Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
12 Jun

Salt: What Is It Good For?

SaltOther than saturated fat, I can’t think of a nutrient that’s been so universally maligned and demonized as salt. All the experts hate it and recommend that we get as little of it as possible. They even all seem to have their own little anti-salt slogans. The American Diabetes Association recommends between 2300 and 1500 mg of sodium per day (“Be Sodium Savvy“). The American Heart Association wants you eating less than 1500 mg per day (“Shaking the Salt Habit“) and claims that 97% of young people already eat way too much salt. The other ADA – the American Dietetic Association – also recommends between 2300 and 1500 mg, but their slogan is far inferior (“Slice Your Sodium Intake“). It’s quite the pile-on, isn’t it?

Why does salt strike mortal terror into the hearts of so many?

Back in the 1980s, a massive global study of salt intake and blood pressure called INTERSALT was undertaken. Overall, it showed a modest association between the two, but some groups, particularly the undeveloped, non-industrial peoples who had very little access to salt (and other trappings of industrialization), had blood pressure that was generally extremely low. Foremost among these groups were the Yanomami of the Amazon rainforest. The Yanomami have very low sodium excretion, which indicates very low sodium intake, and very low blood pressure. Even the elderly Yanomami enjoyed low blood pressure. This was convincing. I mean, it sounds convincing, right? Low salt intake, low lifelong incidence of hypertension – how much more cut and dry can you get? This low salt/low blood pressure connection seemed to also apply to other groups who happened to be living more traditional ways of life.

Except that there’s another non-industrialized group (and you only need one) whose slightly different results kinda muck up the Yanomami argument: the Kuna of Panama.

Among the Kuna, a tribe native to Panama, both salt intake and blood pressure were also historically low well into old age. To study whether the two variables were linked, researchers examined a group of “acculturated” Kuna with ample access to salt and an otherwise strict adherence to their traditional way of life. Little changed but the salt intake, in other words. But, despite consuming an average of 2.6 daily teaspoons of salt (and sometimes up to 6 teaspoons), the Kuna did not have hypertension, not even in old age. There was no change between the hypertensive statuses of 20 year old Kuna and 60 year old Kuna.

All in all, drastic reduction of sodium can reduce blood pressure by a few points. The evidence is pretty consistent on that. But the example of the Kuna shows that there’s way more to blood pressure than how much salt you eat, like how much potassium you eat.

Consider two recent Cochrane meta-analyses. The first, on sodium restriction and blood pressure, found that for people with hypertension the mean effect of sodium restriction was -5.39 mm Hg for systolic blood pressure and -2.82 mm Hg for diastolic blood pressure. In normotensive people, the figures were -2.42 mm Hg and -1.00 mm Hg, respectively. Decent reductions, I suppose, but what about potassium and blood pressure?

The upper intake of potassium was associated with over a 7-point drop in systolic blood pressure and a 2-point drop in diastolic blood pressure, but only in people with hypertension (the people who actually should lower blood pressure). Unfortunately, the official recommendations for sodium and potassium intake cannot be met simultaneously. Yep – the experts want you to eat in a way that is literally impossible to accomplish. Inspires confidence, doesn’t it?

Let’s forget about blood pressure for a second, because there’s also way more to health than the meager drops in blood pressure afforded by sodium restriction. Recent evidence suggests that for many people, all out salt reduction has an overall negative impact on several other aspects of health:

In 2011, one study showed that seven days on a low salt diet increased insulin resistance in healthy men and women when compared to a higher-salt diet.

Another study showed that while reducing salt moderately improved the blood pressure of hypertensive patients by a mere 4.18 and 1.98 points for systolic and diastolic, respectively (but not of people with normal blood pressure), it also had negative effects on multiple other health markers, including increased triglycerides and LDL and elevated stress hormones.

Another 2011 study found that eating a low salt diet (under 3 grams of sodium per day, or just over a teaspoon of salt) and a high salt diet (from 6-7 grams of sodium per day, or well over two teaspoons of salt) both increased the risk of stroke and heart attack, while eating between four and six grams of sodium, or about two teaspoons of salt, each day was associated with the lowest risk of cardiovascular incidents.

A recent study found that salt intake followed a J-curve, with low and high intakes increasing arterial plaque formation and a medium intake decreasing it.

Sodium depletion due to “low-sodium nutrition” has been shown to trigger overtraining-like symptoms, including hypertension and sleeping disorders.

The greatest health marker of all – being alive – also has an interesting association with salt intake. It seems that, time and time again, folks with a “medium” salt intake live longer than people who eat too little salt or too much salt. That amounts to roughly 4000 mg of sodium, or close to two teaspoons of regular salt.

Sodium intake affects other markers of vascular health beyond just blood pressure, too:

Greater sodium excretion in the urine (a common marker of sodium intake) may be positively associated with large arterial compliance. Large arterial compliance is a measure of arterial elasticity, or the ability of one’s arteries to handle fluctuations in pressure. Stiffer arteries are more prone to damage.

Low sodium status (whether dietarily-induced or caused by increased sodium loss) can also increase aldosterone, an adrenal hormone that seeks to preserve sodium in the body when it’s perceived to be scarce. High aldosterone levels are associated with insulin resistance, and aldosterone blockers are being explored as potential treatments of vascular disease and hypertension.

Well, what is salt good for?

That question honestly isn’t asked very often in the literature, but we can surmise some of the benefits just by looking at what happens in people on a low-sodium diet. If that connection persists, then adequate (not excess) salt probably helps prevent some of those problems, like insulin resistance, plaque formation, increased stress hormones, worsened blood lipids, and elevated aldosterone.

There are, however, outright positive effects of salt consumption, too:

Salt supports hydration, especially during exercise.

Of the electrolytes, potassium gets all the attention, even though sodium is just as important. Studies show that sodium loading before exercising in the heat increases fluid volume and reduces the physiological strain of the subsequent training. In other words, consuming sodium before training “involved less thermoregulatory and perceived strain during exercise and increased exercise capacity in warm conditions.” You can workout harder, longer, and more effectively with sufficient sodium in your diet. Salt loading also boosts performance in thermoneutral conditions, not just hot weather.

