Sodium is Essential (in the right quantity) – But Not All Salt is Created Equal

Glass saltcellar with salt insulatedLet’s face it – sodium has gotten a pretty bad rap lately. But in light of all the advice suggesting we reduce our sodium it’s important to know that (the right amount of) salt is also an essential nutrient for our bodies. So while overdoing it can still be detrimental to your health, you actually don’t want to go down the path of cutting out salt all together.

The reason so many Americans struggle today with high blood pressure and other sodium-related health issues is because very little of our sodium intake actually comes out of a salt shaker. In fact, “Processed and restaurant foods account for more than three-quarters of all sodium,” according to a 1991 study says CSPI – which means we don’t even know when we are eating it.

On that note I want to share a little something about my own personal health journey today. I am not saying what happened to me will be the same for everyone living a real food lifestyle – but maybe this information can help some. In early 2010 we began our mission to cut out all highly processed food. We changed a lot of things fairly quickly (in a matter of weeks) and many other changes were more gradual. When we initially cut out all the boxed, packaged and canned foods – and also started eating at restaurants less frequently – we obviously in turn greatly reduced our sodium consumption. Which is a good thing – right? Well to a certain extent, but what I didn’t realize at that time is that some salt is actually an essential part of our diets – in the right quantities that is.

So as time went on we started taking our real food diet even further by greatly reducing the amount of salt we cooked with at home…and even cutting it completely out of some recipes (like my almost daily breakfast of granola). I don’t remember the exact timing of it all (because it took me a while to put two and two together), but after making these changes I started experiencing some episodes of lightheadedness. What I mean is I would momentarily feel like I might pass out. I never did (thankfully!), but it was certainly a bizarre and worrisome feeling that was happening on average once per week.

Then one time I felt lightheaded when I was out with my girlfriends, and they immediately knew something wasn’t right with me (because I suddenly got very quiet – which is a rarity – ha!). So I shared what had been going on and as it turns out one friend had recently gone through something very similar. After a barrage of appointments with doctors and specialists she learned that the sensation was due to low blood pressure (that I already knew I had, to an extent), which can result from too little sodium. I was of course intrigued by this information!

Not All Salt is Created Equal

So little by little – thanks to advice from my girlfriend – I started adding salt back into recipes like my granola, which alone did wonders. She said that she didn’t personally go overboard, but if she felt like a dish could use more salt she simply didn’t hold back. I started doing the same and what do you know – my episodes of lightheadedness have basically disappeared. But it’s important to know – just as there is a difference between processed food and real food – the same goes for our salt choices. Just check out these examples below. I can’t believe I never knew that the standard table salt by Morton’s contains sugar (listed as dextrose)!

refined vs unrefined salt

So yes sea salt is the better choice over table salt, but here are two important factors to consider:

  • Check the ingredient label (if there is one). If the salt product lists any additives other than salt it is likely refined and therefore not the best choice.
  • Look at the color of the salt. If it is brilliantly white – just think of white flour versus whole-grain flour – then that’s another giveaway the salt product has likely been refined and again not the optimal choice.

There is honestly a lot more to it than that when it comes to all the different types of salt, but fully explaining the minutiae of how each salt brand is processed and labeled could be a very lengthy discussion. So if you are into that sort of thing I highly recommend the “Is Your Salt Real” booklet by Redmond Trading. They have definitely done their homework. And since I am personally not much into the details of chemistry I just buy one of the two salt brands shown above – Real Salt or Celtic Sea Salt (the Himalayan brands are good as well) – that I am certain are unrefined and call it a day. :) Other brands that either list just one ingredient or no ingredients may be unrefined as well, but again there are quite a few different processing and packaging loopholes that can makes things more complicated than they should be, so I just like to stick to what I know.

I am so thankful to my friend’s advice – because it certainly saved me a lot of trouble and doctor appointments! – but also enabled me to feel better. Isn’t it amazing what you can sometimes learn from a bunch of close fellow mom friends? Has anyone else had a medical “aha” moment thanks to advice from a friend? I’d love to hear the details in the comments.

