitness.com

“I’m sure you’re familiar with the old story. Eat less salt. Reduce blood pressure.
Not really.

In reality, if you’re truly serious about how long you live and how much stress you put on your heart and your kidneys, you have to take that advice with a grain of salt. A big grain of salt.

As a matter of fact, the calls for sodium reduction you see plastered all over health magazines, doctor’s offices and popular news reports are not only unsupported by research, but have been proven to be dangerous for you.

And this topic is currently quite near and dear to my heart, since I just raced Ironman Hawaii two days ago. In the week leading up to the race, I ate over six times the recommended daily intake of sodium. That’s right. I had 6 teaspoons of salt a day
And I’m not nervous about that level of salt intake at all.

In this article, you’re about to learn why I personally eat salt by the spoonful, and why salt is not as bad as you may think.

The Facts About Salt

1. There is zero evidence to support a drastic reduction in sodium intake.
A recent review of a study by the Institute of Medicine failed to identify a health benefit associated with sodium intakes less than 2,300 mgs/day, and concluded that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether sodium intakes of less than 2,300 mgs are harmful or beneficial.

2. Reducing sodium intake can have unintended health risks.
But here’s what we actually do know: recent research highly suggests that low sodium intake can indeed increase health risks.

3. Your total potassium levels and your “sodium to potassium ratio” are what is actually important for heart health.
We are now learning that the key to your health does not lie in any absolute amounts of sodium, but instead in the ratio between sodium and potassium – with the ultimate goal being to achieve a ratio ≤ 1.

Now I’m no math major, but this ratio seems pretty simple. You don’t need to limit sodium. You need to increase potassium. It’s a pretty easy-to-grasp concept once you realize that you simply need to shift your focus from massively reducing sodium intake to instead maintaining a healthy sodium to potassium ratio in your diets.

We all know we need salt to live – after all, 70 percent of our body is made up of salt water. We also know that, in the body, sodium exists in a delicate balance with potassium. Potassium is also necessary for proper cell function, and is especially important for cardiovascular health. Recently, several studies highlight that the ratio of sodium to potassium intakes represent a more important risk factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease than each factor alone.

How could this be? It’s basically because sodium and potassium actually have opposite effects on heart function. High sodium intake can indeed increase blood pressure, while high potassium intake can relax blood vessels and decrease blood pressure.

But the unfortunate fact is that most of us consume more sodium and less potassium daily than recommended. Our average daily intake of sodium is 3,436 mg (150% of the recommended daily limit) while our average daily intake of potassium is 2,790 mg (60% of the recommended daily amount).

What You Can Do About The Sodium Problem

The majority of the sodium that most people eat comes from processed foods like deli meats, soups, baked goods, cheese and fast foods. Only a shockingly low 11% of your sodium intake comes from adding salt to a meal either in cooking real food or sprinkling it on your food at the table.
So if you really want to adjust your sodium to potassium ratio, the best way to cut back on high levels of unbalanced sodium intake is to reduce your intake of pre-packaged, processed and fast foods and to only salt your food while you’re cooking or at the table.

Which Salt Should You Use?

Refined table salt – the white stuff on the table at most restaurants or probably in your kitchen cupboard – is the same sodium source that those big food processors use to salt their foods. It is usually 99% sodium chloride, the last 1% is saved for the anti-caking agents. Problem is — anti-caking agents are essentially heavy metals, which are toxic to your body

Refined table salt has aluminum, ferrocyanide, and bleach in it. Anti-caking agents are added to increase its shelf life. The chemicals added to keep salt from absorbing moisture on the shelf interfere with one of salt’s main functions: to regulate hydration in the body. The sodium chloride in table salt is highly concentrated, denatured, and toxic to your body.
Ever put salt on an open cut? It burns!

Refined salt has that same burning effect on your internal tissues and causes a negative reaction: your body retains water to protect itself, and your cells release water to help dilute, neutralize, and break down the salt. This loss of water dehydrates and weakens your cells and can even cause them to die prematurely.

Refined table salt is poisonous to the body and is responsible, in great part, to the onset of many terrible diseases including thyroid and metabolic dysfunction.

