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Salt Above Gold
Do your remember the story Dear as Salt? In my country, this tale is known as Salt Over Gold. It is a story about a king who decides to pass the kingdom on to one of his three daughters, and to determine which princess is the most capable of ruling the land, he asks them a question: How much do you love me, your father, the King? The first princess tells him that she loves him like all the diamonds and gems in the world, the second princess describes her love as being bigger than love for all the gold in the world, and the youngest princess tells her father this: I love you like salt. The King is furious, hearing from his most loved youngest daughter that she loves him like the simplest, most abundant spice in the world something everyone can have, even the poorest people. He gets so mad that he decides to banish the youngest princess from the kingdom and as he does that, an evil curse falls on the kingdom all the salt in the whole land turns into gold.
Suddenly, there is no salt in the kingdom and very soon, the king realizes how vital salt is for human life and no amount of gold, silver, or diamonds can measure against the importance of salt. This is a fairytale, so there is a happy ending to the story, but the real life story of salt in our world doesn’t have a romantic vibe, eye-opening punch line, or happily-ever-after ending. Salt has been demonized for decades, just like fat used to be. Low fat myths have been debunked a number of times, and even our governments have made some changes in daily recommendations of nutrient intake (switching the food pyramid for a plate of food is not nearly enough, but at least it is a good start), but we still believe too much salt will result in health problems. Lets take a closer look at salt.
We all have it in our kitchen, but many of us know only one thing about it for sure (though its a very important one) it makes our food taste good! The King in our fairytale found out very soon that without salt, food can taste very bland. There are even many reference to salt in longstanding literature like the Bible, such as Can something tasteless be eaten without salt, Or is there any taste in the white of an egg? My soul refuses to touch them; They are like loathsome food to me. Job 6:6-7 But of course, salt should not be praised only as a flavor enhancer! It plays a very important role in so many biological processes in our bodies and a lack of salt can seriously leave its mark on our health. Salt is so much more than just a Sodium Chloride molecule, and the quality of our salt matters just as much as the quality of our water, air, or food. Sodium is an essential mineral our body needs just to stay alive.
It is very important for cellular health, nutrient absorption, the health of our organs and glands, it plays a huge role in maintaining balance in blood pH, regulating the amount of water in the body, and keeping your nervous and cardiovascular systems functioning properly. It is primarily sodium that is demonized in salt, but salt is more than just sodium. Both sodium and chloride in salt are electrolytes they have an electric charge, and keeping this charge in balance is very important. Chloride is necessary for the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach and it also helps to maintain balance in bodily fluids. Our body needs to have certain things (like these essential minerals) perfectly balanced in order to function properly, not just hormones or macronutrients. This equilibrium is very important even when talking about the amount of water in our body and the minerals diluted in it.
WHY IS SALT DEMONIZED?
Sodium is known for retaining water in the body, making you feel bloated after eating a lot of it. Here is the thing about sodium: our body is able to get rid of excess sodium pretty easily, via sweat and urine. But in order to keep healthy levels of minerals in the body, it must be able to keep some water in before doing so. Studies from 2014 showed that graphs of sodium intake and mortality rates resulted in a U-shaped curve, proving that too much is just as dangerous as too little of sodium, just like glucose levels in the blood. Sodium is also labeled as a bad guy because it supposedly raises blood pressure. In 1972, there was a study performed on lab rats that were fed a certain amount of table salt that showed increased hypertension in these rats.
However, the amount of salt these mice were fed was so extreme, that an average human would have to consume 500 grams of sodium to experience the same damage as those little animals, which would convert to over 4 cups of table salt! That is an extreme amount of salt no one would be physically capable of eating! Another study that was not very accurate (but still influenced all the salt intake recommendations we have today) was the Intersalt Study from 1988. This study included people from over 30 different countries, but based on what we now know about metabolic individuality, the results are not very useful and show no general correlation between high blood pressure and sodium intake.
