Should You Eat Less Salt – Or More?

salt

Is salt a white poison, like sugar and flour? Or is it essential and something a lot of people are deficient in? Could you feel better by including more salt in your diet?

The role of salt is often discussed, and warnings against salt usually win big headlines.

Fox News: New study indicates that reducing salt intake could save 100,000 lives per year

But the science is not nearly as clear as some believe or pretend.

Questionable Scientific Support

A relevant scientific review showed that there is no evidence that a reduced salt intake affects the risk of heart disease or life expectancy. And the reduction in blood pressure level is often marginal:

To further complicate the picture people get most of their salt intake from processed and junk food. Often from low-fat products, where the salt helps restore some of the lost flavor. Furthermore, there’s a lot of salt in bread and soda.

In other words: if you try to eat less salt you’re also avoiding junk food. So if a benefit is observed in studies (unclear, according to articles above) – then what was the cause? Less salt or less sugar and starch? We can’t know.

Conclusion

Avoid junk food and bread. This will make you avoid unnecessary amounts of salt. Whether you’d benefit from a further reduction in your salt intake, is highly doubtful.

It may also be that an increased salt intake is only a risk factor in combination with a high-carb diet. High insulin levels cause water and salt retention in the body. You may experience bloating (for example around your ankles) and your blood pressure may increase.

Risk of Salt Deficiency?

Eating a low-carb diet, thus reducing your insulin levels, will often make you excrete more fluid and the bloating goes away. In addition, you’ll lose more salt in your urine.

Losing more salt at the same time that you’re avoiding overly salty junk food may push you into salt deficiency. This is most typical when you first switch to LCHF, but may also appear much later.

Symptoms and Solutions

Typical symptoms of salt deficiency are dizziness, headache and fatigue (especially, but not exclusively, in the context of exercising). It can also cause difficulty concentrating (“brain fog”) and increase the risk of constipation.

Fortunately there’s a simple way to cure this: drink a glass of salt water.

  1. Pour a big glass of water
  2. Mix in half a teaspoon of common salt
  3. Drink

If your symptoms improve significantly or disappear within 15-30 minutes, they were caused by salt deficiency and/or dehydration.

Have you experienced salt deficiency? Leave a comment with your story.

More

Is salt bad for you?

35 Comments

  1. Mike
    Hi,
    Have been reading your blog for a year now and its great !
    I have been super happy with my lchf lifetsyle (for a year now), however I have recently started boxing exercise, and the dizzy spells have been almost debilitating - only with extreme exercise. I consciously try to add more "good" salt to my cooking. Is there another thing that may be causing it?
  2. Boundless
    Dr. Peter Attia (eatingacademy.com) hasn't done an article on this per se, but has made remarks like this:

    "Mild carb restriction doesn’t seem to require sodium supplementation, but significant restriction unquestionably does."

    and

    "Evidence implicating sodium in hypertension is pretty weak, but may be context dependent. In other words, other dietary factors, such as fructose, may exacerbate impact of sodium on BP, if such an effect is present. Most recent report by Institute of Medicine says data implicating sodium in HTN is very poor, and low levels of sodium are probably harmful. Ketosis is a unique state that does required supplemental sodium beyond what most people get in their diet."

  3. Bob Johnston
    I've been cognizant of needing to take in salt supplements ever since I had a very bad experience while mountain biking where I nearly blacked out at the top of a long, grinding hill. Ever since then I upped the amount of salt I add to my food and in the summer I actually take salt tablets to maintain a high enough level.

    I think that a low salt level also causes a imbalance in other electrolytes like magnesium and potassium which can cause arrhythmia and other issues. I totally believe that the push to have people lower their salt intake is bad advice.

  4. Leo
    I think you should eat alot of salt. People are scared of salt in a same way as of fat. It's just using common beleaf without thinking.
  5. smc
    Since being on LCHF, I have added a morning drink of bullion to increase my salt intake. Without it, I experience classic symptoms of salt deficiency. My blood pressure has actually decreased since doing this.
  6. Ted Hutchinson
    Maybe the problem is not the sodium but insufficient potassium
    Association between Usual Sodium and Potassium Intake and Blood Pressure and Hypertension"

    This book explains how increasing the ratio of Potassium to Sodium 4 Potassium 1 sodium reduces blood pressure significantly.
    The High Blood Pressure Solution: A Scientifically Proven Program for Preventing Strokes and Heart Disease by Richard D. Moore

    "Potassium, your invisible friend | Dr. Malcolm Kendrick"

    This is interesting.
    Answer to the Public consultation on the draft proposal for the first part of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2012 the part of Sodium as salt

    See also "Yin-Yang Effect of Sodium and Chloride Presents Salt Conundrum" low levels of chloride was associated with a higher risk of death and cardiovascular disease.

