Myth Busted: Salt is Actually GoodIs Salt Really at Fault?Salt has been used since ancient times as aseasoning, preservative, disinfectant, andeven a unit of exchange. It has been valuedhighly throughout history.But lately, salt is being seen more and more as a villain.The media is replete with stories about the negative impact of salton health, especially cardiovascular health. With the advent of theinternet, there is no dearth of information on why salt is bad foryou. But is it really? I’m writing this piece today to dispel all themyths surrounding this incredible taste-maker.Taste aside, the fact of the matter is, salt is necessary for life.Why you Shouldn’t Halt SaltSalt is essential not only for life, but for good health. It has alwaysbeen this way. The body’s salt/water ratio is critical to metabolism.Human blood contains 0.9% sodium chloride (salt).Sodium enables muscle contraction and expansion, nervestimulation, adrenal function, energy production, and many otherbiological processes.Sodium chloride also provides chloride, which helps produce acidsfor digestion.Salt maintains the electrolyte balance inside and outside the body’scells.
Salt is important for hydration in our bodies. After exercise, it iscritical to replace both water and salt lost through perspirationduring exercise.When diarrhea dehydrates the body, we use oral rehydrationtherapy (ORT) to restore fluids; ORT, termed by the British MedicalJournal as the most important medical advance of (the 20th)century, is nothing but salt, sugar and water.Expectant mothers and older persons, in particular, need to guardagainst under-consumption of saltIn Eastern Europe, asthma sufferers are often advised to live in saltmines. The mine’s unique micro-climate is inhospitable to airbornecontaminants. No wonder salt has been termed “the firstantibiotic.”But despite these benefits, salt’s alleged bad influence on bloodpressure has made headlines in the recent past and is undoingcenturies of positivity. I use the word alleged because the truth is,salt’s involvement in cardiovascular health is exaggerated.The Truth about Salt and Blood Pressure.Excessive salt is bad for blood pressure. Please pay close attentionhere. The operative word is ‘excessive’, not ‘salt’. Barring a fewexceptions, unless your sodium intake is more than 6 gms. per day,salt is good for you. Researchers in Europe are now saying that itrequires intakes of over 16 gms. per day to have any significantadverse effect on blood pressure. That’s a lot of salt. On the otherhand, sodium intakes of less than 3 grams per day are linked tocardiovascular disease.
The truth is, high blood pressure may have many determinantsbesides high sodium intake. In my opinion, attributing the risk ofcardiovascular disease to salt alone is a big mistake.Take for example, high-sodium diets like fast foods and processedjunk foods. The reason they have a high cardiovascular risk becausethey are low in other protective factors like antioxidants, vitamins,carotenoids, essential minerals, and fibers. But only salt is blamed.Another important dietary factor ispotassium intake. Many heart-healthyfoods, especially fruits and vegetables,are rich in potassium. A diet rich inpotassium can reduce the risk ofcardiovascular disease, even if it hasmoderate to high sodium levels.As more studies are being done on salt’s involvement in bloodpressure, it’s becoming obvious that addressing these deficiencieswould be more effective in lowering blood pressure than focusingon sodium alone.Moreover, some sodium diets contain various vitamins, minerals,essential oils, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents thatactually protect the heart. For example, Japan’s traditional highsodium diet is associated with the lowest risk of cardiovasculardisease, since it is rich in fish and vegetables.If salt is really at fault, how does one explain the fact that countrieslike Japan and Finland which have some of the highest sodiumintake, also exhibit some of the highest life expectancy?The Salt Police
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) believes that saltis the single most harmful substance in the food supply. Thesescientists claim that cutting sodium consumption by half could saveroughly 150,000 lives per year and reduce health care costs byroughly $1.5 trillion over 20 years.While acknowledging the good intentions of these scientists, Ifirmly believe they are on the wrong track and are misleading thepublic. While it is true that the modern diet (thanks to it reliance onprocessed foods) contains entirely too much salt, and that peoplewould benefit greatly by improving their diet, salt is not even closeto the most harmful substance in our food. That honour restssquarely on the shoulders of sugar and refined carbohydrates.Sugar and carbohydrate levels have increased in the diet in parallelwith the epidemic of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.Bad fats also trump salt when it comes to negative impact on hearthealth. And there’s also hidden inflammation that can cause severehavoc to the heart and arteries.Rubbing Salt into the WoundTo make matters worse, by eliminating salt you are opening thedoors of your body to a real danger. You see, we humans put agreat value to the sense of taste. Now, the four major tastes aresalty, sweet, bitter and sour. The latter two are not really desirable.And by eliminating salt, we are left with sweet. So here’s what’shappening. In our effort to cut out the salt, we willingly orunwillingly take in more sweet. Or sugar.And here is the real kicker. Our body has a way of getting rid of theextra salt (taste your skin if you don’t believe me) but extra sugarjust gets converted to fat. Which poses the biggest risk forcardiovascular health.
So, by placing so much emphasis on reducing salt, it detracts fromfar more dangerous substances in food, which is very unfortunate.In my opinion, the CSPI would do the public a great favour if theyfocus more on the dangers of sugars, bad fats and refinedcarbohydrates.Choose your Salt WiselyThere are many types of salt. Unfortunately, the table salt weregularly consume is the least healthy. There is an ocean ofdifference between table salt and sea salt. Sea salt contains manyminerals like magnesium, which enables nerve transmission andmuscle contraction, induces relaxation, relieves constipation,promotes bone formation, and reduces blood pressure and heartdisease. Not only does table salt not have these minerals, but itcontains various unhealthy additives – aluminum, dextrose, andeven bleaching agents.Sea salt is alkalizing to the body, whereas table salt is acid forming.The modern diet is already overly acidic, and sea salt helps torestore balance due to its mineral content. Sea salt also tastessaltier than table salt, so less is needed.While reducing high sodium intake makes some sense, furtherreduction from moderate to lower levels is not warranted for mostpeople. Indeed, restricting sodium may actually have an adverseeffect. Moderation is key, not a complete salt reduction. I highlyrecommend replacing your nice looking, table salt with unrefinedsea salt. But a word of caution. Most products branded as sea saltare actually refined and inferior. A simple rule of thumb torecognize unrefined sea salt is “If it’s white, it’s not right”.Unrefined sea salt is typically grayish, or it can have a red or blackhue. Choose wisely. Eat healthy. And don’t be afraid to say ‘passthe salt please’.