I have featured this series over the last ten years on a regular basis for new readers who might have joined the blog. Our bodies are are greatest asset. It has a long road ahead of if from birth, through the teen years, work life, parenthood, middle age and then into our 70s and beyond.
At every stage of our life healthy nutrition is essential to help the body develop and remain as disease free as possible. I appreciate that many of you may have read this series before, but I hope it will be a reminder of how amazing our bodies are, and simply eating the right foods, exercising moderately and not doing anything too reckless…will go a long way to enjoying later life to the full.
In this series I have been looking at the circulatory system and in the last post I shared the foods that can help keep your circulatory system healthy through your lifetime.
I advocate a food rich in nutrients found in fresh produce and avoiding the ultra processed foods that fill our shelves today. That doesn’t mean cutting them out completely as many are very tasty. However, they do come with a price and that is in the amount of additives they contain.
High blood pressure is common, it used to be the privilege of middle age and beyond and pills have been dispensed by doctors to combat the problem with instructions to cut out salt from the diet. This health problem is now impacting the younger generation and one of the reasons for this is the access to industrially manufactured and fast foods today.
High blood pressure and salt in our diet
Sodium is an essential macro-mineral that, along with potassium, helps to regulate the body’s fluid balance. It is an electrolyte (cation), which is an atom that holds a positive electrical charge, that performs essential tasks within each cell.
Unlike other minerals, sodium, or sodium chloride (table salt), has a very recognisable and almost addictive taste. It is very widely used in all industrially manufactured foods and it is very easy to consume unhealthy amounts without even knowing it.
One of the main medical conditions associated with excessive sodium intake is very high blood pressure, and heart disease, so keeping a check on our intake is vitally important.
Sodium deficiency is extremely rare today, and in fact it is estimated that we are consuming at least 5 times the amount of sodium that we should be.
What are the current recommendations for sodium?
The current recommendation is under 2,400 mg of sodium per day, which is approximately one level teaspoon or 6 grams of table salt.
However as you will read later in the post… that recommendation for table salt needs some revision as it is not the salt you add to your fresh ingredients that is the problem, unless it is excessive, but the hidden salt in the foods we buy ready prepared off the shelves of the supermarket.
If I give you some comparisons for processed foods versus fresh foods you will see how quickly you can take in far more sodium than your body needs.
- Half a can of baked beans contains 504 mg of sodium – fresh contains 5 mg of sodium
- Half a can of mushrooms contains 400 mg of sodium – fresh contains 1 mg of sodium
- Half a can of tomatoes with spices is 600 mg of sodium – home-made contains 4 mg of sodium.
- 3 oz of salty bacon contains 1,197 mg of sodium – fresh pork chop 54 mg of sodium
- A chicken frozen dinner contains 2,500 mg of sodium – freshly prepared 50 mg of sodium.
- Packet of dry minestrone soup contains 6,400 mg – freshly prepared 100 mg.
- Some other foods that we might eat on a regular basis have equally horrifying amounts of sodium including:
- Baked ham 3 oz = 840 mg
- French salad dressing 2 tablespoons = 438 mg
- Half jar of pasta sauce =1080 mg
- Half can of chicken noodle soup = 1160 mg.
We now have labels on food and for the most part, although they seem to be written in stupidly small print (mainly because there are so many ingredients they have not got room on the jar) we can find out how much of a certain additive there is in any processed foods that we buy.
N.B – Sodium in unexpectedly high levels can be found in products we take for granted are beneficial… such as effervescent painkillers. Marketed as fast acting pain relief the maximum recommended dose of 8 tablets also contain 1400mg – 1900mg of sodium to make them fizzy. This is equivalent to 3.5 grams to 4.8 grams of salt. Not only are they not recommended for patients on low sodium diets due to high blood pressure, research has identified that inflammatory auto immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis are likely to be activated by high sodium levels.
Another surprising product that one would assume is healthy… unbreaded frozen prawns of all descriptions have 1600mg or equivalent to 4 grams of salt in a 6oz portion. This is because they use sodium tripolyphosphate as a preservative to prevent them losing water and going soggy when defrosted. Fresh prawns only have 202mg of sodium.
There are “sodium reduced” products on the market but be careful about the substitutes that have been use to produce this supposedly “safe” product. One of the most popular taste additives is MSG (monosodium glutamate) and that can sometimes be slipped in without you recognising it.
We rarely use ultra processed foods and have always used sea salt for cooking and for adding to food or Himalayan rock salt. I do keep an eye on that level and have a measured teaspoon of salt in an egg cup to add to my cooked meal. Usually there is some left at the end of the day.