  7. Joseph
    Love the picture can't tell you how many times I would take the sugar to flavor my coffee and it turned out to be salt :( Thanks to the matching glass shakers! I did the self test and put a teaspoon of white sugar next to a teaspoon of salt and it's like impossible to tell them apart. More relevant to the post I would say a certain amount of salt is definitely essential. Salt today continues to get bad press :(
  8. Mike from LA
    CYP3A5 Non-expressor here. That's a liver enzyme. People who are CYP3A5 non-expressors will retain sodium like you wouldn't believe. It's thought to be a sodium/water sparing mutation from desert environments.

    Off of memory:
    60-70% of Africans have this.
    5-10% of East Asians.
    About 0% for whites.

    I don't think you can generalize wrt sodium.

    Reply: #10
  9. tz
    I usually get a craving if I need a nutrient, but it doesn't happen with salt.
    (Since going LCHF, not only do I never crave sugar, sweet or starchy things are unappetizing).

    Steve Gibson (grc.com) in a discussion recommended bullion - beef or chicken is usual. It works. Sometimes I'm feeling off, or getting a headache or are sluggish, and it fixes things.

    He referenced a study that carbs tend to make you retain salt and water, but if you lose the carbs, your kidneys tend to flush salt so you need more.

  10. Boundless
    > I don't think you can generalize wrt sodium.

    Well, that hasn't prevented The Anointed from telling everyone to consume less. We can generalize that the consensus view is almost certainly incorrect.

    I suspect the reason this article is titled with a question is that as with carbs, saturated fat, lipids, thyroid and several other issues, what we thought we knew may be mistaken, and things need a fresh look without presuppositions.

    And there will be genetic variations. That CYP3A5 look to be more profound than most.

  11. Joseph
    What about cinnamon? Love it!
  12. Eric Anderson
    Read Phinney and Voleck on salt, bullion, bone broth.

    Also, the morton salt lite is a mix of Na CL and Potassim

    Helps with salt balance

    Salt was only needed tobe added afer the adoptation of grain = high carb diets

    Eric

    Reply: #22
  13. Michael
    My understanding was that when transitioning to low carb you tend to dump a lot of water (which your body has been holding because of inflammation caused by excess carbohydrate) and that the electrolytes go with this. But maybe this is an over-simplified picture, or I'm misunderstanding the process. Dr. Eades has a blog post that's much referenced where he talks about the need to supplement various electrolytes at this time, including but not limited to common salt.

    I had understood that this effect wasn't permanent. I do drink broth a couple of times a week, salt my food a little with a broad-spectrum seasalt, and take magnesium in the evening, but I don't go out of my way to salt-load. No problems, although I have had both postural hypotension and painful cramps in the calves when going into low-carb in the past when I haven't been careful.

    Apart from this specific problem, I think it's rather the other way round. A high-carbohydrate diet actually requires more salt. You'll notice old explorers, people wandering out in the wilds in North America in the old days and so on will often talk of "going without bread or salt". The two go together. In the Russian spiritual classic "The Way of a Pilgrim" the pilgrim goes off with a knapsack containing only bread and salt. You add salt when you make bread; you add salt to panfuls of rice or gruel. Archaeologists and historians sometimes indicate that salt-deposits are necessary for the shift to urban civilisation. For example, Michael D. Coe says that Mayan civilisation was predicated on a particular salt-deposit in that area:

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Maya-Ancient-Peoples-Places/dp/0500289026/

    Those people switching from a largely meat-based diet to a maize-based diet with urbanisation needed the salt.

    Stefansson often mentions that the Eskimo had no salt and disliked the taste -- on one occasion he put some in a stew he made so that no-one else would take any of it!

    And anthropologists have in the past made much of the Maasai's having little access to salt as a proof that they ate little plant-food.

    I suspect there is a reason for all this. I suspect it's plant-based high-carbohydrate diets that require more salt. People weren't running salt caravans across places like the Sahara Desert for nothing.

    IIRC, Sally Fallon of the Weston A. Price Foundation has said that on a more plant-based diet you need salt because you need more HCl in the stomach. That sounds plausible to me -- I don't know where else you'd get the Cl from if not common salt. She's also said that eating a more vegetarian diet and cutting salt, as effectively advised by numerous health bodies and government agencies these day is a bad combination and a quick route to the hospital.

  14. Strict lchf
    I had salt deficiency when i start LCHF diet. But after very strong headache i was to doctor and they said i have to drink salt water. After couple of minutes my headache was over. That happen after eating of big quantity of pork white bacon. I now i make my food very salty but with himalayan salt.
  15. Eric Anderson
    Related to basic questions like salt is basic questions on fats.