So what’s the alternative to common, nasty, iodized, sodium chloride and chemical laden table salt?
Sea salt.

Natural sea salt contains 80+ trace minerals including potassium and it is only 92% sodium chloride. It is free of aluminum and other toxic substances table salt is exposed to during the refining process. Sea salt is also known for its coarse, crunchy texture and superior flavor.

For the full article, please click HERE

So, go ahead and salt that baked potato (but don’t forget your banana in the morning!).

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8 thoughts on “Salt: Hero or Villain?

  1. George, I sent you this a while back, for all who might not know, Ben Greenfield is the real deal. He’s got a lot of fantastic info on his site, and his podcasts are very good if the topic is of interest to you.
    Big take away is to stay away from “commercial refined table salt” . Stick with naturally sourced and non processed salt.
    I tend to buy the Himalayan pink salt. Whole foods sells it in bulk at a very good price (which is the exception for most anything at Whole Foods 🙂 )

    Marc, Himalayan Pink is what i use too! thanks for the info. george

  2. Amen, but with a few caveats. If there is decreased renal (kidney) function then the body can’t excrete the sodium properly which will result in salt retention and limits need to be placed on intake. Also, if an individual has hypertension (high blood pressure) the mechanism for salt excretion is also impaired and salt intake needs to be limited.

    Dr. Fenster, thanks. george

  3. “Georgie Boy”, what a great article and good read this morning. Thank you for sharing. As is always the case, more is not better and the adage of “everything in moderation” means just that.

    Howie – thanks and i hope the rehab is going well! george

  4. George –
    Like you I’m (somewhat) of a saltaholic. Now I’ll be looking for the better option, sea salt potato chips. My experience looking at super market nutrition information, at least all processed food products, is that the amount of sodium always exceeds the amount of potassium. I’ll bet that the only exception is fresh fruit and vegetables (especially bananas).

    Dag – “Chips ahoy!” george

  5. George, thanks for this article and the introduction to Ben Greenfield. Very informative. I am one of those persons who tends not to put salt on anything, but when I do add salt to a recipe that needs it, sea salt is what I prefer. I especially like sea salt on the rims of margarita glasses. (That won’t hurt me, right?) I have been known to scarf down a fast food burger maybe a bit too frequently for my own good, but when it comes to a choice of starving versus eating fast food you can guess which usually wins out. To compensate, I am going out to buy some himalaya pink today — along with bananas.

    Marty – between your short post and watching Fred Drilling serve and volley yday, i don’t know what this world is coming to! 🙂 george

  6. George, read this article by the American Heart Association. They say in reality salt is salt
    no matter where it is obtained.
    http://sodiumbreakup.heart.org/sodium-411/sea-salt-vs-table-salt/

    Elaine – thanks for the link. The fact that there is as much sodium in sea salt as table salt is GOOD as far as i am concerned. it is the lack of the other minerals and the addition of Aluminum to table salt that i think is the problem. as that article states, “Sea salt is obtained directly through the evaporation of seawater. It is usually not processed, or undergoes minimal processing, and therefore retains trace levels of minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium and other nutrients. Table salt, on the other hand, is mined from salt deposits and then processed to give it a fine texture so it’s easier to mix and use in recipes. Processing strips table salt of any minerals it may have contained, and additives are also usually added to prevent clumping or caking.” George

  7. I have long advised students and friends that one needs to replenish the salt which they lose on the court. “Really?” some have asked with skepticism. I point to my cap or shirt and ask them what they think that white stuff is. Yes…sea salt and a banana to replenish salt and potassium!

  8. For matches on hot and humid days, Thermotabs and Saltstick are excellent supplement products that are primarily NaCl (Salt), with some other electrolyte balancers. I’m a heavy sweater who used to cramp regularly and I haven’t cramped in about 4 years since adding these during matches in high humidity.
    Endurolytes from Hammer Nutrition is more of an overall electrolyte supplement, these are excellent too. There are numerous good alternatives for overall electrolyte replacement. For salt replacement I’m a big believer in the Thermotabs product and they not expensive either.

    Bob – thanks. for electrolytes, i have been using MediLyte, which i first got at Newk’s. george

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