I remember drinking so much plain water during one race that I actually became dehydrated from pissing out all my electrolyte stores and almost passed out. From that point on, a few teaspoons of salt would solve the problem and prevent it from occurring again. The much ballyhooed bananas didn’t do it. Only pure, unmitigated salt did the trick. Hardcore ketogenic athlete/doctor Peter Attia does the same with his bullion cubes, which he credits for maintaining his performance.

Salt may help you cope with stress.

This is a guess on my part, based on several lines of evidence. First, salt has been shown to speed up cortisol clearance from the blood. The faster you clear cortisol, the quicker you recover from a stressor. If cortisol lingers, you “stay stressed.”

Second, there’s evidence that stress increases salt appetite. In lab mice, activation of the sympathetic nervous system by a stressor causes them to prefer salt water to plain water. Similar findings have been observed in rats subjected to stress. In humans, acute bouts of stress don’t seem to increase salt appetite, but chronic stress does increase intake of salty, processed junk food. Obviously, eating McDonald’s fries doesn’t help improve your health, but I find it highly plausible that salting your healthy Primal food to taste could be an important ally against stress. It’s just that when most people need “something salty,” they reach for potato chips, not a couple soft boiled eggs dipped in sea salt.

Third, as I mentioned above, low sodium diets are often associated with elevated stress hormones.

Personally, I’m drawn to salty foods – often jerky or macadamia nuts sprinkled with some sea salt – when I’m up against a deadline, and it seems to help.

It makes food taste better.

Yes, some people would claim this attribute as a negative. Adding salt to food will make you more likely to overeat and gain weight and develop the diseases associated with weight gain and so on and so forth. But I’ve always held that eating good food is one of life’s highest, purest pleasures. If your food doesn’t taste good, there’s no point in eating it. We’re not machines concerned only with fuel. We are sensory, sensual beings with the capacity for appreciation of thousands of flavors. To deny the pleasure of food is to deny our humanity.

Salt can also make otherwise unpalatable – but healthy – food somehow palatable. A plate of steamed kale is boring and bitter. A plate of steamed kale with sea salt and olive oil is delicious and inspiring. Plain broccoli? Kids everywhere are spitting it into napkins and stuffing them into their pockets. Broccoli stir-fried with soy sauce (or tamari, if you please)? Kids everywhere are mailing in their dues (and signing up for auto-pay) for the clean plate club.

You could drop your salt intake to half a teaspoon and get a three or four point drop in your blood pressure. Of course, you might not enjoy your food anymore, your performance in the gym or on the trail would likely suffer, your stress hormones might be elevated, you might start feeling overtrained without doing any actual training, you could become insulin resistant, and you may have trouble clearing (the elevated) cortisol from your blood. But, hey: your blood pressure readings will likely improve by a few points! Or, you could keep your salt intake up around two teaspoons, give or take, simply by salting your food to taste, and avoid all that other stuff.

Your choice.

What do you think, readers? Do you fear salt? Do you relish it? Do you find your salt appetite increases under certain conditions? Let me know in the comment section!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Dear Mark,
    What have you heard about test X180? It is a Testosterone Supplement? Is it Junk? Does it have any benefit? They say it helps your body to safely start producing more testosterone on its own? is this just another phen phen ready to go wrong?

    lockard wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • The two best, and safest, ways to produce free testosterone in males is by very intense exercise–interval training and heavy lifting–and by having sex, even solo sex. :-) Germans scientists found that even getting an erection produced free testoserone. So don’t feel guilty about surfing the web for porn. (But honey, it’s helping me be healthier. 😉

      D. M. Mitchell wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • thanks for the actual advise! I don’t think i will employ the porn – just rather be intimate with my wife – but yah lifting and sprints are common in my life (hill sprints yesterday and about to hit the gym now-

        thankx again D.M. Mitchell

        lockard wrote on June 12th, 2013
        • I think your wife would prefer that too. I recall reading on some Real Food site (maybe this one, maybe another), that zinc is very important to testosterone production. Perhaps someone here knows more about this?

          Beccolina wrote on June 13th, 2013
      • Sweet! Ill let my Boyfriend know. About the sex part, not the solo part 😉

        Brandi wrote on June 12th, 2013
        • you’re just trying to get easy endorphins from him!

          mm wrote on June 21st, 2013
      • As an ex-porn addict I find your comment very dis-tasteful.

        Cliff wrote on June 13th, 2013
        • Add some salt.
          Kidding- as a wife of an ex-porn addict I hear ya

          Madama Butterfry wrote on June 14th, 2013
        • If I were a recovering alcoholic and someone exclaimed: ” I’m stressed! Boy, do I need a glass of wine!” I would grow up. I would not call them distasteful.

          As an actual SEX addict, seriously, just deal with it.

          Sissy Malone wrote on June 16th, 2013
    • Is this spam, or do you not know how comment sections work?

      Mikey wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • no this is not spam – yes I know how comment sections work – thank you for your passive aggressive approach

        lockard wrote on June 12th, 2013
        • I think you were a little off subject and that is how blogs work:)

          Angie wrote on June 12th, 2013
        • THen you should realize that the comment section is for commenting on the blog post above it, not a Dear Mark email. The Contact section is the appropriat place for the Dear Mark email.

          b2curious wrote on June 12th, 2013
        • You don’t understand what “passive aggressive” means. Mark’s reply was direct and sincere, which is pretty much the opposite of passive aggressive.