    From reading the posts of various places one learns that CREAM is not always the same. The USA has 1/2 and 1/2, light, whippping, and heavy cream. Now I read that in restaurants they have something more like the UK doubble cream. This 40% cream is Manufacturing cream and seems t be availablr in 1/2 gallon size. This is about 1 weeks worth of cream for me so I will see if it is available in Las Vegas when I return.

    Does the extra 11 or so grams per cup make a differance? I do not know. Could I add an ounce of Kerry Gold butter to 7 ounces of heavey cream? I do not know

    Comments?? Eric

  16. Jay
    Since moving to Darwin, NT, Australia 28 years ago I have rarely added salt to my food or supplemented with salt in any way. When I started cycling about 100km per week 15 years ago I wondered whether I would need extra salt, but no, not required. During this time I occasionally suffered from calf muscle cramps, but headaches became increasingly rare. Indeed, all headaches were self inflicted when occasionally over indulging in alcohol.
    Nine months ago I started LCHF but not very strictly. The only effect I have noticed (without any added salt) is that I no longer cramp at all. I can exercise for approximately 1 hour, 3 days per week at over 90% of maximum heart rate without difficulty, at 58 years old and BMI of 26 (overweight?). Perhaps the fact I have eliminated all junk food and eat mainly home grown organic veges goes a long way to meeting my mineral requirements.
  17. Amberly
    I believe that Volek and Phinney or Westman recommend that you stay on some sort of supplementation (potassium and/or bouillon) long term--until you are above 50 g of carbs per day.

    Perhaps information from this old textbook is why:

    Nutrition and Physical Fitness, 1966, by Bogert, Briggs, Calloway

    It's got all kinds of great nutrition info since it was written just before the science really turned towards blaming fat for all our ills.

    The text has the best explanation I've ever seen why low carb diets really require more sodium and potassium (see second bullet point):

    page 401 -- Sodium and Potassium loss on low carb diets
    • Just as there is a limit to the degree to which soluble substances can be concentrated by the kidney, so there is a limit to the acid-base range within which urine can be excreted. Normally the acid-base balance of the diet is well within the functional range of the kidney. The chief acidic products of the diet are sulfates and phosphates formed in the process of protein metabolism. The organic acids found in most fruits and vegetables do not yield acid residues because they are oxidized in metabolism to carbon dioxide and water and are accompanied in the foods by large amounts of potassium and other basic elements. The most frequently encountered instance in which large amounts of acidic substances must be excreted is when fat is incompletely oxidized in the body and acidic intermediate products of its metabolism (ketone bodies, see p. 388) accumulate, as in starvation and diabetes.
    • Ingestion of extremely high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets has this same effect. Under these conditions, basic elements (chiefly sodium and potassium) are required for their neutralization, and thus they are lost from the body.

  18. Paleobear
    Hi! I used to take 1/3 tea spoon of mineral salt (pan salt, finnish one) several times a day and always after a coffee, before gym or aerobic training and if i feel tired or not so good and it always makes me feel much better. For cooking and food i add salt in a way that it tastes good. I use different salts..,sea salt, himalya salt and mineral salt. I recommend to add salt in your lchf diet in a way to better life.
  19. WairimuM
    When I go very low carb I find that I start getting cramps in my legs, and sometimes I feel weirdly dizzy even though I have eaten enough food- I interpret as some mineral deficiency. I take magnesium supplements sometimes but generally I don't worry about my salt intake
  20. Cajsa
    After several years on a LCHF diet I had a few bouts of really bad headaches after exercising, and tried to cure it by drinking a lot of water, which did not help at all, but I had this inkling that it was about lack of salt (I'd probably read about it somewhere). I read up a bit on the subject, increased my salt intake, and that has pretty much solved the problem. However, I learnt the hard way about the importance of the quality of the salt, because when I ran out and bought salt of a different brand, after a while I had the most terrible experience. I first noticed that my face was getting puffy, and then my ankles, legs and whole body, and it was getting worse. My legs felt like tree trunks and it was extremely uncomfortable. I didn't really know the reason for sure, but the only thing I could think of that had I had changed, was the salt, so I tried switching to salt without any additives, and that helped. The worst of the bloating and swelling disappeared over a week or so, but it took a couple of months before I felt normal again. I don't have any other evidence than my experience, but I will certainly not use cheap salt in my cooking again!
    Reply: #33
  21. Nancy
    I can tell I need extra salt but I have to add it to my food which has been difficult. I was raised by very low salters. The cup of bullion or salt in a glass of water causes immediate horrendous clean out of my colon. Not to be gross. Why is that?
    Reply: #28
  22. Kathy from Maine
    Yes, Phinney and Volek in their "Art & Science of Low Carb Lifestyle/Performance" books spell it out clearly.

