Salt has long been a treasured food staple. Far from being harmful, high-quality salt is actually essential for life, but in the United States and many other developed countries salt has been vilified as a primary cause of high blood pressure and heart disease.According to preliminary research presented at an American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans on March 21,1 excessive salt consumption contributed to 2.3 million heart-related deaths worldwide in 2010; 42 percent from coronary heart disease and 41 percent from stroke.This includes sodium intake from commercially available table salt and sodium found in processed foods and soy sauce. According to the researchers, 40 percent of deaths were premature, occurring in those under the age of 69. Sixty percent of the deaths were in men; 40 percent were women.To reach these conclusions, the researchers analyzed 247 food surveys on sodium consumption collected between 1990 and 2010. From these, they tried to determine how the various salt intakes affected cardiovascular disease risks. The ideal salt intake was determined to be less than 1,000 mg per day.Kazakhstan had the highest average salt intake at 6,000 mg per day. Kenya and Malawi had the lowest average intake at about 2,000 mg. Other salty regions included Central Asia, with an average of 5,500 mg sodium per day; high-income countries in the Asia-Pacific area, averaging 5,000 mg per day; and East Asia at 4,800 mg per day.According to the featured article:2“Global sodium intake from various sources such as prepared food and soy sauce averaged nearly 4,000 milligrams a day in 2010… In the U.S., the average intake was about 3,600 milligrams a day. While the World Health Organization recommends sodium intake of fewer than 2,000 milligrams a day, 181 of 187 countries representing 99 percent of the world’s population exceeded the recommended level.”
You Need Salt, But Make Sure It’s the Right Kind
So is salt a dietary friend or foe? Salt is actually a nutritional goldmine, provided you consume the right kind, and maintain a proper salt-to-potassium ratio, which I’ll discuss in a moment. Unfortunately, modern table salt has very little in common with natural, unrefined salt.
Salt provides two elements – sodium and chloride – that are essential for life. Your body cannot make these elements on its own, so you must get them from your diet. Some of the many biological processes for which natural salt is crucial include:
Being a major component of your blood plasma, lymphatic fluid, extracellular fluid, and even amniotic fluid Carrying nutrients into and out of your cells, and helping maintain your acid-base balance Increasing the glial cells in your brain, which are responsible for creative thinking and long-term planning. Both sodium and chloride are also necessary for the firing of neurons Maintain and regulate blood pressure Helping your brain communicate with your muscles, so that you can move on demand via sodium-potassium ion exchange Supporting the function of your adrenal glands, which produce dozens of vital hormonesHowever, not all salts are created equal. Natural salt contains 84 percent sodium chloride, and 16 percent naturally-occurring trace minerals, including silicon, phosphorous and vanadium.Processed (table) salt, on the other hand, contains 97.5 percent sodium chloride and the rest is man-made chemicals, such as moisture absorbents and flow agents. These are dangerous chemicals like ferrocyanide and aluminosilicate. A small amount of iodine may also be added.
Some European countries, where water fluoridation is not practiced, also add fluoride to their salt.3 In France for example, 35 percent of table salt sold contains either sodium fluoride or potassium fluoride, and use of fluoridated salt is widespread in South America.Besides these basic differences in nutritional content, the processing—which involve drying the salt above 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit—also radically alters the chemical structure of the salt. So, while you definitely need salt for optimal health, not just any salt will do. What your body needs is natural, unprocessed salt, without added chemicals.
Does Salt Really Cause Heart Disease?
Overindulgence in the typically used commercially processed table salt can lead to fluid retention, high blood pressure, swelling of your limbs, and shortness of breath. In the long term, it is thought to contribute to high blood pressure, kidney and heart disease, heart attacks, and heart failure.However, compelling evidence suggests that while processed salt can indeed cause fluid retention and related health problems, numerous studies have, overall, refuted the salt-heart disease connection.For example, a 2011 meta-analysis of seven studies involving more than 6,000 people found NO strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death.4 In fact, salt restriction actually increased the risk of death in those with heart failure.