There are very few foods that have been as demonized as salt has been over the past 40 years.
It’s claimed that salt increases blood pressure, raises your risk of heart disease, and makes a stroke more likely. And those claims are made by the U.S. Center for Disease Control.
I’ll talk about these claims below, but with as much as has been said, it’s no wonder that we’re generally scared of eating too much of it.
What is Salt?
The vast majority of salt that Americans eat is in processed food since it is one of three components (along with fat and sugar) that make a food hyper-palatable. The amount that we add to our food – either while cooking or while eating – is very small by comparison.
And for much of human history, it was one of the most prized and expensive spices. It was even included in many religious ceremonies over the past 10,000 years.
Salt is, of course, a fairly simple compound composed of sodium and chloride. It can be found in seawater or in salt mines, where it’s often mixed with other trace elements.
Is Salt Healthy?
Let’s put it this way. According to the Institute of Medicine, if you don’t sweat at all, the average adult would still need to consume about 180 mg of salt per day to avoid dying. The more realistic recommendation is that adults consume about 3.8 grams per day.
Without, the human body can’t maintain fluids like blood properly, and things like energy and nutrients than don’t flow in and out of cells properly. Also, the human brain functions partially through the use of sodium.
So it’s clear that we need salt and sodium. But you’re likely wondering still if getting too much is a problem.
In general, the kidneys are excellent at removing excess sodium from the body, which prevents things like high blood pressure as a result of too much sodium.
And recent studies show that blood pressure is not correlated with salt intake and that the lowest risk of heart disease tends to be with people eating between 4-6 grams per day.
Now…none of those studies imply that eating 15 grams per day is ideal. It’s not, and like anything you put in your body, there is certainly a toxic point (an amount that will cause your body harm). But these studies do point to the fact that restricting over the long term is also a problem.
In general, if you’re eating a Paleo diet or a diet composed primarily of whole foods, then there’s very little reason to limit your intake because none of the foods you’ll be eating will be containing very much at all.
So is it healthy? Yes, and in amounts that you’re unlikely to surpass if you’re not eating processed foods. If you’re still eating a lot of processed foods, however, then there is a chance that you’ll get a bit too much.
What Do Other Paleo Experts Say?
Melissa and Dallas Hartwig: “First, salt makes your food delicious. Second, when you cut out processed and packaged foods, you remove the vast majority of sodium from your diet. Adding salt to your Whole30 plate won’t push you over reasonable sodium limits, and if you avoid salt altogether, you run the risk of an electrolyte imbalance (not to mention serious food boredom). We encourage a mix of iodized table salt and sea salt.”
Mark Sisson: “You could drop your salt intake to half a teaspoon and get a three or four point drop in your blood pressure. Of course, you might not enjoy your food anymore, your performance in the gym or on the trail would likely suffer, your stress hormones might be elevated, you might start feeling overtrained without doing any actual training, you could become insulin resistant, and you may have trouble clearing (the elevated) cortisol from your blood. But, hey: your blood pressure readings will likely improve by a few points! Or, you could keep your salt intake up around two teaspoons, give or take, simply by salting your food to taste, and avoid all that other stuff.”
Is Salt Paleo?
Humans crave salt for a good reason. It’s possible to get enough from meats and seafood without adding any more to any foods, but that’s likely not an ideal amount.
If you’re avoiding all processed foods, it’s incredibly hard to get too much, which is why I personally add a LOT to almost everything I eat.