Updated: Oct 15, 2021
Sometimes getting healthy is about doing the opposite of what we’ve always been told. USDA guidelines have promoted high-carb diets based mainly in grain, but Paleo, low-carb, and Keto are actually helping people. Saturated fat is bad for you, right? Yet vegetable oil consumption may be the real culprit behind heart disease.
No surprise here. Nutrition has always been a battleground of back-and-forth debate and contradictory advice. Even so, the topic of this post challenges some of the longest-standing and least-questioned advice in all of health and fitness: avoid salt and drink more water.
Few pieces of health advice are more widely accepted than to avoid salt in your diet. What if I told you this is completely wrong.
The advice comes from a fear of the effect on blood pressure salt intake can cause. Blood pressure is one of the most directly correlated factors in heart disease risk, but the idea that lowering your salt intake is the best way to lower your blood pressure is suspect at best.
How important is salt? In nature, salt licks are sought by all types. Carnivore, omnivore, or herbivore, salt is a necessity. For humans, it’s not much different. Do you know the word salary is Latin for salt? This mineral is so valuable, it’s one of the oldest bases for currency. I’m all about the wisdom of nature, but we don’t need to go that far to see the value.
If for no other reason, salt should be valued for being one of the main electrolytes our body needs. Electrolytes literally transport electrons in our biology. They keep us running at the atomic level!
Other electrolytes like calcium, magnesium, and potassium are promoted, and we’re all told to drink as much water as we can handle. Without salt though, all that water can lead to loss of these essential minerals.
I’m not suggesting you stop drinking water but maybe focus on it less. In short, chase salt.
The Table Salt Issue
Salt has been linked to increased blood pressure in many studies, but the problem is most of these studies use table salt. What’s the big deal there? Well, what if you drank water that had anti-caking agents, aluminum, and lab-processed chemicals in it? That’s what it’s like.
Table salt is artificial, lab-created, crap. Using studies on table salt to make statements is like telling someone water is bad without mentioning it may have been sourced from lead pipes.
Real salt from natural sources is like spring water is compared to tap water. Hell, salt actually does what most people think water is for: It hydrates you.
When it comes to salt, you want to stick with natural stuff like Himalayan pink sea salt, Aztec salt, Celtic, or Redmond’s brand sea salt.
What does it look like when you use real salt instead of the artificial stuff? Studies have found that despite CDC recommendations to consume less than 2 grams of salt a day, higher consumption was correlated with better health up to 5 grams. Most countries consume an average of 3 grams of salt a day with no negative consequences, and only China, with a level of 5g being common, showed a significant relation between salt consumption and cardiovascular disease.
Salt also may help reduce cortisol, AKA the stress hormone. Increasing salt intake is a good way to combat stress as long as it’s quality salt and you aren’t over-consuming processed foods. Too low salt also potentially increases insulin resistance which means easier weight gain and a greater risk of diabetes.
We need a level of water for hydration, but we also desperately need electrolytes for this process. While most of us drink our fill of filtered, low-electrolyte water, if we don’t get enough electrolytes, this will actually dehydrate us.
Every year, athletes die from over-consuming water. Yeah. They drink themselves to death.
You can drink enough water that it gets into your brain cells and causes swelling, but more often the culprit is water depleting your electrolytes. It’s thought that heart attacks in young athletes occur due to severe depletion of electrolytes.
Many people focus on magnesium or potassium in this equation, but salt is essential for maintaining the equilibrium of both. Coaches used to give their athletes salt pills before games, but I think young athletes get too little salt nowadays.
Still eating processed foods, many people opt for the low-sodium versions of nearly everything they eat. This stuff is still processed junk, but in an athlete who sweats often, the combination of low-sodium foods, overhydration, and training can be disadvantageous and at worse, deadly.
We need water, but not as much as we might think. If you get enough salt you tend to feel less need to drink water all day. Once you figure out your salt intake, you can play around with your water. You shouldn’t feel dehydrated and your pee should be somewhat light in color, but beyond that, it’s more about your mineral status than the amount of liquid you drank.
The Problem With Electrolyte Drinks
Lastly, we have the issue of common electrolyte drinks, supplements, etc. People do focus on electrolytes, but the low-salt stigma pervades even this world. Most electrolyte blends have low salt and high potassium at best.
