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How much (how little) sodium do we really need in our Primal Diet?

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  • How much (how little) sodium do we really need in our Primal Diet?

    How much (how little) sodium do we really need in our diet for optimal health and function? Iím hoping that some of the astute Primal enthusiasts can help answer this question that has perplexed me since I went Paleo/Primal.

    I generally eat only whole paleo foods prepared from scratch with no added sodium whatsoever. I hike and backpack in the mountains and deserts of the Southwest.

    Iíve read of the relatively high rates of hyponatremia, low blood sodium levels, in Grand Canyon hikers and in endurance athletes when their blood sodium levels were randomly tested.

    The last thing I want, of course, is to have a problem with hyponatremia ten miles or more from the nearest road. But even hyponatremia turns out to be a confusing subject. Some of what I've read leads me to suspect and hypothesize that hyponatremia may result in part not from too little sodium in our bodies, but from it being in the wrong places - too little in the blood and too much intracellular sodium in cells - possibly building up intracellularly from malfunction of the cell's sodium-potassium pumps during exertion, which could ultimately result from magnesium deficiency.

    I made quite an effort to find a definitive answer as to how much sodium we humans need to intake on a daily basis, i.e. the minimum daily allowance, MDA, for sodium. I found very little established science, the assumption apparently being that nobody in the modern world is at risk for consuming too little sodium. We of the Primal/Paleo community might be some of the first to need a good answer to this sodium intake question. I conducted computer searches, emailed various authorities and groups, and ultimately obtained very little concrete or scientific information.

    The few claims that I found were wildly inconsistent, pegging the daily minimum sodium intake everywhere from 70 mg per day to 2500 mg per day! And none seemed to be supported by any real science.

    I assumed that the sodium intake needed might be a range depending on exercise levels and level of perspiration. But it wasnít clear from my reading whether sweat often contained a lot of sodium as a matter of physiological necessity, or merely because the body was overloaded with sodium from a bad SAD diet and was using perspiration to dump it as waste to get rid of it.

    The answer to my question that best resonated with me so far came from a primary care board recertification review course on DVD that a friend loaned to me. The MD-nutritionist who lectured on nutrition in primary care set the daily minimum at 400 mg of sodium, but without any stated basis or references. But it would be nice to have some answers supported by scientific references.

    Iíve tended to consume enough extra sodium to bring my daily intake up to perhaps 500 mg sodium a day, just to be on the safe side. But even without this extra Na my blood chemistry tests in the normal range, albeit under sedentary conditions. I am a bit nervous about pushing the limits on a long hot desert hike. From what I have read, primitive hunter-gatherers functioned very well in hot, dry conditions during strenuous activity on very modest sodium intake.

    Anyone have any thoughts or cites to relevant science on this? Thanks.

  • #2
    As with just about anything else, as long as you eat the unrefined stuff, your appetite will guide you. At least that's been my experience. I use the colorful salt you find in Whole Foods' bulk section, and I crave less and less of it as time goes on.
    ďThe whole concept of a macronutrient, like that of a calorie, is determining our language game in such a way that the conversation is not making sense." - Dr. Kurt Harris

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    • #3
      Sodium isn't as evil as they make it out to be, it's the refined crap that they use. It'll be dependent on your weight, exercise levels, outside temperatures, but it's necessary for life, so really, how bad could it be?

      I actually add celtic sea salt to my pure water most days.
      sigpic
      In Pursuit of Healthiness, Only to Achieve Happiness!: www.livingnotsurviving.com

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      • #4
        i dont think salt is as bad as everyone says it is. its like fat, we are programmed to crave it, right? I cook all of my own food and salt it to taste. I see nothing wrong with this, and it has not stopped me from burning lots of fat off of my body. I have gone 3 weeks entirely salt free, and saw no real benefit in my appearance or in how I felt. I just ate a lot of boring food . sad face. But, then again, I sweat a lot, from HIIT, lifting weights, sprinting, and sex, so I trust my salt cravings.

        salt is ancient, we've been eating salt for a loooooooong time, before civilizations we would seek out salt in seafood and in the ground. Salt is not the enemy. SAD is the enemy.

