For years, doctors and government regulators alike have been telling us to reduce our salt intake for health reasons. They say too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and even death.
Is salt really the enemy, or is it the amount and type of salt that we eat which matters more? While there is still a debate on this topic, research shows the white stuff we use to flavour our food isn’t quite the evil it’s made out to be – as always, the devil is in the detail.
Salt and Our Bodies
Salt has been hailed as one of the great villains for a few decades. Traditionally, we sprinkle salt over a meal before even tasting it. The New Zealand Heart Foundation recommends a number of ways to reduce salt intake to maintain a healthy diet.
Yet, as always there are studies that say otherwise. Brian Strom, MD, chair of the Institute of Medicine ’s report committee says “There’s no data showing that curtailing sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams provides better health outcomes” . The report (commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) looked at 34 studies and four clinical trials that tracked the health of people consuming different amounts of salt over 18 years. Their conclusion was there was not sufficient convincing evidence that people, even those in high-risk groups who consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, have fewer heart attacks or strokes than those who consume higher amounts of salt.
Low-Salt Diets May Even Be Harmful
Sodium is an essential nutrient serving a multitude of functions in the body, including helping control heart rate and aiding the transmission of signals in the brain. Too little salt may pose surprising health risks. One 2011 study, which tracked 28,880 people with heart disease or diabetes, found that those who consumed less than 2,000 milligrams of sodium a day were 37% more likely to die of heart disease than those who consumed 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams. As sodium intake drops, blood levels of cholesterol and fat can increase, escalating cardiovascular issues.
For years studies have repeatedly shown that a low-sodium diet can reduce blood pressure. But the report from the Institute of Medicine found that this one benefit doesn’t offset the overall consequences on the body, including increased cholesterol and insulin resistance, which are thought to be the possible result of cutting almost all the salt from our diet.
Low salt diets can be especially harmful for the elderly. In older people, mild hyponatremia (low sodium concentration) is the most common form of electrolyte imbalance in the blood. Indeed, several recent medical papers found a direct relationship between hyponatremia and unsteadiness, falls, bone fractures and attention deficits. Elderly people on low salt diets often experience lack of thirst which leads to dehydration and they experience loss of appetite that leads to a host of health problems.
How much Salt Should we Eat?
The fact remains that salts are present in most foods today – especially processed foods. Most of us are consuming well above 2,300 milligrams of sodium, and the consequences can be serious.
As an example, studies published in the British Medical Journal showed that prehypertensive people who consumed 3,600 milligrams or more per day for up to 18 months were twice as likely to have heart attacks, strokes, or heart surgeries 15 years later, than people who reduced their consumption to 2,300 milligrams. Another 2014 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, tested sodium consumption in more than 100,000 people in 17 countries. The study found that the healthy range for sodium consumption was between 3,000 and 6,000 mg per day. Consuming more than 7,000 mg per day of sodium increases the risk of death or cardiovascular incidents, but not as much as eating less than 3,000 mg per day. The low salt diet was significantly more harmful than the high salt diet.
Dr. Michael Alderman and Dr. Hillel Cohen of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine reviewed 23 observational studies covering some 360,000 individuals and published their comprehensive results in the July 2012 edition of the American Journal of Hypertension. They found that both the very low and very high levels of salt consumption negatively affected health, but in between those extremes, a very broad safe range of salt consumption resulted in optimum health.
The August 14, 2014 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine summarised research on the impact of sodium (salt) consumption from 3 different studies .
More than 73 % of the countries in the world consume between 2,800-5,500 mg sodium per day (7,112-13,970 mg salt or 1¼ – 2 ½ teaspoons), where the negative health impacts are the least.
Iodised salt , called ‘fake salt’ by some, can lack many of the original minerals a natural salt offers and has been supplemented with chemicals. This type of salt can cause excess fluid in your body tissues and lead to various health issues.
Why Do We Crave Salt?
A salt craving (which decreases when consuming unrefined salts) often camouflages a need for other minerals than sodium chloride, the main mineral in salt. Other minerals and trace represent a minute percentage in the composition of salt. Therefore we need to get these other minerals from a different source in our diet. That is why a plant rich diet is so important, as they provide the main source of minerals for our body.
Sea vegetables (seaweeds) provide a very concentrated source of minerals, up to 20 times the amount found in land vegetables for the same weight. So a little seaweed everyday goes a long way…
Unrefined salts contain a broad spectrum of trace elements, but in minute quantities. These include magnesium and potassium, necessary for health and which help the body metabolize the sodium better. The more sodium you eat, the more potassium and magnesium you need to maintain balance, which can’t be maintained exclusively by what’s in the salt.
Few of us get enough of these important trace elements in our diets, yet we consume high amounts of sodium through salt intake. Dutch researchers have determined that a low potassium intake has the same impact on your blood pressure as high salt consumption does. Surveys show that the average consumption of potassium & magnesium is generally inadequate in most people’s diet. Striving for a diet rich in magnesium & potassium will help balance salt intake.
Why Use Kelp Salt?
It is well documented that the Japanese and the Swiss enjoy some of the longest life expectancy rates of anyone in the world. It is less known however, that they also have among the highest rates of salt consumption. Ultimately, we’d argue for the middle ground – a balanced view where we reduce risks yet still reap the health benefits that salt has to offer.
Natural sea salt has been found to be too weak in iodine to provide any substantial supplementation to our diet; but iodine is naturally plentiful in sea vegetables/seaweeds. Pacific Harvest produces ‘Kelp Salt’, which combines the many health benefits of natural sea salt with those of kelp seaweed. Kelp Salt is a natural sea salt using iodine naturally occurring in kelp, to produce a ‘naturally iodised natural sea salt’. Its strong mineral taste is satisfying, therefore requiring a smaller amount to get the salty taste. Seaweed Salt is another option for increasing mineral content (from the seaweeds) whilst still enjoying the naturally salty flavour.
Disclaimer: This material is provided for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This information is generic and should be verified by a qualified health practitioner for specific & individual needs & requirements.