          And since your “thank you” was sarcastic, you’re now the only one with a demerit.

          ossicle wrote on June 12th, 2013
        • @ ossicle if you look, my comment was at Mikey not at Mark. Yes his post on salt was tasteful to use a chezzy pun

          – and to the other haters pretty sure I have been coming to MDA since 2011 and have seen many times where questions are asked and answered within the comment section- yes direct questions can be sent directly to Mark- however, maybe one of the fine readers of MDA has the leg up on this question and can provide positive feed back to my question- then you all say that’s what the forum is for… thanks everyone – please only positive answers not sarcastic i am an internet troll who only has time to degrade others whom I do not know. (yes that is passive aggressive bordering straight up aggressive- didn’t know MDA was so sacred you could ask a question without being harassed)

          lockard wrote on June 12th, 2013
        • I, too, have seen questions answered in the comments section, but those questions usually relate to the blog post, not something totally unrelated. That is why I suggested the contact section for your question.

          b2curious wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • Very good point! Thanks!

        Chris wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • First thing I learned in culinary school was ‘food is tasteless in the absence of salt & fat’

      Tong wrote on June 12th, 2013
  2. Thank you, Mark! My mum and I are sick of the “salt police” staring at us when we dare to shake some salt on our food in restaurants! The laughable thing is that the people who stare at you are hardly shining beacons of health themselves.

    Obviously, as with everything, moderation is key, but I’m hardly unscrewing the top and dumping the lot on my plate! Geez.

    Helen Edgeworth wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Depends on the restaurant and the food you are salting. Most restaurant food is already fairly salty, and sometimes the sodium can be hidden by additional sweet or fatty sauces. Adding additional salt may just be overkill.

      I think most of the misguided salt warnings affect the way people cook at home more than the way they eat in restaurants. People have become afraid to salt food as they cook it because of all the warnings. Properly salted food should tasty vibrant and complex without necessarily being salty. Exceptions are brined or cured foods like pickles or cured meats.

      Mantonat wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • I rarely order things in sauces, as most restaurants use vegetable oil to cook with; I normally just order plain meat, potatoes and veg, which I tend to enjoy more anyway, but rarely has any salt on it at all (in my experience). If I ever do order anything in a sauce, it is usually adequately seasoned, so I do not feel the need to add any salt.

        I agree about people being scared to add salt to their cooking, and being pleased when they persist and their palates change to accept less salt. Personally, I use measuring spoons only to ensure consistency of seasoning when cooking sauces or frying vegetables and have a sea salt grinder at the table to season plain meat and potatoes to taste. I probably do average about two teaspoons a day this way.

        Helen Edgeworth wrote on June 14th, 2013
    • Really, though, if you’re in a GOOD restuarant, you shouldn’t need salt because the chef has seasoned the food as it has been cooked, like it should be done. My sister is a chef and it drives her crazy when my uncle puts salt on his food before he even tastes it! :)

      Stacie wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • You are absolutely right. Any chef worth his salt (heh heh) would season everything properly. However, I think that the salt scare is starting to trickle its way down into restaurants, certainly in the UK (and on my recent trip to Italy for my sister’s wedding). Even the better restaurants that I have been to tend to shy away from salt (not that I eat out very often – I’m an acting student on a budget!).

        I have a very sensitive palate, especially when it comes to salt, sugar and vegetable oil.

        Don’t worry – I always taste the food first before making up my mind whether to salt or not! No mindless shaking or grinding here. 😀

        Helen Edgeworth wrote on June 14th, 2013
      • People have different sensitivity to salt. But salt tends to be auto regulated to much becomes quickly distasteful.

        WalterB wrote on June 26th, 2013
  3. My chiropractor had a patient who was eating Paleo-style and was having blood pressure problems. The doctor told him to increase his salt intake (sea salt of course) and his BP went down. Interesting. The point is that while eating Paleo/Primal you don’t incur the amount of salt/sodium that you would on a conventional SAD diet. We’re the lucky ones that get to enjoy some sea salt on our meats and vegetables. :)

    James wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Interesting article and very timely. I have ME (CFS) and recently attended a talk by a Dr Vallings from NZ who says that most ME sufferers need additional salt in their diets. I think this is to help cope with the post exertional malaise aspect of the condition. So perhaps my salt cravings are not so mad after all! Salt on my dinner now… always! :-)

      Sally wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • A while ago I spent a month eating just plain vegetable soups, no meat, to see if it would kinda “detox” me after a prolonged period of stress & bad eating etc, and much as I love veg, I could only get the stuff down by adding generous amounts of salt. My BP dropped from 130/90 (give or take a few points, measured every 3rd day on a calibated home machine) to 115/75. From then on I’ve not been afraid of salt, but I try to keep my potassium levels up as well. Just my 2¢.

        Patrick wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • Most CFS sufferes have Postural Orthostatic Tachycaridial syndrome. This means when you stand up your blood pressure drops and in order to maintain consciousness your heart rate increases.

        Mine goes as high as 200 bmp. on standing.

        Do yourself a favor and take your pulse standing up, because medicines and treatments exist for POTS.

        More here:

        heplyler wrote on December 7th, 2015
    • Read “The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Living” by Drs. Phinney and Volek… They talk about WHY people eating primal/paleo/ketogenic diets REQUIRE more salt as their bodies become extremely efficient at flushing water and salt. They advocate using broth/boullion as a way to prevent blood pressure issues, muscle cramps, and fatigue. Excellent read.

      Stephanie wrote on June 14th, 2013
  4. Once again proving that Mark is a man worth his salt :)

    Groktimus Primal wrote on June 12th, 2013
  5. In the seventies I was conned into restricting my salt intake. It was in all the health reports: Salt will kill you. Today, I liberally salt my food. I am not on a ketogenic diet, but I do restrict my carbohydrate intake. The authors of the book, “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living,” doctors, both of them, stated that the kidneys preserve salt on a high carbohydrate diet but excretes it on a low carbohydrate diet, especially a ketogenic one where your carb intake is 50 gm/day or less. They suggest adding a teaspoon of salt daily, usually in the form of bullion, or salted broth.

    As a side note, they also found out that if you boil meat a large percentage of the potassium in the meat is leached into the water. Drink the broth they say, as the bison people and other neo-lithic people knew to do.