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        • #5
          I'm guilty of using too much sea salt on my eggs a lot of the time. I wish I didn't like salt that much, but I find it harder to quit salt than sugar.
          http://www.facebook.com/daemonized

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          • #6
            Sodium is so individual. It can be very beneficial to use "larger" amounts if adrenal fatigue, low blood pressure or heat fatigue is present.
            When the adrenals are low, the hormone that regulates sodium/potassium (aldosterone) drops and that person will lose sodium at an accelerated rate, esp. through sweating (resulting in low blood pressure and heat fatigue), so they would need to add it to the water they drink (or risk diluting their blood sodium further). I can withstand heat MUCH better if I add a bit of unrefined salt to my fluids.

            To be on the safe side, salt the water (with unrefined colorful salt) that you're bringing with you on your hike- it's better safe than sorry, right? Besides- if you have a little too much salt that once, you end up with some water retention. No big deal (and certainly better than hyponatremia!!)
            http://www.prettyinprimal.blogspot.com

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            • #7
              +1 on the above-a little poof is WAY preferable to the unholy misery that accompanies acute hyponatremia!
              Chief cook & bottle washer for one kid, a dog, 6 hens, 2 surprise! roosters, two horses, and a random 'herd' of quail.

              ~The ultimate ignorance is the rejection of something one knows nothing about and refuses to investigate~

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              • #8
                Just on a slight tangent, I don't understand how salt can be refined or unrefined. Surely it's just NaCl, maybe with more iodine in the overall mix if it originates from the sea. I'm pretty sure the idea of organic/natural salt makes no sense.

                As to how much we should consume, if paleo man didn't live by the coast, I don't really see how salt could have been easily added to the diet. The craving for it would seem to me similar to our craving to sugar; i.e. it's basically rare in nature and we can quite happily binge on it whenever available.

                A logical interpretation of eating paleo re salt would seem to me indicate we should indicate a lot less than most people do.

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                • #9
                  OP, that was a great post! Good questions, good research.

                  I've looked into the sodium question quite a bit in the past and here are some of my observations:

                  1. Almost all natural food is much higher in potassium than sodium, both animal and vegetable.

                  2. Looking at my foods, my biggest source of sodium is cheese.

                  3. Most people, it is finally being realized, suffer no ill effects from a lot of sodium other than a bit higher blood pressure and water retention. Neither is necessarily bad.

                  4. A lot of modern endurance activities are not natural, were never part of the human experience. Hence, sodium requirements may, indeed, be above and beyond what one can get in food.

                  When I was a kid salt tablets were part of every summer camp's kitchen. Don't know if they helped, or their use (including the military back then) was just urban legend. As noted above, no harm.

                  Gator Ade was developed by, in essence, analyzing minerals that are in sweat and urine and then formulating from there. I've heard the original product wasn't very tasty; the addition of sugar also gave a lot of energy. Gator Ade was the "secret weapon" of the UF Gators for a year or two, they guys were not dropping out from heat stroke like they used to. So, something is definitely at work there.

                  A few years ago I made my own "Gator Ade" by reverse engineering the sodium and potassium amounts using salt and salt substitute (potassium chloride.) I used Kool Ade for flavoring and honey for sugar.

                  I do use salt substitute a fair amount to help keep that Na/K ratio better.

                  These days I do a lot of yard work and ride the old mountain bike an hour or so a day. Temps are running low 90's, usually sunny and moderately humid. I drink a lot of water, eat 95% primal, and never have heat issues. I surely go through a gallon a day of water, or more, and only piss nominally. Lots of sweat.

                  And, BTW, salt is salt. All this sea salt, celtic salt, they are just salt. The amount of minerals besides the NaCl is so infinitesimal that eating a spinach leaf would give you more of them.

