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How Much Salt Do We Need and How Much Is Too Much?

Feb 28, 2011
A: Firstly, I would not be overly concerned about getting enough sodium in a day.  Usually we eat too much sodium and not enough potassium found in fresh fruits and vegetables.  Second, most of the sodium in a North American diet comes in the from added salt.  The amount of salt we need for health is such that a diet rich in minerals may be sufficient and we do not to add salt. Salt is mainly used because it adds flavor and makes bland foods more palatable or as a preservative.
 
As for your body's sodium requirements, it is an essential nutrient that is involved in nervous system functioning, including the heart beat and muscle stimulation.  It is also an electrolyte that is beneficial for endurance training.  Anytime you sweat, you are loosing some of your sodium and that needs to be replaced.  Here it may be beneficial to supplement with salt.  For example, sports drinks have added sodium, not for flavor, but to help replenish the loss of electrolytes along with potassium and other minerals.  This can be supplemented in the form of electrolyte trace mineral drops added to water or juice.  When you are low in sodium, you may crave salt.  For an athlete the aim is to replace the salt before cravings take hold in order to keep up endurance.  There is a time and a place for salt.  Doctors will put you on an I.V. saline solution to help combat blood loss.  Another deficiency risk is associated with extreme water loss or dehydration, as in diarrheal/vomiting. 
 
When shopping for healthy foods, there are two main problems associated with sodium.  On one hand, foods will say they are healthy or natural but contain large amounts of salt and other preservatives, colors, flavor enhancers like msg etc.  On the other hand, foods will be boasted as healthy simply because they are low in sodium.  Just because the product is low sodium doesn't mean that it is all around "good for you".  The answer to both problems is simple - we must read the labels to understand what we are getting.  Look past the nutrition label to the ingredients themselves.  Shop with a conscience for good ingredients, buying fresh whenever possible.  Cleaver marketing can persuade even the most sincere shopper that their product is healthy.  The same is true with low fat, low sugar, low trans fat, low cholesterol etc.  The real question is, "what is it high in?"
 
Home cooked food is usually healthier because you can control for the levels of salt as well as any other additives.  For example, there are many healthy alternatives to salt for seasoning that are based on dehydrated vegetables/herbs, are lower in sodium, and may actually produce better flavor than salt alone.  Keep in mind that at a restaurant the chef has likely added salt to the meal already so you may not know how much you are getting.  Packaged foods will list how much sodium it contains so if your snack gives you half your daily level, be sure to moderate your salt intake in your meals.  Often a little salt during cooking is enough to make the whole dish flavorful. 
 
As for snacks, there is a whole pantry of healthy foods that are convenient-on-the-go-low-sodium-treats.  Raw nuts, dried fruit, yogurt, carrot and celery sticks, fresh fruit, smoothies or protein shakes are easy to incorporate into your day.  If you find that you are craving salt, don't hold back too much because your body may be deficient.  Do try to find healthier ways to curb the craving.  Eating the whole bag of potato chips may be overkill!  Sometimes a few crackers with some salty cheese and some trace minerals in water may be enough.  Try not to use cravings as an excuse to pig out and make sure you drink plenty of water too as you are bound to get thirsty!    
 

Aaron Ander is a holistic health care consultant and educator with a background in nutrition, iridology, reiki, biochemistry, and muscle testing.  With many personal health challenges as a child, Aaron struggled his way to good health and overcame disease using natural means alone.  This success led to a diploma in Applied Holistic Nutrition and a relentless pursuit of the roots of illness.  He has visited and lived on organic farms in an effort to understand what constitutes a truly holistic life.  Aaron currently lives with family in Nelson, British Columbia, Canada, where he writes articles for the holistic health community and has a healing practice. To contact Aaron please visit www.naturalpathhealing.com.

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