    D. M. Mitchell wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Interesting about the stock…. I make all my own soups from boiled bone stock… and now I can happily add salt to taste too. :-) This is one article that has really made me happy today! LOL

      Sally wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • I love making my own stock too. Better to wait until after the stock has reduced before adding salt though, otherwise it’s really difficult to determine how salty the end-product will turn out. Make the stock first, and then when you are creating a soup from that stock, salt to taste. If you’re just drinking the stock plain, you can add salt when you heat it up.

        Mantonat wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • That’s why it is so good to make stock from bones with meat on them for soup, you have the boiled meat broth to which you can add any vegetable. :-)

      Lya wrote on June 12th, 2013
  6. I have never really had a fear of salt and I always knew it was good for something- thank you for the article explaining perhaps why we need it. Since I don’t eat processed food, I just salt to taste but really do not feel the need to over do it.

    Pamela Stevens wrote on June 12th, 2013
  7. How can you talk about what salt is good for without discussing the sodium-potassium pump and its role in hydrolysis of ATP and activation of nerve cells?

    Cee wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • I thought the same thing!

      Danielle wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Yep! Seems like there could be a prob if sodium is high and potassium low since they both compete with each other. In such cases, you may see some symptom improvement if you drop sodium due to better access to potassium, but likely the better solution would be to increase potassium instead. Both are very impt. Nature did not put a salt receptor on the tongue and make you like the taste of it for no reason. As for the mortality study, it’s interesting but correlational. Those who eat the highest levels of salt likely eat a lot of processed food too. And those who eat the lowest probably have abnormal diets in other ways as well.

      Eva wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • And don’t forget Magnesium… salt, potassium, magnesium are all important electrolytes important for proper muscle function, including the heart muscle.

        Stephanie wrote on June 14th, 2013
  8. Low sodium may lower blood pressure, but it doesn’t seem to lower the incidence of heart attacks (or anything else). Another Cochrane report (perhaps the missing ‘second’ study from your post?) found “no strong evidence that salt reduction reduced all-cause mortality” or “cardiovascular events”.

    Taylor Rod, S., Ashton Kate, E., Moxham, T., Hooper, L., & Ebrahim, S. (2011). Reduced dietary salt for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (7).

    Scott UK wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • I know two people who almost died from sodium depletion. They both thought that if low is good then none at all must be better. Wrong. Our bodies need sodium. Too much isn’t good but not enough is even worse. Unless you’ve destroyed your taste buds with tobacco or substance abuse, they will usually let you know when something needs more or less salt.

      Shary wrote on June 13th, 2013
      • In my high school world history class a few years ago, we had to read a book called “Salt”, which was literally about the history of human salt use. It drove home the essentiality of consuming salt in a fascinating, but incredibly boring way. Prior to “modern” geology/chemistry/mining making salt abundant practically everywhere, salt distribution had geopolitical consequences. In the African kingdom of Ghana, for example, salt was worth more than gold. They had to import it from the Sahara.
        The book also goes into significant detail about salt-heavy fermented foods in various cultures.

        Bill C wrote on June 13th, 2013
  9. Interesting! I continue to have insulin resistance problems after more or less following Primal for 5 years. I have started using a bit more salt but I’m still doing a low sodium diet. I’ll try upping my sodium.

    Harry Mossman wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • One problem with that is that I have lost my taste for salty foods. UNsalted avocados, white potatoes and nuts taste almost too salty to me.

      Harry Mossman wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • Potassium actually tastes “salty” so I wonder if your taste buds are tasting what MAY be too much potassium for your body to handle after a long period in a sodium/salt restricted state? (I’m no doctor, for god’s sake don’t take this as gospel! :) )

        Potassium is used as a salt (sodium chloride) substitute because the taste is superficially similar, and I finsd it interesting you mention avocadoes & white potatoes because they ARE high(ish) in potassium.

        Patrick wrote on June 12th, 2013
        • The taste is *very* superficially similar.

          WalterB wrote on June 26th, 2013
  10. People who don’t get enough sodium tend to be salty anyway…ok that pun didn’t work as well as I thought…I salt everything! Sometimes eating it plain followed by water can help with a mild headache. My friend claims she hates salty food (but she follows SAD) so does anyone think its because she gets too much sodium anyway so her brain is telling her to avoid excess salt?

    Justin wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • I recall when I was salt-o-phobic, anything salty would taste bad because I told myself it was bad.

      allisonK wrote on June 12th, 2013
  11. I salt to taste, which means I am unafraid to add salt. And still, I would wager that as much salt as I use, it’s still less than what I would consume eating processed food.

    Finnegans Wake wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • I agree… I cook from raw ingredients and up until recently added little salt. I have recently become more liberal with the salt in food I cook…. and after this article my conscience is clear! (And I agree, my total salt intake could well still be less than those who rely on processed foods.)

      Sally wrote on June 12th, 2013
  12. Great article. Now, back to the salt mines…

    Nocona wrote on June 12th, 2013
  13. People often forget that salt or sodium is an electrolyte that our body NEEDS to help our nerves to send signals throughout the body, and it helps us to retain water which is substantial for those people that have kicked eating refined carbohydrates as those hold water like a sponge. The absence of both would ensure that we are not properly hydrated.

    Erik wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Carbs cause swelling? My doc told me it was salt so I have been on hydrochlorothyazide for years and eating very little salt. Swelling still occurs. CW has been slowly killing me for years! I am new to this Primal world. Have lost 20 pounds. (Many more to go.)

      Lizzie wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • Refined carbohydrates (when not burned) typically turn into saturated fat, which is comprised of palmitic acid (an inflammatory). I don’t know enough to continue speaking on it, but the basics you learn here will solve even that problem.

        Gotta burn the bad carbs if you’re going to eat them, otherwise you’ll suffer more in the long run.

        Ryan wrote on June 13th, 2013
      • Lizzie, search up the term “carb face” and you’ll see a lot of people, some low-carbers after a cheat day and some just rambling, talking about how they notice their face is more swollen after eating a lot of carbs. I notice it on my belly, and it has nothing to do with salt intake.

