There is a tendency to vilify certain foods by the health conscious crowd – potatoes are an example. Whole potatoes are high-fiber, nutrient rich foods and the health problems resulting from potato consumption are not from consuming whole potatoes, but rather from consuming high-fat, high-calorie versions of potatoes, such as chips, fries and other processed foods.
The same issue pertains to salt. Many health care professionals are promoting almost sodium-free diets, ignoring factors such as the type of salt consumed, the ratio of sodium to other nutrients in the diet, and the important role of sodium in health maintenance.
Salt is essential to bone health
About 25% of the salt content of the body is stored in the bones and helps to make bones hard. The body will draw on its salt stores, including salt stored in the bones, in order to compensate for low sodium levels in the blood stream, and to neutralize acidity resulting from poor diet. Calcium is not the only mineral released from the bones in order to deal with acidity – in fact the body will deplete its salt stores first, before accessing stored calcium.
The Salt equilibrium
Salt also assists in maintaining osmotic equilibrium between both sides of the cell membrane, and assists in moving substances across the cell membrane. When this process is operating properly, nutrients easily cross the membrane into the cells, and waste products easily exit the cells. Physiological, emotional and mental well-being are dependent upon correct electrolyte and fluid balance, and this includes sodium.
Salt & Water Utilization
The utilization of water is contingent upon salt, since salt helps escort water across the cell membrane. Salt deficiency resulting in dehydration can lead to higher blood pressure as the body tried to compensate. Taking diuretics can further aggravate the problem since diuretics tend to deplete potassium levels, placing people at even greater risk of developing heart disease.
Unrefined sea salt is a source of naturally-occurring iodine, needed for thyroid function. Salt also plays an important role in digestion, since water and salt are components of the bicarbonates needed to neutralize the highly acid contents of the stomach prior to entry into the intestines.
Here are some guidelines for salt consumption
- Use unrefined sea salt, which is nutrient-dense and does not contain toxic ingredients, like aluminum, found in refined and processed salt. Refined salt does not perform the same functions as unprocessed sea salt, and does not facilitate movement of nutrients into the cells, and removal of wastes from the cells
- Consume the plant-based diet recommended by The Wellness Forum, since the ratio of salt to other nutrients such as magnesium and potassium is very important. Additionally, the structure of the diet will reduce the amount of salt consumed since animal foods and processed foods, both concentrated sources of salt, are reduced sharply
- Add sea salt to cooked foods, rather than cooking with it since cooking destroys many of the nutrients in the salt, and less salt is required in order for the food to taste salty
- There are some people who are salt-sensitive and will need to restrict salt intake sharply in order to control blood pressure. If you are one of those people, consuming mostly whole plant foods and refraining from adding salt will help to keep blood pressure at a healthy level.
Processed Salt & Conclusion
With many foods and nutrients, including salt, it is not the consumption of them that is problematic, but rather the consumption of refined and processed versions of the foods, combined with overall poor dietary habits, that creates ill health effects.