Salt is a nutrient that is often demonized. For a long time, we were told that eating salt was unhealthy because the salt would increase our blood pressure, and cause water retention as well.
While it’s true that if you were to suddenly increase your salt intake, you would notice some ill effects, if you are taking in salt in moderation, it is actually a healthy thing to do.
Salt contains electrolytes, which are important for the healthy functioning of our nervous system. It also helps to prevent cramps, which can be important if you are exercising.
Sodium and potassium are important micronutrients, and they can help to stop you getting dehydrated. Too little salt can actually be as bad for you as too much salt. If you take in a little bit too much salt, you will probably vomit to get rid of it (but far too much can actually make you seriously ill), but too little will lead to cramping, weakness, and even erratic heart rhythms and can be something that could require hospital treatment. This is why when you vomit or have other stomach issues it is important to have an electrolyte drink to help you rehydrate.
When the doctors tell you that you should watch your salt intake, what they really mean is that you should try not to add too much salt to your diet. If you are eating a diet that has a lot of processed foods in it, then you are probably getting enough salt as it is. There is no need to add salt to your food.
You can get some electrolytes from fresh food quite easily as well – bananas, for example, are rich in potassium.
There are a lot of examples of foods being demonized. Salt is not the only thing that public health campaigns have told us to stay away from, but that have turned out to not be as bad as we were first led to believe. For example, eggs are rich in cholesterol – and for a while we were warned that eating them is bad for us because of that cholesterol. More recent research shows that there is no link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol, and that we can actually get away with eating eggs because they are a source of protein and are dense in micronutrients too.
Fats are another thing that we are often told to avoid – but that are actually safer than we think. While trans fats are bad, saturated fats are actually essential for health because there are fat-soluble vitamins, and also because we use fats in hormone production.
Really, most whole foods are healthy when eaten in moderation, and a little bit of salt will do you good. The main issue is that processed foods contain a mixture of salt, sugar and fat that is designed to be ‘hyper-palatable’ and makes us want to eat more and more of it. This is particularly true of pre-packaged snack foods that are good for mindless eating.
If you want to stay healthy, try to eat a whole foods, low-carb diet and cook fresh yourself. If you need a little salt to make the food taste better, then that’s OK – salt can trigger parts of your palate and make food enjoyable. Be sure to drink lots of water, though, so that you don’t get dehydrated. The one time where salt can do you bad is if you eat too much of it, and then allow yourself to get dehydrated as well. This can lead to serious health issues.