        Patrick wrote on June 13th, 2013
  14. Salt is bad because the one consumed by 98% of the people is created in the laboratory and is pure NaCl ( Sodium Chloride), which is bad. What you are talking about is Natural Salt, either Sea Salt or Himalayan Salt-which is the best salt to use.

    These Natural Salts have all the benefits that you described here.

    Aziz wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • I cook with sea salt and season with fleur-de-sel, but I bet I’m eating non-sea salt in bacon etc. – do you have any links to articles or research on this?

      Primal-V wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • see information on Dr. Mercola’s site about himalayan sea salt

        RN wrote on June 12th, 2013
        • I;ve read articles saying Himalayan salt is really high in fluoride, which I for one avoid like the plague (non-flu’d toothepaste etc) so that’s something to factor in when trying to buy the “best” salt. I doubt the only healthful salt in the world could or would only come from one location, it’s hardly logical. Salt’s good and we need it whatever the source.

          Patrick wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • Buy your bacon from a farmer and have it processed naturally at the meat packer. It has a wonderfully meaty flavor, not excessively salty like “store-bought” bacon. And the renderings? Mmmmm good for sautéing vegies or frying eggs… Sea salted to taste, of course.

        Stephanie wrote on June 14th, 2013
    • “Salt is bad because the one consumed by 98% of the people is … pure NaCl”

      No, it’s not. Iodine has been added, making it much more delicious.

      Everything’s better with iodine.

      michael wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • And sometimes table sugar is also added. To make it “free flowing”.

        allisonK wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • I, too, thought it strange that the type of salt was not addressed.

      (And there are better ways to get iodine than consuming refined table salt…)

      Akimajuktuq wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • To get iodine naturally, I blend seaweed and sea salt together and use that to season my food. I think table salt has a distinct bitter taste, yuck!

        Kiki wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • I read somewhere that nearly every culture on Earth consumes at least 10x the minimum amount of salt determined necessary for human health. Obviously there is much about salt they do not yet understand.

      Diane wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • Didn’t mean for my comment to end up here as a reply to the above.

        Diane wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Table salt is certainly not created in the laboratory – it’s mostly mined from underground salt deposits, or produced by evaporating sea water. And it’s not pure NaCl (most of it in the US has added iodine, but even that which doesn’t has additives to prevent it from caking, plus it contains traces of other minerals depending on the source).

      Jay Gloab wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Oh, please! Where in the world did you get the idea that most salt that people eat is created in a lab? That is absolutely not true. Most salt IS “sea salt.” The fancy stuff just keeps some of the “impurities” (actually additional minerals, which are probably fine but even Dead Sea salt is mostly sodium chloride.) I’ve actually visited the place where a high percentage of the world’s table salt is produced (went for the whale watching, but the salt tour was almost as interesting.)

      They produce salt by flooding an area with the naturally high-saline sea water, letting the water evaporate for a couple of years, then scooping up the pure crystals with huge bulldozers. It gets washed (oddly, it doesn’t dissolve) to remove the minor grit at the bottom (the stuff you get when you buy the more expensive salt and probably good for you) then the crystals are loaded on to barges and sent to ships off-shore. I’ve never seen so much dazzling white.

      For an industrial process it was amazingly low tech and involved no chemicals except crystalline salt and water (probably seawater, I don’t remember.). It was perfectly obvious that the only thing anyone would need to do to the stuff was grind it up and sell it. You could never compete with these guys if you had to build a lab (or even a building! The stuff just sat in the sun and rode out to see in an open barge.)

      I watched the whole thing and brought home some nice chunks of salt crystals–with grit attached. :)

      The extra minerals in the fancy salts are nice, but if pure NaCL really was “bad”, I don’t think they would make it “good,” especially if you get your minerals other ways.

      Ann Coleman wrote on June 14th, 2013
  15. I found that when I was on a SAD diet and going through chronic high stress periods I craved salt 24/7. Once the major stressors passed, I no longer craved salt and consequently reduced my intake while still eating SAD. Now that I’ve gone primal (about 6 weeks now), I find that I’ve got a taste for salt again. Probably because I’m getting less salt with primal than I did with SAD. That said, I’ve never feared salt and have always eaten as much as pleases me.

    Jyenny wrote on June 12th, 2013
  16. Good god, y’all!

    (I can’t have been the only one thinking it =P)

    Cyborcat wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Me too! Been humming that since I read the title lol :-)

      Primal-V wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Excellent catch!

      kim brakeley wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • +1….on the “Good God, y’all”!!!…giggling shamelessly!…I thought of this immediately!

      Donna wrote on June 12th, 2013
  17. Thanks! Another informative post.

    Again, I think the salt hype is more aimed toward the SAD – there are rediculous amounts of sodium in processed foods which are hidden with the additional sugars (surprise surprise). I think and have always felt that if you eat whole, home cooked (or not cooked) foods, that you will be hard pressed to over salt.

    Jordan wrote on June 12th, 2013
  18. I think Peter Attia uses bouillon cubes but if I’m wrong, he must be a good person to know. 😉

    Alison Golden wrote on June 12th, 2013
  19. All salt is not created equally. Once, years ago when I was limiting my sodiium intake, I was in Hawaii and we happened upon some old salt “bowls” in the lava near the ocean where the Hawaiians used to harvest salt. I harvested some myself and gobbled it up, it was so delicious. And my body seemed to respond in such a positive way.

    What salt was used in the tests? If it’s the highly processed stuff that is sold in most markets, the results cannot really be compared with me, who never consumes such stuff.

    My BP is not high (or low) since being primal, and it was high in the years I restricted salt more and more till I got down to nearly none. I was actually put on BP meds at that time!

    quilley powers wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Show me an actual controlled study demonstrating a difference between so-called processed salt and so-called natural salt.

