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Too Much Salt In Your Diet?

Want to find out if you're eating too much salt?

If you're consuming any processed salt, whether it's sea salt, rock salt, or something fancy with a name like raw Himalayan salt, you're eating too much, and science is pretty clear that the habit will harm you.

Our culture shovels down salt in such huge quantities that we hardly stop to question the habit, but think about it in terms of sea water. Everyone knows that if you're stranded on a desert island, you can be surrounded by an ocean of water that's useless because you'll die if you try to drink it.

What do you die of when you drink it? Dehydration. Ponder this for a moment. Salt has such a dehydrating effect that you can drink a gallon of water laced with it and still die of dehydration.

Our ancestors lived for millions of years without any processed salt in their diet, and today our bodies clearly reject salt if we pay attention. Put salt in an open wound and it will burn painfully. Drink salt water and you'll throw it up. Put salt on a slug, which lacks protective skin, and its body will "melt" from dehydration because it uses the water in its body in an attempt to dilute the burning substance.

Salt is such an effective killer that it was once used as a form of suicide by the Chinese (1).

We Can Eat Too Much Salt, But We Need Saline

Salt Shaker

The body needs saline to function, but we must make a distinction between extracted sodium chloride salt, which is an irritant, toxic, and deadly if consumed in high enough doses, and the sodium and other salts that occur naturally in whole plant foods.

The later is a nutrient important to every cell in the body, and eating celery, lettuce, and other vegetables gives us the organic salts and other minerals out bodies need in just the right amounts and combinations.

Cells rely on a regulated ratio of extracellular sodium and intracellular potassium, and when this is thrown out of whack, such as by unusually high salt intake levels, it seriously compromises bodily functions.

Luckily, the body is extremely efficient with its sodium use, and there's little danger of running out. Your kidneys are responsible for balancing the amount of sodium stored in your body for optimal health. When your sodium levels are low your kidneys hold on to the sodium. When sodium levels are high, your kidneys excrete the excess in urine.

There are plenty of expensive salts out there. Some is mined from the dead sea or the Himalayas. Raw food gurus hawk the stuff to make a quick buck and try to convince you it's better than run of the mill salt, but the nutritional claims they make about it are false.

They'll tell you that you need extracted minerals to meet the deficiencies of modern life.
We need many minerals, but we need them in the quantities and the form in which they occur naturally in whole food so they are a benefit and not a burden to our system. This is similar to how we need vitamins, but they're harmful to us when extracted in pill form.

Too Much Salt Will Damage Your Health

Himilayan SaltThere are so many reasons not to eat extracted salt that its overwhelming. For one, you only need to eat about 1 g per kg of body weight to kill yourself with it (1).

For a 220 pound man (100 kg) that would be 100 grams, which is just shy of four ounces. We average 9 grams a day in the U.S., so the average American eats 1/10th of a lethal dosage for a large man every day.

But even at non-lethal doses, it's still not good for us.

Conservative health organizations like the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization tell us we're harming ourselves by eating so much.

2,300 mg was long the standard sodium intake recommendation, the Centers For Disease Control now considers 1,500 mg or less to be perfectly adequate, and suggests that those with high blood pressure (a large part of the population) and those over the age of 40 not exceed this level (5).

Why are they making such fuss about this?

If you live in the United States you have a 90 percent lifetime probability of having high blood pressure, which is a known risk factor for a number of problems. Hypertension causes two-thirds of all strokes (6)

When you regularly add salt to your diet, excess fluid starts to accumulate in the circulatory system because the kidneys cannot excrete all the salt, putting pressure on the walls of blood vessels, raising blood pressure, and overworking the heart. Forcing the heart muscle to pump against this unnaturally raised pressure for many years will cause the heart muscle to enlarge, which often leads to heart failure.  That same elevated blood pressure is also the leading cause of stroke (7).

Studies have shown that simply reducing salt intake by 50 percent lowers your risk of stroke by 23 percent and heart disease by 17 percent (8), but there's no reason to believe that any salt intake beyond that naturally found in plant foods is adequate.

We also know salt intake contributes to stomach cancer (3), reduces bone density, and contributes to osteoporosis (4).

In most people the consumption of salt leads to water retention because the body needs the water to render the salt inert until it can be expelled. It's not unusual for a person to be carrying around five pounds or more of extra water weight. You can learn more about water retention here.

Too Much Salt: So What's The Difference?

Much is made of the superiority of sea salt, Celtic salt, and other varieties, but what's actually the difference between them and table salt? Not much from a chemical stand point.

Sea salt results when you evaporate sea water. It's usually not processed to any great degree, and its trace mineral content depends on what was in the water. The trace mineral content is insignificant nutritionally, but does add flavor, color, and texture.

Table salt is mined from deposits of salt locked underground. It's more heavily processed to eliminate the trace mineral content, but iodine and an anti-clumping agent is usually added.

Sodium and chloride are the main components of both, and any trace minerals that may be present do not add significantly to the nutritional value (9).

Too Much Salt: Get Free

Most people eat way too much salt in the wrong form, and there are many benefits of giving it up, with no downsides .

Besides the fact that you're likely to live longer, your food will taste better. People often pour on salt because they think food is tasteless, but that's only because their taste buds have adjusted to the huge amounts of salt and spices they eat.

Salt SKip

Cut out salt, and inside two months you'll be noticing delicious new complexities in your food.

I can't tell you how much I love the flavors in my favorite hand-made salad dressings.

When your taste buds adjust, you can notice the natural saline in things like tomatoes and celery, and the experience is like an explosion of flavor.

Cutting out salt will usually lead to the quick loss of water weight, which your body stores to keep the salt inert until it can be expelled.

Read more about water weight loss here.

Too Much Salt - Following Up:

A healthy raw food diet is free of too much salt, but naturally delicious, filling, and health promoting.

Find great new recipes to eat on a raw food diet here.

Too Much Salt Sources:

(1) Elisabeth Elena Türk, Friedrich Schulz, Erwin Koops, Axel Gehl and Michael Tsokos. Fatal hypernatremia after using salt as an emetic—report of three autopsy cases. Legal Medicine 2005, 7, 47-50.
(2) Obarzanek, E., F.M. Sacks, T.J. Moore, et al. 2000. Dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) - sodium Trial. Papeper presented at Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hypertension, May 17, New York, NY.
(3) Joossens, J.V., M.J. Hill, P. Elliot, et al. 1996. Dietary salt, nitrate and stomach cancer mortality in 24 countries: European Cancer Prevention (ECP) and the INTERSALT Cooperative Research Group. int. J. Epidemiol. 3:494-504
(4) Itoh, R. and Y Suyama. 1996. Sodium excretion in relation t calcium and hydroxyproline excretion in a healthy Japanese population. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 63(5): 753-40.

(5) Most Americans Should Consume Less Sodium (1,500 mg/Day or Less). Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Aug. 2010. Http://www.cdc.gov/features/sodium
(6) Luke, R.G., President's address: salt-too much of a good thing? Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc, 2007. 118: p. 1-22.
(7) Internet Stroke Center: Intracerebral Hemorrhage.
(8) Strazzullo, P., et al., Salt intake, stroke, and cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of prospective studies. Bmj, 2009. 339: p. b4567.
(9) Zeratsky, Katherine, R.D., L.D. "Is sea salt better for your health than table salt?" The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sea-salt/AN01142


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