Also, there is an important thing to mention the lowest rates of blood pressure and the lowest risk of heart disease was found in those who primarily consumed unprocessed, real foods, which are naturally lower in sodium, higher in potassium, and rich in other minerals, vitamins, and other important nutrients. Conversely, people with higher rates of disease were people who tended to eat a lot of processed foods that are rich in sodium that doesn’t come from a natural source (thus without the essential minerals in balance), and are otherwise nutrient poor foods. Generally speaking, higher salt intake results in higher blood pressure because with more sodium in our bloodstream, our body tends to retain more water to dilute and balance the water to salt ratio in the blood.
People with low blood pressure are often recommended to increase their salt intake so their bodies can increase their blood volume by holding on to more water, which also increases blood flow, and as a result, blood pressure itself. With hypertension (high blood pressure), it is possible that too high an amount of salt in the bloodstream can cause our bodies to need to retain a lot of extra water, causing high blood pressure due to high blood volume (as opposed to other forms of hypertension caused by issues with the arteries etc). The thing is that many people use table salt, which contains many (toxic) chemical compounds from its manufacturing process that our bodies are not able to digest (see below). People with high blood pressure are often prescribed diuretics to get rid of that excess water, but it doesn’t mean their body will also be able to eliminate these toxic compounds.
Our body can easily eliminate excess sodium, but getting rid of other compounds found in table salt can be a challenge and might require more deliberate detoxification. To address both low and high blood pressure, instead of quitting salt altogether (or increasing the amount of table salt in your diet), switch to better salt. Keep reading to learn about your options. A study called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) from 1997 studies once again a correlation between high blood pressure and sodium intake, and participants in this study were all on a diet rich in fruit, and vegetables, and low in processed food, which once again only proves that real food is the way to go.
(If you like to geek out on scientific stuff, I recommend reading this extensive article by Gary Taubes from 1998). It is very important for our health to keep a balance between sodium and potassium in our body, and the DASH diet naturally had high levels of potassium from real foods like avocado, tomato, banana, and broccoli. After the agricultural revolution and the entrance of grains into our diet, our levels of sodium increased, while potassium decreased. This imbalance disturbs natural acid levels in the body, decreases bone density, and can even lead to kidney stones. Thanks to the DASH approach, the diet of the participants was also higher in magnesium, a mineral that is also very often missing in our modern diet (or inadequate due to over-farmed, depleted soils).
WHY SODIUM IS NOT THE ENEMY?
Calcium, along with all these other minerals, also has a significant effect on our blood pressure, so blaming standalone sodium is not only unfair, it is straight up illogical. Rather than limiting sodium intake from salt, we should focus on limiting our sodium intake from highly palatable, processed foods that were created to increase our appetite and keep us coming back for more, just like food manufacturers do with sugar and artificial sweeteners. If you already eat a clean diet based on real foods, you actually should keep an eye on your salt intake, but not in order to keep it low. Make sure you eat enough!
Even though this might sound like a contradiction to all the government recommendations, low sodium intake can take its toll on your health. Low levels of sodium in the body encouragethe release of two hormones renin and aldosterone. These two hormones actually raise blood pressure (2% increase in renin increases the risk of heart attack by 25%) and chronically high levels of renin cause inflammation. Increased aldosterone also increases LDL cholesterol, the type of cholesterol we are told is bad, even though we have learned that we need a certain amount of both LDL and HDL in the body. Low sodium levels also lead to raised insulin resistance, which is especially problematic for type 2 diabetics.
Another problem with low sodium is low libido and decreased sexual activity in men.A real food diet is naturally lower in sodium and higher in potassium (and other important minerals), and there is no need to further cut down your salt intake, in fact, it is strongly discouraged! It is very hard to overdo it with salt if you avoid processed food. Even if you switch to foods with a low-sodium label on the box, you will miss out on some very important micronutrients and trace minerals our bodies need, and there are usually other flavor enhancers and additives like MSG in those frankenfoods. The question with salt is not really how much, but rather where it comes from.