      Dan wrote on June 29th, 2013
  20. Full disclosure, I deal with low blood pressure, so salt is not a health issue with me. However, as someone who thoroughly enjoys cooking and has worked in many professional kitchens I can tell you that any good chef is worth his weight in salt. Salt is the difference in making a good meal great. If I could cook with only one other ingredient, fresh herb, etc, it’d be a good coarse salt. And the added bonus-it gets my kids to eat their big carrots and broccoli.

    kate wrote on June 12th, 2013
  21. What about the association between high sodium intake and low bone density? As a woman that is my main concern with ingesting too much sodium, not to mention the bloating.

    Susan wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Bone density can be addressed with diet. A grain/sugar based SAD depletes calcium. We actually need to consume very little calcium if we are eating a biologically appropriate diet.

      I eat only natural salt, as much as I want (which is lots). There is no bloating and no negative effects at all. Table salt? I don’t touch the stuff.

      Akimajuktuq wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • There’s no molecular difference between natural salt and table salt that would account for bloating or not. If salt consumption is causing water retention, just decrease salt consumption until you are comfortable. But there could be other health or diet issues that are causing water retention. Water retention is a just natural reaction to the body trying to balance the salt concentration between your blood and your cells.

        Table salt is 97-99% NaCl, with the rest being natural trace minerals, added iodine, and trace amounts of anti-caking agents – which are in fact just other mineral salts.

        The advantage of natural salts are that they do (depending on the source) contain a marginally higher amount of trace elements than table salt and they also generally come in larger crystals, meaning it’s a little easier to regulate the amount we use. A tablespoon of sea salt crystals has less sodium than a tablespoon of fine table salt, not because of any molecular difference, but simply because there’s more air space between the larger crystals. By weight, they are virtually identical. A gram of sea salt has the same amount of sodium as a gram of table salt.

        Mantonat wrote on June 12th, 2013
        • Thank you. Sometimes I feel like everything that is available from the grocery store is part of the axis of evil.

          Mrs. Practical wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Weight bearing exercises, such as walking, and getting plenty of vitamin D, either via sunlight or suplimentation of D3, will help maintain/increase bone density.

      Did a quick Google search. This study shows a mild association in men, but not women.
      The study says that insuring an adequate potassium and calcium intake works better than restricting sodium when it comes to preventing bone loss
      This study shows no association with sodium intake and bone desity.
      This study does shows that you can either cut sodium or increase calcium to prevent bone loss.

      b2curious wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • No bloating in the absence of starchy carbs. I’ve been grain free for 2 years and NO water retention was the first “symptom” I noticed. After a few weeks, I started to get muscle cramps in my legs… sodium depletion causes your body to “borrow” potassium from your muscles to maintain hydration. I started adding salt to everything: my water gets a sprinkle, all my food is prepared with salt, and if I feel particularly fatigued, I will drink a cup of broth morning and night for a few days. Also, with adequate magnesium levels, your bone density should actually improve. Avoid magnesium oxide supplements, though, because they have a distinct laxative effect.

      Stephanie wrote on June 14th, 2013
      • Ah, so that’s why my leg cramps went away with either table salt or the potassium chloride “substitute”.

        WalterB wrote on June 26th, 2013
  22. Thank you for the great article, salt is an essential part of our composition. I’ve recently started paying more attention to ‘hidden’ salt, in things like tomato sauce, organic chicken sausage, restaurant food, etc. and reducing it has made a huge impact on how I look and feel. I was by no means a processed food and restaurant junkie, but a few simple changes made a huge difference. I think salting your food with quality salt, and eating commercially salted foods are where the difference lies and this article really brought that home for me:

    Ellen wrote on June 12th, 2013
  23. I am a salt-a-holic, but also a stress ball. I mean, I live on cortisol, hence this article was enlightening for me. My blood pressures have been low my entire life, but I am also a diabetic and have that frontal apple shape so unpopular lately. (you really may not notice it, but I do) I have never had enough willpower to avoid salt. Now I won’t worry.

    Suze wrote on June 12th, 2013
  24. I love salt. It makes even my cooking palatable!

    The Beckster wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Too funny!

      Nocona wrote on June 12th, 2013
  25. No question that it aint worth livin’ if u can’t enjoy yr food. I do think that a Q not addressed by Mark is how the sodium level in the blood relates to BP etc. If I remember right the recommended max/min for Na is 40/36. Does this mean that within this range BP will almost certainly be ok?

    K.Gopal Rao wrote on June 12th, 2013
  26. Although we need to limit all sodium (and potassium, and phosphorous) in food selection/preparation in our household due to a family member with chronic kidney disease, I use sea salt fairly liberally for my own consumption and do feel it helps me avoid over-consumption of the sugars which are my personal Pandora’s box. I agree with previous comments that eliminating processed foods is 90% of the battle – bread products in particular are surprisingly full of sodium. I think that the paleo diet, with its emphasis on real, unprocessed foods, proteins, healthy fats and veg, eliminates most of the excess sugar, (trans)fat, sodium, and other crap that constitute the primary dietary risk factors for poor health.

    Margo wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • I agree strongly with this. I have Meniere’s disease, which, like chronic kidney disease, genuinely requires a lower sodium diet. Bread products, pizza, processed soups, crackers and all the pre-processed dips, sauces and spreads are HUGE sources, as are all vegetarian “fake meats”. If you get those things out of your diet, it’s really relatively easy to consume <2000 mg of sodium, even with moderate consumption of stuff like cheese & olives. I typically eat around 1500mg (a little more in the summer when working out in the heat) and I have to consciously salt my food to get to that amount. It's actually easy to go too low while eating paleo.

      Meats, vegetables, nuts, fruits and unprocessed dairy products simply don't have a huge ton of sodium. Add moderate amounts of sausage or jerky, olives, saurkraut & cheeses and you have a pretty normal healthy sodium intake.

      jj wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • And bread products are (mostly, if white) high in bromine. Not to mention gluten etcetera.