    A couple of summers ago, I started feeling "off." Flu-like symptoms, but not the flu. Abdominal cramps so bad I couldn't get out of bed. I finally called the doctor and he had me go to the emergency room for tests. One of the tests in the panel was for sodium. Mine was 28 on a scale of 35 - 45. They passed that off as "well, you must have been drinking a lot of water" despite the fact that I said I'd had very little water in the past couple days because I felt so bad.

    As soon as I saw those results, I remembered everything I'd read from Phinney and Volek and so started supplementing with pink Himalayan salt, almost 2 tsp daily. When I repeated the blood work 2 weeks later, I was smack in the middle of the normal range.

    Though I still sometimes forget to take my salt, when I start feeling sub-par, I realize the issue and head straight for the salt.

    By the way, I no newcomer to low-carb eating. Been eating this way since 1998.

    PS: This probably isn't the place to mention this, but why do I get email notifications on only a small proportion of your blog posts? I didn't get notification of this one, but got an email on the next article in your blog on margarine. Strange.

  23. Nicole
    Great point, but I would not use common table salt. Unprocessed salt is never white, Celtic sea salt is grey and moist and Himalayan rock salt is pink. These two salts are very good for the human body and can contain over 80 trace minerals.
    Reply: #24
  24. Kathy from Maine

    Great point, but I would not use common table salt. Unprocessed salt is never white, Celtic sea salt is grey and moist and Himalayan rock salt is pink. These two salts are very good for the human body and can contain over 80 trace minerals.

    I agree whole-heartedly. Not common table salt. That doesn't even taste good to me anymore. I always use the pink Himalayan salt.

  25. Lorna
    I suffer from cramps...Espesialy when i stretch which i do alot. ..Ouch !! and then i get horrible cramps.....I do take a very good tablet called 'cramp ease" but recently i have put a few grains of Himalayan pink salt under my tongue for IMMEDIATE relief..interesting this really helps
  26. Ross
    Salt help in digestion process as it helps to break down the food.
  27. Moo
    What additives? in common table salt, other than iodine? I'm sure the expensive salt is tasty and has trace minerals, but other than that what is or is there a significant difference in the event one is not likely to purchase the. Himalayan etc types?
    Reply: #29
  28. Moo
    How about , if not already done, adding the salt in meals and drinks (like add 1/4 to 1/2 the packet of buillion for instance) gradually over the day rather than dumping a larger amount and see if that helps?
  29. Kathy from Maine
    Table salt is highly processed, for one. This is from a blog post from Dr. Mike Eades:

    "In addition to broth, get some Celtic Sea Salt, Himalayan Salt or one of the other grayish, pinkish kind of grungy looking salts and replace your normal salt with these. And don’t use them sparingly. These salts have been harvested either from ancient sea beds or obtained by evaporation of sea water with high mineral content and contain about 70 percent of the sodium of regular salt (which has been refined, bleached and processed until it is pretty much pure sodium chloride, often with anti-caking agents added). The other 30 percent of the volume is other minerals and micronutrients (including iodine) found in mineral-rich seas."

    http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/saturated-fat/tips-tricks-for-star...

    Also this: http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/uncategorized/another-one-bites-th...

  30. nerdfulthings
    All the bullion I see is loaded with sugar or corn syrup.
  31. Trudy
    We also need to be cognisant of the fact that with a low salt intake we are also often deficient in iodine. I understand that Himalayan Pink Salt is naturally higher in iodine than most other salts, so that is the salt I choose to use in my daily life.
  32. Dan
    They often contain anti-caking agents!
  33. Aris
    @casja Thanks for sharing that. Wife and I have been in a reasonably low carb high fat diet and this week I also was struck with the salt additives question after readin the pack of an 100% sea salt product. I put all other salts away and within just two days my wife has been getting less swelling on her ankles and me less belly bloat. Go figure. Will stay on pure salt now and see what happens long term.
  34. joshs.info
    these responses with people on LCHF have been very helpful. I have been ZC and LCHF this year and noticed when I didn't eat salt, I felt doggish. When I added sea salt into my diet, everything started working again, but I soon over did it with salt. I am sharing this because people reading that might have salt deficiency should be careful with adding too much salt. Start with a little bit and work your way up to tolerable amounts.
  35. 1 comment removed
  36. Lukas
    I was 10 weeks into a low carb Diet (150g/day on 100kg Bodyweight). After my second cub of coffee i got dizzie on a daily basis. This increased until i somewhat passed out. I was not unconcious, but could not stand on my feet.
    I started drinking tomato juice 0.35l in the morning and in the evening (each serving 3g salt), totally fixed the problem.

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