Now for the reasons to include natural salt in your diet!
One of the first things a doctor will generally do, despite the fact that many of us have white coat syndrome which raises our blood pressure, is to measure it. As with the prescription of statins and the treatment of cholesterol ongoing research is identifying that the consumption of natural salt is not the culprit but the amount of sodium we are consuming daily from industrially produced foods.
And as always, I do not advise you to stop taking prescribed medication for high blood pressure without consulting your doctor.
There are a number of lifestyle causes for high blood pressure including being obese and lack of exercise. It is actually quite easy to blame the amount of salt in your diet and in the early days of my nutritional therapy work, I would see clients who had been following their doctor’s advice about reducing salt in their diets, but still had high blood pressure. It was only when they lost the additional weight, upped their exercise to a 30 minute walk each day and included specific potassium and nitrate rich foods in their diet that the blood pressure dropped to healthy levels.
I have been a nutritional therapist for 25 years, and one of the essential elements of my work has been to remain informed of new research as it becomes available. This has sometimes turned previously held beliefs on their head, and a number of experts and research studies do make us reassess our position on salt in the diet.
As humans we evolved using natural salt in our diets and it is only since the introduction of pre-packaged foods in the last 100 years that we have been ingesting various forms of sodium which had led to a far higher amount of it in our diets than our bodies require.
Top scientist says all you’ve been told about salt is WRONG: It won’t give you a heart attack – while having too little will make you fat and ruin your sex life
For more than 40 years, we’ve been told eating too much salt is killing us. Doctors say it’s as bad for our health as smoking or not exercising, and government guidelines limit us to just under a teaspoon a day.
We’re told not to cook with it and not to sprinkle it on our meals. The white stuff is not just addictive, goes the message — it’s deadly. Too much of it causes high blood pressure, which in turn damages our hearts. We must learn to live — joylessly, flavourlessly but healthily — without it.
Well, I’m here to tell you that all of that is wrong. As a leading cardiovascular research scientist — based at Saint Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute, Missouri — I’ve contributed extensively to health policy and medical literature.
I am associate editor of the British Medical Journal’s Open Heart, published in partnership with the British Cardiovascular Society, and I sit on the editorial advisory board of several other medical journals.
In my work, I’ve examined data from more than 500 medical papers and studies about salt. And this is what I’ve learned: there was never any sound scientific evidence to support this low salt idea. What’s more, as I explain in my new book, eating too little of it can cause insulin resistance, increased fat storage and may even increase the risk of diabetes — not to mention decreasing our sex drive.
Current daily guidelines limit you to 2.4g of sodium, which translates to 6g of salt (or sodium chloride) or slightly less than a teaspoonful.
If you have high blood pressure, or belong to a group considered to be at greater risk of developing it — such as being over 60 or Afro-Caribbean — doctors even advise you to cut your intake to two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt per day.
Yet salt is an essential nutrient that our bodies depend on to live. And those limits go against all our natural instincts. When people are allowed as much salt as they fancy, they tend to settle at about a teaspoon-and-a-half a day. This is true all over the world, across all cultures, climates and social backgrounds.
Read the rest of the article: Salt is not the problem
The Mineral Deficiency That’s Making You Gain Weight by Dr James DiNicolantonio
“Salted foodstuffs make people slim, whereas sweet ones make them fat.” —Pliny (A.D. 23 to A.D. 79), an ancient Roman author and philosopher
We’ve been told for decades to hold the salt at the dinner table for the sake of our hearts and blood pressure. The anti-salt campaign has blurred the picture about what salt actually does for us—besides making everything taste better. Salt is an essential mineral that has many vital functions in the body, which I go into more in my new book, The Salt Fix. Since we lose salt every day through sweat and urine, we need to consume some salt in order to live.
What happens when we aren’t getting the salt we need?
When our bodies become depleted in salt, the brain seems to react by sensitizing the reward system—and not just the reward system for salt, but the same reward system that drives us to other pleasurable activities. The purpose of that sensitization is that when we eat salt it induces a greater reward than usual, leading to an increase intake of salt. This primitive “reptilian” response in the brain is over 100 million years old and it has carried over from our ancient ancestors. Its goal is to keep us alive by preventing or quickly fixing a salt deficit in the body. In other words, the brain controls our salt fix.
In our modern world, though, this reward system, intended to save our lives after salt deficit, could be inadvertently leading to weight gain, and even obesity.
Read the rest of this post on the subject of salt in our diet: Is salt deficiency making us fat
The Salt Fix by Dr James DiNicolantonio, was published by Piatkus Books in 2017 and is now in Kindle.
