The Great Salt Debate

You would think by now that those in the know would come to a consensus on certain things by now, like just how much salt we should be eating, right? But no, the decades old debate seems to be going on and on. And as researches continue with the whole point/counter-point thing, your typical consumers gets caught in the cross-fire of conflicting recommendations.

Salt Shaker

A while back, the CDC reiterated their stance that “a diet high in sodium increases risk of death from all causes.” We’ve been hearing that for years, right? But just a week or so before this, a highly regarded panel of scientists came out and said “cutting down on the amount of salt has no clear benefits.” To make matter worse, both camps here had TONS of data that support their conclusions.

But wait a sec? If the “experts” can’t agree on this, how are we supposed to figure it out?

Well, a bit part of the problem, like so many other things when it comes to being healthy, there is no “one size fits all” solution. If you are sensitive to sodium, yes – eating too much salt will likely raise your blood pressure – and that contributes to all sorts of life-threatening conditions.

How do you know if you’re likely to be sensitive to sodium? Are you over 50? Are you overweight? Are you African-American? Do you already suffer from any sort of kidney disfunction?

So if you’re one of those who answered yes to any of the above or maybe you already have been diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure), there’s a pretty good chance you’re sodium sensitive and should work at keeping your intake of sodium low – typically about 1,500mg per day – that works out to just over a teaspoon of regular salt a day.

So what about everyone else? Are they just immune to the effects of salt? Well, that’s a definite “it depends”.

Not everyone is sensitive to salt, some people can eat 2 or 3 times the recommended amount without it affecting their blood pressure or causing other noticeable issues. It could be genetics, but there are a number of other factors that could be at play here, and that’s what makes it so hard for the people doing those studies to come to an agreement – sometimes they focus too much on just on the sodium without considering other factors.

So what are these factors that can have an influence?

What else are you eating? In some studies, potassium has been found to help counter the negative effects of high amounts of sodium in a diet. So if you’re eating a lot of potassium rich foods; fruits, vegetables, dairy products and much more, you maybe be able to get by with a higher sodium intake. To say nothing of the other benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables.

Do you sweat a lot? If you’re active, you can lose a lot of salt when exercising… Which will of course help counter the effects of higher sodium intake. Plus, being active helps you get to/maintain a healthier body weight which decreases your risk of high blood pressure, which decreases your risk of being sodium sensitive.

It will be a long time (if they ever) before the researchers will come to an agreement on the data regarding sodium consumption, but there are few simple things you can do that will help you keep your sodium intake at a Positively Healthy level;

Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables – they’re naturally low in calories and high in potassium.

Cut back on processed/prepared foods – this is probably the single biggest thing you can do. This is where most Americans get as much as 80% of their daily sodium intake. And when you do buy packaged foods, look for low-sodium versions.

Taste your food first – most people reach for the salt shaker before they even take their first bite of food. Taste your food first, see if it really needs more salt. Or take it a step further and don’t salt during cooking, wait until you get it on your place, give it a taste, and then see if you still want to add salt.

Get, and stay active – by getting to/keeping at a healthy body weight, you reduce the risk of high blood pressure which lowers the risk of salt sensitivity. Not to mention all the other diseases and conditions you’ll help fight.

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3 Responses

  1. Rob Portinga says:

    I just saw a note in Clean Eating magazine (one of my favorites!) that also emphasizes maintaining a good ratio of sodium to potassium. Their recommendations for getting more potassium in your diet: sun-dried tomatoes, winter squash, beets, spinach, apricots, bananas and prunes.

  2. holly henderson says:

    excellent website Rob! Im a fellow student at IIN and clicked through to your website. Way to go, you have taken off running on your health coach career. I hope to do the same. Are you going to the conference? Holly in Dallas

    • Rob Portinga says:

      Hey Holly, thanks for stopping by. No, I won’t be making it to the conference this year.. just not in the budget in regards to both $ and time. Maybe the next one though.

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