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175 thoughts on “Sodium is Essential (in the right quantity) – But Not All Salt is Created Equal”

  1. Interesting that you found a link in your personal health to lack of salt – I wouldn’t have considered that based on the symptoms you described. When I had similar light-headed episodes, it was due to low iron (borderline anemic). Despite eating plenty of leafy greens and meat, my body just wasn’t absorbing it well, so I had to add in an iron supplement.

  2. None of the Sea, Hymalaian, and the volcanic salts which are the current trends in foods contain iodine what most people do not know is that the salt used in processed foods also does not contain iodine. Good sources of iodine inclue dried seaweed, cod and tuna fish, cranberries, yogurt, baked potatoes, cottage cheese, and legumes like navy or black Eyed beans

  3. Our family is very conscientious of the foods we eat. My husband had been feeling terrible for quite a long time. Bloodwork and dr appointments revealed he has hypothyroidism. His dr specifically asked if he uses sea salt because it’s commonly a lack of iodine that leads to this condition. Unfortunately, we had been primarily using Pink Hymalayian salt for well over a year.
    We’ve been advised by his dr to discontinue use of it and use salt with iodine.

    This is just one example of how something has been refined to benefit our health and how we have to be educated instead if extreme in our habits and health.

  4. This us a great read, yet…please be sure to consider your iodine intake ! Years ago it was discovered that the addition of iodine to table salt was an easy way to reach the masses and help to eradicate common thyroid issues, like goiters. This made a huge impact. During processing, the salt is sprayed lightly with the iodine. A *trace* amount of dextrose is added to keep it from clumping together. It is such an insignificant amount. Despite also being vigilant about hidden sugars and clran eating, I would rather ingest a trace of dextrose than risk my family’s thyroid health. At one point I had switched to sea salt, yet then realized that even though the label touts 18 minerals, not one of them was a source of iodine. I am still looking for the perfect blend ..

  5. Thanks Real Food for this great article. We grind our own unprocessed salt to make sure it is pure and natural. In fact, we got so interested in grinding salt we designed a dual salt & pepper grinder for OXO which delivers pure unprocessed salt and pepper on demand. You can find it on amazon and at other stores where OXO is sold.

  6. Yes! A dear friend helped my family out by sharing her (many years!) of searching and trying new things related to food dyes. All 3 of my children are “allergic”, meaning they get wacky when they have anything with food dye! And I’m so thankful to her wisdom and guidance! It was in so many items I gave my children- daily! And I had no idea :(

  7. Toni Gabrielli

    This subject came up recently where read that Sea Salt doesn’t contain iodine or not as much as iodized salt. It’s important for us to get iodine.

    1. There are many places where iodine is not in our soil and therefore we have no options other than salt with iodine added. The thyroid gland requires iodine to properly function. Please investigate this part of the salt question. Thank you

  8. Last summer I had a dr appointment and told her I was getting light headed. Since I also can experience low blood pressure she told me to add some salt to my diet. It worked!

  9. Please, please do NOT assume that physical symptoms are due to diet UNTIL you have checked with a physician. It is very dangerous to make an assumption. I know, as I did this very thing and ended up extremely ill with significant anemia and am on a long journey back to health. Please always check with a physician.

  10. Interesting article. I had an aha monent a few years back when benchtop water distillers were popular. It was all I drank for a few weeks. After a while I started to notice my fingers swollen in the morning and eventually they’d be swollen all day every day. I was all set to head off to my Doctor when a nurse friend suggested it could be the distilled water. I stopped drinking it straight away and within 3 days the swelling had completely disappeared. When I read more about distilled water I found out you weren’t to drink it regularly because distilled water has all the minerals removed. I’m sure they have there place just not as your only source of fluid daily.

  11. 2 thumbs up! Great article. We’d love to send you a gift of our Celtic Sea Salt®. Thank you for the education and great words on our salt.
    Please email me your address:)

    Thank you,
    Stephanie

  12. Great article – I wholeheartedly agree! In my own research on salt I have come to many of the same conclusions. I am personally fond of Real Salt since so there are so many testimonials from people who currently have high blood pressure experiencing an improvement using their product, which is not altered by modern manufacturing. Personally I think it tastes ‘saltier’ leading one to use less; and its delicious!

    Kudos & thanks for sharing,

    The Conscionable Foodie
    http://thehealthtipssite.com

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