Confused about whether you need additional salt in the summer or when you’re active? Or have you been avoiding salt because it’s been considered “bad for health”?
What are the roles of salt?
- Salt is one of the six essential tastes or flavors. This means we need it for digestion to work properly, and it also makes food and meals taste “balanced/good.”
- Salt is a required electrolyte for balancing water + fluids throughout the body
- Salt helps to keep us supple and to create flexibility in the joints – no added salt dries us out and is depleting. This is because sodium holds onto water in the cell.
- Sodium helps with water absorption from the gut. When you drink something that contains sodium and carbohydrate, you will have increased absorption of water and once it is absorbed, the water will be better retained.
- Salt aids in digestion and elimination of wastes
- It’s a co-factor for transporting glucose (a simple sugar from broken down carbohydrates) across the small intestine lining to be absorbed.
- It’s a co-factor for transporting amino acids (the building blocks of protein) into the cells to be utilized via the sodium-potassium pump in a ratio of 3:2, sodium : potassium.
- The salty flavor stimulates the appetite.
- Salt helps to support muscle contraction and muscle strength.
- Salt helps to clear the subtle channels of the body of stagnation – these are often overlooked in modern western medicine, but are quite important in eastern medicinal traditions.
* Salt is lost through sweat in varying amounts that are individual to you. What’s really interesting (depending on how you look at it of course) is that people that tend to be salty sweat-ers tend to crave salt more, potentially indicating they desire more salt because they lost more. But counter to this, consuming more salt leads to sweating out more salt in the skin. So it’s not yet entirely clear if you’re craving salt because you lost a lot, or you lost a lot of salt through sweat because you ate a lot of salt.
For highly active individuals, it’s really important to replenish salt and other minerals that are being lost through sweat. In addition to sodium, we also lose potassium, chloride, magnesium, calcium, iron, and others through sweat, and these minerals are all considered electrolytes, meaning they conduct an electric current when dissolved in water.
The electrolytes that are lost in the highest concentrations through sweating are sodium, chloride, and potassium, in that order. The others are lost in much smaller amounts. Because salt is primarily sodium and chloride, salt is needing to be replenished in the highest amount after sweating.
What about when I’m craving salt? Does that indicate I need to eat more of it?
Not necessarily. Take a look at what foods or drinks you are craving. Is your desire for salt satisfied by adding an extra ⅛ – ¼ tsp. per serving of mineral/rock salt to your meals during the cooking process?
An additional way to add extra salt to your diet is by adding rock salt and rock sugar in small amounts in warm water. You can then let them sit at room temperature if you don’t want to consume a hot drink. Or sign up for my newsletter. I’m sharing an easy homemade electrolyte drink this week.
If your cravings are not relieved by the above and you’re craving salty junk food such as chips, french fries and fried potatoes, pretzels and snacky foods, it’s likely that this is a craving representing imbalance in the body at the moment, and eating more of these foods is not going to sustainably satisfy the imbalance.
Craving salt all the time might also indicate a need for additional zinc, and it would be good to check in with your nutrition professional to check your zinc levels and determine other symptoms of zinc imbalance – simply supplementing with additional zinc can lead to other mineral imbalances over time so it’s wise to work with an expert on this.
Symptoms of too much and too little salt
- Too little sodium can lead to hyponatramia (low blood sodium), dizziness, muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, seizures, or coma
- Too much sodium can lead to hypernatremia (high blood sodium), hypertension (high blood pressure), and nausea
- Too little chloride can lead to muscle spasms with loss of consciousness
- Too much chloride can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure)
Quality Salts to Cook With and Eat
- Himalayan Pink Salt has the same potassium concentration as the human body – it also contains other trace minerals and electrolytes that are essential for fluid balance.
- Redmond Real Salt (from Salt Lake City area in Utah) is similar to Himalayan Pink Salt and is also recommended.
- The last best choice is sea salt. Sea salt is very similar to table salt (sodium chloride), with a little more of the other electrolytes. It is less processed than table salt but our modern oceans are not as pure as they once were and thus, sea salt is going to be less of a good choice than mineral (rock) salt. We’re even starting to find microplastics in sea salt!
- Table salt is the least expensive salt at the supermarket and made of sodium and chloride. It’s also what is used in nearly all pre-packaged, restaurant, and processed foods–Table salt is realistically more harmful than it is helpful. It has virtually all the other minerals stripped out of it, and has undergone intensive mining and refining processes.
How Much Salt Should I Eat/Drink?
The answer to this is that it depends on you, and it’s not super easy to gauge just exactly how much salt you need. I recommend ⅛ teaspoon per person cooked into meals at breakfast and ¼ teaspoon at lunch and dinner as a starting point. If you add no additional packaged/processed foods and no other salt in meals, you will inherently meet the lower end of the recommended daily amount per day using these amounts.
Most of us are adding additional inherently salty foods to our meals such as olives, pickles, etc., or eating foods that have salt-added as part of the processing, so still keeping with the suggested amounts to add when cooking meals, you’ll likely still be within the recommended sodium amount.
If you’re a salty sweat-er, or highly active, gauge your desire for salt, and whether it’s relieved by adding additional high quality mineral salt to foods rather than through snack foods, or mix up a batch of the electrolyte homemade electrolyte drink, if you’re a newsletter subscriber, to drink throughout the day or during workouts.
This is by no means a comprehensive review or personalized advice. I encourage you to reach out to me for more personalized support, especially if you need assistance with how to adjust your salt intake in and around exercise or based on your symptoms of imbalance.