I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this situation happen:
I meet with a new diet client to start their diet plan. A few weeks in, they report back that they are holding water or feel lethargic. They inform me that they are drinking plenty of water. Yet when I ask how much sodium they are consuming, they reply with “None. I don’t use any sodium on my food and I avoid it, because salt is bad.”
I am more surprised at them for not using salt than they are at me for implying that they should be, and we both stare at each other with confusion. I forget that the greatest consensus in our “health resources” is that sodium is bad, all sodium is bad, and that it should be avoided like an ex boyfriend/girlfriend.
So, I am taking it upon myself to help clear up the confusion, by clarifying a few points.
Why is sodium important?
Sodium is a mineral, and is critical for electrolyte balance in the cells of the human body. Without going into geek-mode, sodium is essential in cellular membrane physiology, and energy. Sodium ions move from inside the cell membrane via the sodium/potassium pump mechanism to outside of the cell, which in turn, pushes potassium from outside of the cell into the cell. This creates a force that brings other vital nutrients into the cell for use. Sodium also is a regulator for hydration and fluid balance both inside and outside of the cells. (Hear that? BALANCE!) It is highly important for muscle cell contraction, nerve cell conductivity, and balancing hormones.
Oh, you thought sodium was bad?
Well, you’re partially right. Excessive sodium isn’t great. But neither is extremely low sodium. A healthy range is 1000-2300mg/day, dependent on the individual.
The human body will always try to reach homeostasis via feedback mechanisms, and it is smarter than you think. If blood sodium levels are too high (hypernatremia) or too low (hyponatremia), that is when we run into problems. High amounts can indirectly increase the risk of high blood pressure, while too little can result in dizziness, lethargy, confusion, and in extreme cases, coma or seizures. Again, this is due to your body’s ability to regulate balance. A healthy body will regulate normally, while the inability for it to do so can point to another serious health issue. Other transient causes can be too much or too little water consumption, sweating too much, or consuming too little or too much sodium or potassium….all of which will alter the balance in the body. I'm not telling you to eat mountains of salt, but adding some can be beneficial (unless you have high blood pressure or a specified health condition....then its best to ask your doctor first.) *Disclaimer: I am not a doctor.
What kind of salt should you use (and avoid)?
The White Devil
I will go ahead and call out this bad boy first:MSG. If you find out this is in your food, set it on fire.
MSG (Monosodium glutamate) used in fast food, canned and processed foods and meats. Avoid it at all costs.
The “Meh…” Choice
This is the better choice: Table Salt (Sodium Chloride) is very refined and processed, eliminating important nutrients, and usually with additives to keep it from caking. The good thing is that usually table salt usually provides added iodine, which is important in thyroid function. You don’t have to avoid this completely, but there is a better choice
The White Knight
This is the better choice: Sea salt. While sea salt and table salt provide equal amounts of sodium, sea salt is not refined like table salt, which means we get to keep all of those good trace minerals that our bodies need, along with the sodium content. This salt is a great choice to help with blood sugar & pressure regulation and vascular & digestive health, prevent cramping, and electrolyte & hormone balance. Be careful about what you are buying; Just because it says “sea salt” on the label, don’t assume that is it unrefined as some companies still remove the nutrients in this process. Also, avoid choices that have “sodium chloride” as the ingredients, as this is essentially table salt.
Types of Sea Salt
Here is where things get fun for those who have a sharp palate. I’ve mentioned the benefits of adding salt to your diet….but can we talk about how good salt tastes when it’s used correctly? Different salts bring out different flavors in foods, and if you are getting the good quality stuff, it is a game changer for recipes. Even different types of sea salt have different benefits as well.
Pink Himalayan Sea Salt: Blush in color, this salt promotes healthy pH balance. It goes great with citrus flavors, rosemary, garlic, oregano, and basil.
Celtic Sea Salt: This salt is grayish blue, and highlights as a balancer for blood sugars. This pairs well with garlic, cumin, and thyme.
Hawaiian Sea Salt: This one is hard to find, but is reddish in color rich with iron oxide. This is a nice touch with pepper, cinnamon, allspice, turmeric, and saffron.
Black Lava Sea Salt: This salt is high in antioxidants. Great with earthy flavors of pepper, garlic, and thyme on meats and sushi.
Applewood smoked: This is one of my favorites. When I can’t grill out, I pour this on everything. It goes especially well with sweet and savory flavors, like sweet potatoes and meats.
Chocolate Sea Salt: I cannot get enough of this stuff. I actually use it more on my sweet foods, like my sweet potatoes, bananas, or into my cocoa tea or my bulletproof coffee. It isn’t sweet, but the chocolatey flavor brings out subtle flavors of other foods.
There are numerous other luxury sea salts to choose from, so grab a few and experiment with your foods! It’s a great way to keep your food interesting, but more importantly, help your body function optimally.