The source of your salt matters a great deal. The Wellness Mama says in her post about salt: A person cant be given an IV of plain water- it must contain a careful balance of minerals, including sodium! Salt, in its natural form is not only necessary for the body to function, but it is extremely important in the right concentration for optimal health. But there is a big difference between table salt and naturally occurring salt. When you take a saltwater fish and place it in a fish tank filled with a solution of tap water and table salt, the fish dies. You cant play tricks on Mother Nature like that. We can argue all we want, but we still cant deny the fact that just like fish, we are also nothing more than a species that thrives the best in their natural environment. Unfortunately, over the years we have disconnected from what is natural to us; but being able to wear a tie and use a cellphone doesn’t mean we turned into robots that can live on artificially made food! Nemo would die in your kitchen sink, no matter how hard he would try not to. The same is true for us.
Table salt (most likely the one you have at home already, and that you most definitely are served in restaurants) is chemically produced, processed with extreme heat, bleached, and stripped of all nutrients. It is 97% Sodium Chloride and it usually contains some anti-caking agents and harmful chemicals like aluminum or ammonia. Most studies that were done to prove the danger of sodium were performed using table salt, the type of salt that has no trace minerals and contains a considerable amount of harmful chemicals. Table salt is often fortified with iodine, but this also happens as a part of the chemical processing and has nothing to do with iodine rich salt found in nature. If you change nothing else today, consider at least switching from your table salt to another type of salt that contains a full spectrum of micronutrients in its natural state, including potassium, which is essential in keeping sodium levels in balance.
There is a lot of controversy around sea salt. Some celebrate it as the best source of minerals, some still consider it too processed to be natural. Sea salt comes from seawater (obviously), that is evaporated from certain areas of the ocean. It can also be harvested from areas that used to be covered in seawater years ago. It is not heated (except by the sun) and it contains all the minerals sea water does, potentially including heavy metals and other toxins unfortunately. This is where sea salt divides people into two camps. I personally agree with this take on sea salt, and I don’t use unrefined sea salt in my kitchen. If you still decide to use sea salt (which is perfectly fine!) be sure to get enough iodine from other sources because sea salt does not contain it. Add seafood and egg yolks to your diet, get some kelp flakes to sprinkle over your food, or you can even purchase a salt that has kelp flakes in it. Grey Celtic sea salt is a popular option too. A good quality iodine supplement is also a great option in this case.
If sea salt looks like the best option for a natural source of sodium, but the human race seems to have already polluted every ocean on the planet, is there any solution to our salty problem? Yes, there is! There are oceans that dried up a long time ago, before we even had a chance to contaminate them with toxins, and these oceans covered the areas we know as the Himalayan mountains. While the water has already evaporated from that area, there are still plenty of pink salty rocks there for us to mine, break into smaller pieces, and use in our salt shakers. Himalayan salt is slightly pink in color due to the iron it contains, along with 84 other trace minerals including magnesium, potassium, copper, and calcium. Himalayan pink salt is possibly the best source of trace minerals we can get into our diets.
It is unrefined and unprocessed, and if you consider the amount of salt you use on a daily basis, it is not significantly more expensive than table salt. It is my favorite option for adding flavor to my meals and I always buy it in bulk. You can get pink salt in the form of coarse pieces, fine grains or even larger rocks. I usually have all three at home for different uses, but you can choose whichever best suits your preferences. If you want to get extra fancy with your cooking, get a salt block like this one and check out these tips on how to use it. The use of pink salt doesn’t have to end in the kitchen; there are many uses for this pink gold that go beyond just sprinkling it over your dinner.
I always carry a tiny glass jar with pink salt everywhere I go (as well as the same amount of coconut oil; you never know when you’ll need it, and its so versatile!), I add it to my water along with lemon juice in the morning and I recently started using a salt lamp on a regular basis. Another thing that might be intriguing to you is brine therapy, an efficient detox method that uses salt to flush away toxins from your body. Michael Alderman, epidemiologist and former president of the American Society of Hypertension once said: The more salt you eat the less likely you are to die. You don’t need to empty a salt shaker in one sitting (no, you shouldn’t), but it is time to begin to narrate the Salt Tale properly, just like we successfully did with the old fat horror stories and sweet sugar lies. To read more about salt, check out this series by Chris Kresser called Shaking Up The Salt Myth, then grab your salt shaker and don’t be afraid to use it!