Smorgasbord Health Column – Blood Pressure and the #Salt debate by Sally Cronin

Having looked at the Cholesterol myth and how to maintain the healthy balance, I am now going to look at Blood Pressure and one of the foods that most of us use daily and is on the restricted list. Salt makes food tasty and the expert opinion is that it is one of the leading culprits in our diet that leads to high blood pressure and a risk of heart attack and strokes.

It is interesting that whilst we as humans are told to reduce salt in our diet, animals will travel miles to lick rocks that have a variety of minerals and in particular one they need to be healthy which is salt.

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.

I am going to share a post from 2018 with some links to the research and then next week I will share the foods that help keep our circulatory system flexible and may therefore reduce elevated blood pressure naturally without prescribed medication.

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.

In this first post I am going to revisit some of the studies into salt and then next time I will share the fresh foods you can eat that will help maintain a healthy blood pressure.

I have been a nutritional therapist for 22 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.

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 reason to ‘Cook from Scratch’ based on a Russian study avoiding industrially produced foods loaded with sodium.

Do you believe high amounts of salt provoke thirst and contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease? If so, you’re likely wrong. Studies have consistently failed to support either of these notions, showing the converse is actually true. Here’s a summary of findings that may surprise you:

• Eating large amounts of salt will not make you thirsty or cause greater urine output (which could lead to dehydration). A study1 involving Russian cosmonauts reveal eating more salt actually lowered their thirst — yet increased hunger.2,3 Recent animal research4 support these results, showing a high-salt diet resulted in increased metabolism, forcing the animals to eat 25 percent more calories just to maintain weight. This suggests salt may have a surprising influence on your weight

• Evidence shows having the correct potassium to sodium balance influences your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease to a far greater extent than high sodium alone, and processed foods are typically low in potassium and high in sodium

• Studies suggest a low-salt diet can actually worsen cardiovascular disease and raise rather than lower the risk for early death among patients at high risk of heart disease5

• The vast majority, approximately 71 percent, of your salt intake comes from processed food.6 Hence, if you avoid processed foods, you have virtually no risk of consuming too much salt.7 Eating a whole food diet will also ensure a more appropriate sodium-to-potassium ratio

• When lowering salt in processed foods, many manufacturers started adding monosodium glutamate (MSG) instead — a flavor enhancer associated with obesity, headaches, eye damage,8 fatigue and depression. Due to its ability to overexcite neurons, MSG may even raise your risk for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease

Read the rest of the article here: The information you have been given about salt is flawed.

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 as you prepare and then eat.

Next time – foods rich in potassium and nitrates that the body needs for healthy blood vessels that keep them flexible as we get older, and whole grain carbohydrates ensuring adequate blood flow and healthy blood pressure.

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2021

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-three 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 20 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.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here::Sally’s books and reviews


Thanks for visiting and I am always delighted to receive your feedback.. stay safe Sally.

28 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health Column – Blood Pressure and the #Salt debate by Sally Cronin

  1. Thank you for this very interesting posting, Sally! Seems scientists are able to change their minds too. 😉 There is so many unknown around our body, and everyone is individual too. Michael


  2. What a confusing business the correct consumption of sugar and salt is, Sally! We cut down on the amount of salt we added when cooking potatoes and vegies, ages ago and I don’t add more at the table, except for eggs. We also cut down the amount of sugar when baking cakes. We have got sweet teeth but rarely binge on anything. Not being experts, we try to moderate our intake of most items. Now we’re older, we find our appetites have no need for large portions of anything! Just as well…Thank you so much for all the valuable info. Hugs xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree it is confusing Joy.. but I have to say that I like my salt and add to food but I don’t eat much in the way of manufactured foods and my blood pressure is normal without meds. So I am continuing to use but in moderation. In a hotter climate when you are losing more fluid you need to make sure you are getting enough of all minerals… hugsxx


  3. This is a very interesting article, Sally. Your comments make absolute sense. I read an article the other day that said processed meats have high amounts of carcinogenics. This plus your salt point leads me to believe its best to avoid them which I do anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Robbie..It was a great way to preserve food back before refrigeration, but we don’t need that these days.. I buy unsmoked ham joints and end up bringing to boil for 30 minutes and then draining off and bringing to the boil again with fresh water.. it gets rid of most of the salt and tastes much better. But I do like some sea salt with my meals.. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fantastic lowdown on salt, Sal. Not surprising though someone finally talking about salt benefits just like lowfat food craze, where cutting out good fats and subbing with fake sugars aren’t good for us either. And timely post too. Ironically, today G’s first lab back on new strategy with pills for a high potassium. Potassium level was great, but now sodium is low. Oye! Our doctor called about the low-ish sodium and advised him to cut down drinking too much water now. We don’t eat processed food so we don’t get all that extra sodium. I use Himalayan salt when cooking and we never add after.
    I’d also like to add that when I eat too much salt I get very bloated and my fingers swell. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Salt does cause water retention and if you are prone to that then you do have to watch it carefully..Himalayan salt is a good choice with all its other minerals and we use. Perhaps G can have a little more on his food after cooking to help his sodium levels rather than dropping his fluids too much. It is a problem getting the right balance but as you don’t eat processed foods you are doing all the right things as always.. ♥ ♥

      Liked by 1 person

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