      WalterB wrote on June 26th, 2013
  27. I’m just wondering about babies and children – you are instructed to cook salt free when you have a little one and are told their kidneys cannot process salt. I add sea salt at the table so the little ones don’t get any but would prefer to add during the cooking process. Would that be ok?

    ali wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • In her article on feeding babies, found on the Weston A Price website, nutritionist Jen Allbritton writes, “Don’t neglect to put a pinch of salt on the egg yolk. While many books warn against giving salt to babies, salt is actually critical for digestion as well as for brain development. Use unrefined salt to supply a variety of trace minerals.”

      Here’s the rest of the article:

      I would add that salt is critical for proper digestion, providing the chloride in hydrochloric acid, and the anti-salt movement is contributing to the spike in digestive disorders in babies and children. And adding fluoride to drinking water combined with removing salt from the diet is a double whammy for the development of the brain.

      Of course, we should avoid chemicalized table salt and use only mineral-rich sea salt or Himalayan salt.

      Beth wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • I should add that fluoridated water, removing salt from the diet, and removing cholesterol from the diet is a TRIPLE WHAMMY for the developing brains of babies and children.

        Beth wrote on June 13th, 2013
  28. My “traditional” doctor told me that salt was only bad for people with heart conditions, and to consume to whatever my taste preference was. How liberating!! My naturopath who helped me transition to primal with a fairly restricted diet first, shared this gem with me: consume salt to your taste/preference. However, you do need enough water to process the salt you consume. She suggested that regardless of what I consumed, to maintain roughly the same amount of salt and water consistently across days to reduce irrelevant weight fluctuations on the scale. For those of you concerned with that, I found that she was spot on!

    Leslie wrote on June 12th, 2013
  29. The only thing I fear is sugar… I’m not afraid of salt and neither of fat. I follow Mark’s advice, except for lentils which may not be primal food, but is nonetheless good for you. I use salt liberally, to taste, but my salt is unbleached, unprocessed (it’s not even white!) and million of years old. It does not come from the sea, but is mined in the desert of Utah. It’s aptly called “Real Salt”. You may want to check it out (it’s cholesterol free and fat free, if you buy into that nonsense).

    Chris wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • I use this as well. It also has more than 60 naturally occurring trace minerals. I think it has a pink hue.

      Kiki wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Fat-free salt!

      ROFL :-)

      Primal-V wrote on June 13th, 2013
  30. Interesting piece Mark. Ive been on a low salt diet for years for an inner ear problem in which restricting my sodium intake should control the inner ear pressure that can get a bit out of whack. The jury is still out on it for me, but I persist with it in the hope that its helping. I also went primal a few months ago to see whether that would help my condition, so far so good, but its early days yet and Im going to wait a while time before I say primal is def helping that issue. It sure helps other things! But coming back to the salt issue, maybe Ill up the salt intake a bit and see what happens. I train a lot, in various sports so hopefully Ill recover better. Thanks.

    John wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • You have been doing it for years and the jury is still out? Something is amiss there!

      Nocona wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • I have Meniere’s which is probably very similar to what you have. The jury is in for me… a low salt diet (and eliminating 100% artificial sweeteners) keeps me off meds 95% of the time. The medications to me are far worse than the possible consequences of a lower sodium diet. I’ve been using a lower sodium paleo approach for a couple of years now and it’s greatly cut my vertigo attacks.

      That being said… different people respond differently, and not all Meniere’s sufferers seem to respond as well as me to a lower salt diet. Some are affected by gluten or by food additives, some people might be able to improve stuff with their diet but still need meds. It’s tricky to sort out. I’ve been able to up my sodium once I figured out the artificial sweetener thing… it’s definitely a balancing act.

      jj wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • Vertigo type symptoms are what i have, and really starting to bother me. Think mine related to allergies, but the ear feels infected, though it is not. Maybe just histamine stuff going on from allergies. Was trying lots of salmon omega 3 oils and getting the omega 3/6 ratio in check, not sure if that was working. Still searchin’ !!

        Bob wrote on June 12th, 2013
        • See, for me the vertigo attacks are not something that “bothers” me, it’s something where I can’t stand, can barely crawl across the room and it’s accompanied by uncontrollable vomiting for hours on end. We’re talking ER visit, IV drip of anti-emetics kind of thing. If a moderate reduction in my salt intake can avoid those symptoms most of the time, then insulin & cortisol be damned, I’m going to reduce my salt.

          Yours sounds like less of an easy answer. If it’s just been a few weeks or months, it might be allergies, or sinusitis. Have you tried antihistamines?

          jj wrote on June 12th, 2013
        • I had vertigo 2 springs in a row a few years back. The room would spin and I would be so ill I couldn’t move. Any head movement would make me vomit. At first I thought I had seasonal allergies, then figured out it was the sunless tanning lotion I was putting on to get my ever -so -white legs ready for summer.

          Just wondering if other folks with vertigo might be bothered by chemicals.

          Hibiscus in tea and long exposure to blue window cleaner give me migraines. Also most hand sanitizers cause a dull headache and feeling of too much saliva production in my mouth. Weird! Following a diesel vehicle down the road makes my ears plug up and hurt.
          So all this makes me wonder about plastics and foams in mattresses & car seats & all the other chemicals we encounter…..

          At 54 I thought that my arthritis aches and pains were inevitable. When I quit sugar and grains I was 100% pain-free in 5 days!

          Ruth wrote on June 14th, 2013
    • John.
      I too have an inner ear problem, always seems infected, closed up. Getting a lot of dizziness now too, suspect balance.
      ENT says nothing wrong, figures ! But my salt intake has always been low, pretty positive of that. Trying more now, will see if there is any improvement with ear.

