Salt’s value has changed with the industrial revolution, but it still plays a very important role in our individual health. Salt has been used as currency. Roads and cities have been formed because of salt; wars have been fought over it. We’ve been taught that salt isn’t good for us, but the research supporting this conclusion is unsubstantial and faulty. In fact, much literature shows quite the opposite to be true. Our very lives depend on salt. It is needed for the transmission of nerve impulses. It is essential for digestion. Without salt our blood volume reduces which can lead to the shutdown of organs like the heart, brain or kidneys.
When looking at salt from a weight loss perspective it actually creates a unique phenomenon. A deficiency in salt causes our body to respond by increasing insulin levels because insulin helps the kidneys retain more sodium. Higher insulin levels, caused by this low sodium level, suppress the enzyme that allows us to release fat from our stores to use as energy. Without being able to tap into the fat stores, now our bodies need more carbohydrates to use for energy. Pretty soon we start craving sugar because the more refined carbs we eat, the more we crave. Now we are trapped in a cycle where our bodies can’t burn fat and have become addicted to carbs and sugar. This leads to insulin resistance, weight gain and potentially type 2 diabetes. All this time we thought the origin of our struggles was the bad guy “sugar” when in fact the lack of salt in our diet could be the culprit.
Lower carb diets (not necessarily Keto, but simply a reduced carb lifestyle) can correct the insulin response and increase our ability to burn fat for energy instead of glucose. But it also very important to understand that this way of eating increases our need for salt because it allows our kidneys to work efficiently (yay!) and release sodium out of the body instead of hang on to it. This is why we see high blood pressure resolve so quickly when changing our diet in this way.
Scientific research suggests that the optimal range for sodium intake is between 1-⅓ and 2-⅔ teaspoons of salt daily. This goes even for people who have hypertension. According to Dr James DiNicolantonio, 55% of people with high blood pressure are immune to salt’s effects on blood pressure. Despite this alarming fact, please check with your doctor before altering your salt intake.
Now, what kind of salt to eat you ask? The best choice seems to be a salt that is minimally processed with no additives.
DiNicolantonio, Dr James, (2017). The Salt Fix, Why the Experts got it all wrong – and how eating more might save your life. Harmony Books