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                  • #10
                    Good information from everyone. Thank you, hazyjane, the individuality involved is good to have in mind, not a one-size-fits-all situation. I'd heard of Addison's and adrenal fatigue causing hypotension and I can see how anyone with such tendencies might benefit from maintaining extra sodium intake to counter those tendencies.

                    Funny, but I recall reading somewhere that one contributing factor to hyponatremia can be a failure of the victim to urinate enough. This might make some sense when you think about Grand Canyon hikers and competitive endurance athletes who suffer a lot from hyponatremia. I assume that primal Grok essentially urinated wherever and whenever he wanted to, which was presumably frequently and everywhere! But for moderns hiking Grand Canyon trails there would be limited restroom facilities, and endurance athletes would not want to take the time out from their timed events anymore than necessary even if facilities were available. And these modern inhibitions might contribute to water retention that dilutes sodium concentration excessively. I'll leave it to someone else to advocate and promote the healthful primal activity and attitude of Grok in this regard. I'll watch for the posting of that new topic thread.

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                    • #11
                      You mean the Indians living at the bottom of the GC don't have rest rooms for the hike?

                      Seriously, another set of good observations, Paleo Man. This is a good thread.

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                      • #12
                        Oh, another confounder is that there is increasing evidence that health issues arise not so much from sodium alone, but the sodium/potassium (Na/K) ratio. This has more to do with blood pressure and cardiovascular disease than heavy exercise mineral depletion.

                        It looks like, once again, you can't do better than Grok.

                        I, however, WILL heavily salt my hard boiled eggs. Blah w/o. (If you've not used salt substitute for potassium, be warned that it is not a clone of sodium chloride in taste. Slightly salty but definitely with a bitter edge. As mentioned previously, I use it to help tip the ratio balance a bit, but it's hard to use a lot of it.)

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by lead352 View Post
                          Just on a slight tangent, I don't understand how salt can be refined or unrefined. Surely it's just NaCl, maybe with more iodine in the overall mix if it originates from the sea. I'm pretty sure the idea of organic/natural salt makes no sense.

                          As to how much we should consume, if paleo man didn't live by the coast, I don't really see how salt could have been easily added to the diet. The craving for it would seem to me similar to our craving to sugar; i.e. it's basically rare in nature and we can quite happily binge on it whenever available.

                          A logical interpretation of eating paleo re salt would seem to me indicate we should indicate a lot less than most people do.

                          Refined salt is pure NaCl with anti-caking additives (usually chemical) added and all the trace mineral stripped out. Undrefined salt can have many different colors due to varying mineral content (gray, beige, orange, pink, etc.) http://www.saltworks.us/salt_info/si..._reference.asp
                          Different salts also taste different, with white table salt having the harshest flavor (if your taste buds are sensitive, you can really tell!)

                          The kind I buy (Redmond Real Salt) is sea salt from a sea bed in Utah that was sealed up millions of years ago in a volcanic eruption and doesn't have the contamination issues that regular sea salt has and it's a beige color with specs in it and a high trace mineral content (and it's WAY cheaper than fancy Himalayan pink salt;-)
                          http://www.prettyinprimal.blogspot.com

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                          • #14
                            you'll know if you need more or less everyday. stick with the unrefined sea salt though. table salt is devoid of other minerals so it messes up your sodium balance. my hubby adds sea salt to everything. he visited a naturopath who told him his adrenals were weak. perfect example of your body knowing what's best. as for me, i don't need much these days. good sign too. i used to be in the same boat as my husband. less stress now=stronger adrenals. GO PB!
                            Red meat is not bad for you. Now blue-green meat, that's bad for you! ~Tommy Smothers

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                            • #15
                              Shannon, there are NO minerals of quantity in sea salt or any other form. As I said, you will get more minerals from eating a leaf of spinach. To think that your salt is supplying you with significant additional minerals is fallacy.

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