Dr. James DiNicolantonio, PharmD, is the author of The Salt Fix, and a cardiovascular research scientist and doctor of pharmacy at Saint Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri. A well-respected and internationally known scientist and expert on health and nutrition, he has contributed extensively to health policy and medical literature. He serves as the associate editor of British Medical Journal’s Open Heart, a journal published in partnership with the British Cardiovascular Society. He is also on the editorial advisory board of several other medical journals, including Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases and International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology (IJCPT). For more information on Dr. DiNicolantonio, please visit The Salt Fix
One of the reviews for the book from a physician.
DoctorSH 5.0 out of 5 stars No longer in fear of salt!
I just finished the book, The Salt Fix by James DiNicolantonio. Well worth the read.
As a prevention and wellness family physician who prides himself in looking deeper at cause and effect in healthcare, I must admit that I had my blinders on when it came to salt. I too believed that salt was to be watched closely and tried to remain at the lowest recommended usage. Well, no longer! The author James DiNicolantonio makes a great case as to why limiting your salt to the national guidelines may be BAD for your health.
In my practice, I have different views than mainstream medicine in many areas of health and wellness. Why? Well, I have arrived at the point in my career when I am not afraid to ask the “experts”- “WHY?”.
Why is fat bad? Why is cholesterol bad? Do cholesterol lowering drugs really save lives?
I like to dive deeply into cause and effect. But it appears like I did not look closely enough at how the human body uses salt. I was still advising people to watch their salt intake as I thought that the dietary recommendations were set in stone with irrefutable evidence.
Well……. Let me add one more question for the “experts”.
Why is consuming more than 2 grams of salt a day bad?
After reading The Salt Fix, I am disappointed in myself but that changes today. The author James DiNicolantonio very simply makes the case that the war on salt is as misguided as I believe the war on cholesterol and fat has been. He points out how salt is a vital nutrient that our body needs to stay in balance, just like fat and cholesterol. He clearly and simply shows how our body responds to different levels of salt intake.
He brings together many other aspects of my practice, writing about how it is not salt, but that other white processed powder, SUGAR, that is really the issue in most people with metabolic health issues. He points out how sugar can cause insulin resistance leading to Obesity, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, Heart Disease, etc, etc. He then shows how too LITTLE salt also leads to insulin resistance, Obesity, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, Heart Disease, etc, etc. See the twist?
Besides learning about the many beneficial aspects of salt, this book should make you a more skeptical thinker when it comes to national dietary guidelines. You should ask yourself, “Is there real proof that these guidelines are good for my health AND were these guidelines based on real medical studies or are they a dietary or political/industry power play?
If you are overweight, have High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, Thyroid Disease, or Kidney Disease, BUY THIS BOOK and READ IT. If you like salt but are afraid to use it, BUY THIS BOOK and READ IT. Then have a conversation with your physician(s). If they just restate the National Dietary Salt guidelines without understanding the true data, lend them this book, or buy them one so they can refer to it and help more patients.
The book is available in several formats: Amazon US – And Amazon UK: Amazon UK
And another more recent look at salt in the diet and how far too much sodium is obtained from industrialised foods rather than from natural sources from Chris Kresser
“Salt has been the subject of controversy in recent years, and has increasingly been blamed for a number of poor health outcomes, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. (1) Salt is ubiquitous in our modern diet, with Americans consuming an average of 10 grams of salt per day. Of this amount, about 75% is derived from processed food; only about 20% is naturally occurring or from discretionary salt use, such as that added in cooking or at the table (the rest comes from sources such as water treatment and medications). (2, 3) Most of what we read and hear about salt these days is telling us that salt consumption needs to be reduced, and it has even been referred to as “the single most harmful substance in the food supply”.
This is a two part post – Part One: The History of Salt
About Chris Kresser
Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac., is the creator of the ADAPT Practitioner and Health Coach Training Programs. He is one of the most respected clinicians and educators in the fields of Functional Medicine and ancestral health and has trained over 1,300 health professionals around the world in his unique approach.
A reminder again that this is not a recommendation that you stop taking medication and suddenly start eating high levels of salt. But, as always I do recommend that you stay away from industrially produced foods and add salt to your food to taste when it has been prepared.
Next time the potassium rich foods that you should be including in your diet to help naturally maintain a potassium balance in the body.
©sally cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2023
A little bit about me nutritionally. .
About Sally Cronin
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-four years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain.
Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 21 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.
You can buy my books from: Amazon US – and: Amazon UK – Follow me :Goodreads – Twitter: @sgc58 – Facebook: Sally Cronin – LinkedIn: Sally Cronin
Thanks reading and I hope you will join me again next week…Sally.