Biological life evolved from the sea. The consistency of our blood bears a remarkable similarity to salt water. In the words of Robb Wolf, we are salty folk. Salt is essential to life.
Conventional wisdom would have us restrict salt. But with the exception of rare cases, more harm is done by not getting enough salt than by getting too much.
I recently read The Salt Fix by Dr. James DiNicolantonio. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to understand in detail the errors of the salt-blood pressure hypothesis – the theory that high salt intake is the cause of high blood pressure.
In The Salt Fix, DiNicolantonio lays out the dangers of excessive salt restriction – higher heart rate, narrowing of arterial walls, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, increased risk of insulin resistance, depressed kidney function, higher triglycerides and lower HDL (the “good” cholesterol) – to name just a few. Eating too little salt can trigger a slow, steady downward health spiral. It’s important to make sure you are getting enough.
An appropriate amount of salt for most people is somewhere between 3,000 and 7,000mg of sodium, or 1.5 to 3.5 teaspoons of salt per day. Factors such as climate, diet, and exercise levels can increase the need for salt, sometime higher than the recommended range.
One of the common mistakes that low-carb dieters make is not increasing their salt intake, especially crucial during the first month of transitioning from a higher-carb diet.
Low-Carb dieters need more salt
Low-carb diets increase the rate at which the body purges salt. DiNicolantonio refers to this as “salt wasting.” Low-carb diets increase salt wasting.
The same holds true for intermittent fasting protocols. Fasting increases salt wasting. As does coffee.
If you are drinking coffee in the morning as part of a fasting protocol, you are in danger of not getting enough salt.
Hot climates, intense exercise, and hot yoga all increase the need for salt
We lose salt when we sweat. If you live in a hot climate – especially a hot, dry climate – you are probably sweating and losing more salt than you realize.
If you regularly engage in intense exercise, you are sweating and losing salt. Especially if you are exercising outdoors in a hot climate.
For seven years I worked full-time as a Bikram Yoga teacher. I taught ten 90-minute classes per week and practiced an average of four times per week. That’s an average of 1,260 minutes per week (14 x 90) sweating it out in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 70 percent humidity. I did a lot of sweating.
It was common knowledge within the community of Bikram teachers that electrolyte replacement was important. My strategy involved squeezing one lemon into a 40oz canteen of water with two teaspoons of sea salt for every class that I practiced or taught. In retrospect, after reading The Salt Fix, I realize that my daily salt intake was still probably less than optimal.
How to make sure you’re getting enough salt
Dr. DiNicolantonio recommends roughly 1 teaspoon of salt an hour before intense, sweaty exercise and 1 teaspoon for every hour of exercise. That is in addition to one’s normal daily salt requirements.
Salting food to taste is a good starting point. You shouldn’t be afraid to cook liberally with salt and to add more salt at the table. It also helps to eat foods that are naturally high in salt.
Foods that naturally contain good amounts of salt are shellfish/seafood, olives, pickled and fermented foods, beef and lamb kidney, most cuts of beef, lamb, game meat, and poultry.
In addition to ingesting salt with food, there are ways to supplement. I start my day with a 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt mixed with a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar in a cup of water. Drinking pickle juice or olive juice is also a good way to get extra salt into your body.
I supplement my salt intake once or twice a day with a teaspoon of sea salt mixed with half a lemon in a tall glass of water. On days that I teach or practice hot yoga, I take an extra two to three teaspoons of salt.
You can also add an electrolyte formula. Just be careful to look out for unwanted ingredients, like sugar. Robb Wolf has developed an excellent electrolyte formula called LMNT (Element), which contains 1,000mg of sodium, 200mg of potassium, and 60mg of magnesium. It’s not cheap, but if you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough salt or the right combination of electrolytes, it might be worth the investment.
Sea salt vs iodized salt
I prefer to stay away from iodized table salt because of the chemical processes involved in its production. I use the highest quality sea salt I can find instead. But most sea salt contains very little to no iodine.
You can make sure you are getting enough iodine by including food sources in your diet. Food sources of iodine include dairy, eggs, shellfish/seafood, some forms of seaweed, cranberries, and baked potatoes.
Another solution is to use Redmond Real Salt, which contains a good amount of iodine. Unfortunately for me, Redmond Real Salt is not easy to come by in Singapore, where I currently live.
I personally like the flavor of Celtic Sea Salt and alternate between it and Himalayan Pink Salt. I will likely add Redmond Real Salt to the rotation when I move back to the United States.
There are many ways to make sure you are getting adequate salt (and iodine) in your diet. I certainly feel a difference when I do.