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Wellness

Take it with a grain of salt

As our country realizes that diet-ary guidelines over the last 30 years have not been working well, health and nutrition are gradually being redefined. Sugar is becoming enemy number one, fat is no longer a health taboo, and the love of salt is not necessarily bad.

Salt got a bad rap because excessive intake can worsen high blood pressure associated with a silent disease called hypertension. Most people do not know that salt actually has a number of health benefits, including assisting in modulating stress hormones, improving digestion, and increasing energy.

LOW BLOOD PRESSURE AND STRESS

For those with low blood pressure, salt can alleviate feeling lightheaded upon standing and can improve energy. Salt is naturally thermogenic and supports increasing body heat and circulation.

People who suffer from low blood pressure often have functional imbalances of the adrenal gland, which regulates stress. The adrenal gland has four primary functions: produce the stress hormone, cortisol; modulate blood sugar; modulate blood pressure; and create the precursor to the sex hormones, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Those affected by stress and adrenal gland imbalance may have strong cravings for salty foods.

Salt actually lowers cortisol and adrenaline to regulate the stress response, which also helps the thyroid gland function more effectively.

DIGESTION SUPPORT

Salt is comprised of sodium and chloride and a wide array of other trace minerals like iodine. Stomach acid is comprised of hydrogen and chloride. Our bodies use salt to build adequate amounts of stomach acid to appropriately digest food. Many people suffer from low stomach acid due to chronic stress, inadequate water consumption, poor diet, and the aging process.

SALT AND WATER RETENTION

Many people are concerned about water retention and bloating from higher salt intake. Water retention does not have to be an issue.

For those who subscribe to a low-carbohydrate diet, the need for salt is actually higher. Low-carbohydrate diets lower the need for a blood sugar shuttling hormone called insulin. Insulin tells the body’s cells to store fat, but it also tells the kidneys to store sodium. Because insulin circulation is lower in a low carb diet, both sodium and water are easily excreted. This helps to shed the water weight, but can have negative effects if sodium drops too much. People on a low-carbohydrate regimen may feel fatigued, lightheaded, or may develop headaches.

For those not monitoring carbohydrates in their diet, water retention can be an issue with excessive salt intake.

HOW MUCH SALT?

It is important to monitor sodium intake if you have high blood pressure, but studies show that hypertension is more complex than simply reducing salt intake. Low potassium levels have been shown to be more common in those affected with hypertension. Healthful foods rich in potassium include dark leafy greens like spinach, avocado, salmon, sweet potato, winter squash, and mushrooms. When considering potassium supplementation, consult your physician because too much can have harmful effects on the kidneys.

Prehypertensive Americans consuming 3,600 milligrams of sodium daily for more than 18 months were twice as likely to suffer from heart disease, stroke, and/or heart surgery than those who reduced their intake to 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily. Extremely low salt diets also have consequences like increased cholesterol and insulin resistance associated with diabetes. Balance is key.

For those with normal or low blood pressure, salt can be your friend, so I advise those people to salt to taste.

IS ALL SALT CREATED EQUAL?

There is a surge of many fancy salts on the market. Salt comes in pink, black, red, blue, and combined with herbs and seasoning. This range can add wonderful flavor to your food. The key is to seek out unrefined salt that you can add to your own food. It is best to avoid refined salt and sodium that is added to prepared or packaged foods.

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Thalia Farshchian is a naturopathic doctor at Discover Health. Her background includes both conventional and alternative modalities, and her practice is primarily focused on weight management, hormone imbalances, and gastrointestinal conditions. E-mail: [email protected]

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