Salt – Is It really That Bad?
Author: Riley Pearce
Social Media Director
Personal Trainer – Byward Market
We have covered a few nutritional showdowns here on the Free Form Fitness Blog. Good carbs vs. bad carbs, healthy vs. unhealthy fats, and good vs. bad cholesterol. There is one more big debate that people are having and that is whether or not salt is really all that bad?
Some diets say we need more than the recommended amount of salt, and some people are still saying that limiting salt is one of the best ways to keep ourselves in good health and avoid heart disease and obesity.
As we do here on the FFF blog, we are going to dive into the research and hopefully help you decide if salt is the seasoning of the century or something to steer clear of.
The Salty Link Between Salt and Poor Health
A number of research studies, articles, and individuals have found a link between a high salt diet and things like high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and increase the risk of stroke. A high salt diet can also lead to the swelling of hands, ankles, and feet due to salt’s influence on the fluid balance in the body (known as edema).
Because salt controls the fluid balance in the body, having too much salt in your diet can also stress the kidneys and put you at risk of decreased kidney function.
High salt diets usually include highly processed foods. Due to all the extra “junk” in processed foods the risk of developing stomach and colon cancer increases. The more you eat of these foods, the more your taste buds become accustomed to having them and therefore you crave more. These cravings can be tricky to kick, so by eating too much salty food, you put yourself at risk of only wanting these types of foods, which would just further exacerbate the above-mentioned health conditions.
Salt can be a silent killer but it is also essential to our diet to help control fluid levels in the body, and deliver important electrolytes that are critical to recovery, and muscle and nerve function.
The Modern Salt Intake
Although salt is important for fluid balance and cell function, we are currently consuming too much of it. Our taste-buds have been trained to crave highly sweet, highly fatty, and highly salty foods. This is why chips are what we crave, instead of a lightly salted piece of meat or a soup. This is why candy is far more enticing than fruits and vegetables. And this is why donuts and cakes, that are high in trans fats, are far more appealing than the healthy fats found in nuts, avocados, and eggs.
The recommendation for salt intake is to consume less than 5g/day. Some of you may have heard a different number, potentially somewhere closer to 2g/day? This is because we should only be consuming 2g/day of sodium, a component of salt, in order to meet all bodily requirements, as stated by The World Health Organization (WHO).
So Why Do We Need Salt?
If salt can cause so many health problems, why should we even bother with it?
Salt is actually a very broad term to describe a chemical compound. Salt’s, according to chemists, are product of a neutralization reaction between an acid an a base. It takes a negative ion and a positive ion and puts them together to create a neutral compound. All this to say that we have a lot of salts out there.
The most common one, the one found on our table and therefore named as such, is a combination of Sodium and Chloride. Sodium is actually a very important element in the body. Sodium acts at the bouncer for the cells, controlling how much fluid goes into and out of the cell. Fluid balance is very important in the body. We are, after all, around 70% water.
I’m sure we’ve all felt the horrible symptoms of dehydration. Light-headed-ness, mental fog, tiredness, and irritability are just a few ways dehydration manifests itself. This is because there isn’t enough fluid in the body, right down to the cellular level, meaning that normal bodily functions cannot occur optimally.
When our body sends a signal to an organ like the muscles in a workout, a series of reactions occur. One of which is the opening and closing of sodium and potassium gates. If there isn’t enough sodium in the body, the flood gates can’t open and flood the cells/extracellular space with sodium. So we get weaker muscle contractions. All signals from the brain to the body are weakened.
So salt is important for many reasons, but mostly because of the specific electrolytes that make up salt and the actions they have on the body.
What about himalayan pink salt, or sea salt?
Table salt is simply sodium and chloride with a little bit of junk like micro-plastics to act as fillers (see this video to see the difference between table ands sea salt). The “fancy” salts are better for us because not only do they provide us with the sodium we need without the fillers, but they also have other important electrolytes like magnesium and potassium. So you get more bang for your buck when you decide to salt your food with himalayan pink salt or sea salt.
They are also far less processed and therefore more natural. Our bodies evolved with nature and therefore we should be consuming foods that are as close to their natural state as possible so as not to cause adverse effects on the body.
To Salt or Not To Salt?
From what the research is suggesting, salt may not be the enemy we once thought it was. The enemy is the over-use of salt in the production and manufacturing of foods and the prevalence of those foods in our diet.
If you consume a diet that is primarily made up of whole, natural foods, then feel free to salt your food. The electrolytes that you receive are essential to proper function of the cells, and therefore the body.
If you do have high blood pressure, you will definitely want to speak with a doctor or dietician about your specific salt intake recommendations.