Magnesium is great to supplement with too but the need for it may be due to low salt. Fortunately, magnesium is pretty safe, and hard to overdo, so I wouldn’t worry too much if you use it too. The other major electrolyte is Calcium, but so much of our food is fortified that I think it’s best to focus on other electrolytes. You can also get great calcium, boron, and phosphorous from a quality bone broth. Calcium deficiency can also be avoided by sunlight and optimized Vitamin D status.
So while everyone else drinks more water, takes potassium, magnesium, and calcium supplements, I say chase salt.
Ironically, it’s those who still eat an unhealthy diet full of processed foods that get enough salt. It’s table salt, so still not great, but if you’re eating that stuff then we have another problem.
Choosing a healthy diet means you need to add salt manually. You aren’t getting all that junk table salt from processed junk food, so you’re actually at an even greater risk of salt deficiency.
At the most basic level, stop being afraid of the stuff and salt your food to taste. Many people benefit from going even further, but if you eat healthily and don’t currently salt your food, start with that. Follow your cravings. Add salt if it sounds tasty, and you’ll go a long way. Some of our expert friends in this field suggest that salt is so important to us that our brains will tell us if something is too salty. Otherwise, we can’t really overdo it. Again, this is especially true with diets that are typical “paleo” or “keto”.
The next level would be measuring and aiming for the average. In a study of many cultures and nations, it was found that people tend to consume 3000mg (3 grams or half a teaspoon) of salt throughout the day.
For athletes or those following low-carb or keto, you’ll probably need more. Carbs help with electrolyte retention. This is one reason it’s good to cycle a keto or low carb diet, but I digress. Low carb diets have a diuretic effect as your body depletes muscle glycogen and burns fat for fuel.
As an athlete or low-carber (or anyone) you might need extra salt if you’re feeling symptoms. Minor electrolyte deficiencies usually aren’t noticeable, but major deficiency can cause fatigue, heart problems like palpitations, cramps, light-headedness, etc.
More and more athletes are trying low-carb and noticing many of these issues. Adding up to 2 teaspoons of salt to your current diet can be necessary to stave off these effects. This is near 10 grams of salt a day, but when you’re keto and athletic, your body might need it.
Another way you can address this is by cycling your diet, but you’ll still probably need support. Start by salting your food to taste, then add a half teaspoon of salt to a water bottle every day, and work up to 1 or 2 teaspoons depending on how you feel and whether you’re cycling out of ketosis and your activity level.
You should feel stable energy throughout the day. If you associate these diets with fatigue, it’s probably a salt issue. Too much salt feels a lot like too little. If you start feeling better, but then start feeling worse, you might need to back off. Some people are sensitive to salt or don’t need much for genetic reasons. Keep an eye on it and don’t aim to overdo things.
Easy Ways To Chase Salt
Add it to your water
The simplest way to immediately increase your salt is by adding half a teaspoon to a large glass of water in the morning. This goes great with some lemon. Drink it, and go on with your day.
My buddy Robb Wolf has been ringing the salt gong thoroughly, and one of the best ways to get more is with his LMNT product. It’s an electrolyte blend that actually prioritizes salt properly.
There’s already a citrus version, so you could also just make a drink each morning with it.
If you’re low-carb and/or an athlete who needs more salt, I suggest spreading it out through the day. Taking more than half a teaspoon of salt mixed in a water bottle can cause disaster pants. I’ll let you guess what that means.
Make Salty Bone Broth
Just drinking bone broth is already a great way to improve your electrolytes and a quality pre-made blend like those by Belcampo. Add some salt of your own for an extra boost, or make your own bone broth from the start.
A note on making your own bone broth: You’ll want to use bones from a high-quality regenerative farm whose cows are totally grass-fed and grass-finished. Cow feed, antibiotic exposure, and the environment of normal cows impact the quality of the boney materials. Just like you don’t want to eat tuna steaks every day, it’s best to avoid beef bones from classically fed cows. This goes for other critters too.
As far as recipes go, that’s your call. In general, all a bone broth needs is water to cover the bones in a stockpot, a bit of white or apple cider vinegar to extract minerals out of the bones and into the broth, salt to taste, and any vegetables you may want to add. Simmer for 18 to 32 hours and you’ve got a delicious broth.
Lastly, I want to mention some good salts you can use. Redmond’s sea salt is a good alternative.
The mine is deep and not exposed to pollution, and the salt is naturally high in Iodine which may be helpful for preventing thyroid problems. There’s also Celtic sea salt, Aztec sea salt, and many others to choose from. As long as you’re not using table salt, you’re already doing better. I’d rather you pick something and start than be choosy.