      Bob wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • A few years ago something similar happened to me (I was 39 at the time). Constant pressure in one ear, hearing loss, tinnitis. I went to a specialist and the best they could come up with was idiopathic sensori-neural hearing loss. The idiopathic part just means that they don’t know what caused it or how to fix it. They thought maybe it was viral, so they put me on a round of anti-virals and steroids for a while with no results. That was followed by a month of going to the hospital 3 times a week for a 2-hour histamine drip. The symptoms would lessen during the drip, but would return after the histamines cleared my body. They were convinced for a while that I had Meniere’s and tried to talk me into being convinced that I had dizziness and balance issues, but I didn’t so they eventually dropped that theory. They never did come up with any long-term treatment or even a recommendation for a hearing aid, so now I’m half-deaf in one ear with near constant ringing. I do find that good sleep and moderation of salt, sugar, and alcohol reduce the symptoms, but they’re always there.

        Mantonat wrote on June 13th, 2013
        • To answer Mark’s question about salt. I once hated and feared salt.
          I found out about Mark through my doctor who told me to eat mostly meat and vegetables. I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER!
          with the low carb diet I now enjoy salt much more. It tastes different to me now. I do notice a HUGE reduction in water retention, puffiness and arthritis when I am avoiding refined sugar. my blood pressure has gone from 130’s/ 80’s to 112/ 60. I am 54, female and still 70 lb overweight. Eating more salt than I ever have. Very slight increase in activity may have helped B/P drop also?

          Ruth wrote on June 14th, 2013
  31. I found out I had adrenal fatigue 3 or 4 years ago, and one of the protocols my Dr. put me on was sea salt or Himalayan salted water. He said there was something about salt disolved in water that was very good for the adrenals. It got rid of the swelling in my legs, too. I’m to the point that I don’t like to drink anything sweet anymore…just give me some icy cold salt water!

    Cindy wrote on June 12th, 2013
  32. I’m so happy to read this because I love salt, especially since I discovered sea salt! I’m curious, though: why do so many of the Primal recipes not include an amount for salt? Usually it’s “salt to taste” or it’s left out altogether. I have to refer to my Joy of Cooking book to know how much salt to add. Some of the recipes were too bland for me with no salt.

    Joy wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • I would guess that this is a case of “listen to your body”. In my experience, if I have been eating very little sodium but lots of veggies then even straight salt tastes good. As in, pour a half teaspoon in my hand, eat it, repeat once or twice. Then the salt stops tasting good. Also, when adding salt to food, the amount needed for “to taste” is inversely related to the amount I’ve had in the last day or two. As others in the comments have surmised, I think that salting to taste is a good way to get the amount that your body needs.

      Bill C wrote on June 13th, 2013
  33. Don’t dismiss salting your fruit!

    I grew up in Oklahoma and Texas during the ’50’s. We always salted our grapefruit and melons. It made these fruits even more flavorful. And of course, it helped us conserve our fluids in that hot, dry and windy weather.

    As I moved around the country later in life, I would still salt my cantaloupe to the odd stare or the comment – what are you doing? My mouth is now watering so I better go salt a piece of cantaloupe in the frig to conserve my fluids. It’s so fun to eat flavorful foods to improve your health!

    Nate wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • Even better, in Mexico they not only salt fruit, but add hot chili pepper spices. It’s to die for.

      Nocona wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • You won’t get weird stares from me. My mother always salted her cantaloupe,

      Amy wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • My father always salted apples.

      Nona wrote on June 12th, 2013
  34. It always baffles me how people of science can latch onto salt (and its osmotic qualities) without considering that sugar has virtually the same osmotic qualities. The Kuna of Panama probably eat not sugar and few high density carbohydrates. Sugar is much more likely to be the culprit in high blood pressure than salt which is clearly necessary for life, while sugars are not.

    Ellie Winslow wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • It’s the “You’ll pry the bread and sugar from my cold dead hands” bias in medicine.

      Amy wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • True. There’s also the biblical connection to wheat. If ever there was a sacred cow, it’s wheat. Never mind the fact that the Staff of Life as we know it is something entirely different and will probably make you fat, sick, and eventually kill you.

        Shary wrote on June 13th, 2013
  35. When I was a kid… in the 1970’s and 1980’s I remember my grandfather taking “salt” tablets during the summer months to keep from having a heat stroke.

    I never understood why anyone would take a salt tablet back then but it makes perfect sense now.

    Grandad worked out in the heat doing construction and farm work. He would sweat a LOT. And guess what is the largest amount of nutrients lost through perspiration? Soudium and Potassium.

    Isn’t it strange how the wisdom of our ancestors gets nullified by some knucklehead who thinks his degree is superior to practical experience? Turns out that things do not always work the way we thought.

    James Talley wrote on June 12th, 2013
    • When I was a kid in S Texas in the early 80’s, they would give us salt pills at football practices (I once chewed on one on a dare, so have a VERY strong memory of this). I wonder if the deaths from heat stroke in football practices in recent years can be attributable (at least in part) to this being discontinued.

      Jim T wrote on June 12th, 2013
      • to the two above posts,
        summer of 1956, Lackland AFB, Texas,TWO salt tablets with EVERY meal.

        Fred Timm wrote on June 14th, 2013
  36. I LOVE salt. I eat unprocessed pink salt or sea salt as much as I want, no limit. However, I didn’t see anywhere in the article where type of salt is mentioned. Natural salt should be differentiated from refined table salt and the salt that is used in processed foods. I think the form of one’s salt DOES matter. I agree that it’s ridiculous how salt has been demonized and there are many historic societies that consumed a lot of salt with no detriment to health. Basically, if we want to be healthy, we should just do the opposite of almost everything we are told, at least in regards to food.

    Akimajuktuq wrote on June 12th, 2013
  37. The problem is that most people get their sodium through fast and processed food. Eliminate that crap, and salt your real food to your heart’s content.

    glorth2 wrote on June 12th, 2013
  38. Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt. Check it out!!!

    Linda A. Lavid wrote on June 12th, 2013
  39. I’m lucky. My doctor tells me to pay attention to my body and if it wants salt, give it salt! I have lowish BP so it’s of particular concern to me as I hate fainting in public. After grueling tennis matches, I’ve been known to drink pickle juice until sated and wake up in the morning ready to go again! and I, too, LOVE salt on my melon! Delicious!

    Mighty mo wrote on June 12th, 2013

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