Its about time to address the salt issue…one of the many reasons why we don’t eat the processed foods is the sodium content. Things that can keep in a package for weeks or months at a time are usually extremely loaded with salt, because its a very cheap and accessible preservative. Food with high salt content is generally an inhospitable environment for bacteria to grow, hence the high sodium content in processed meats.
On a Paleo diet, the small amount of salt you use should come from sea salt, and not because its any lower in sodium…because its not. Sea salt is a naturally derived and unprocessed salt, and usually comes with some added bonus minerals such as magnesium and calcium (up to 2% usually). You still don’t want to go overboard with the salt because it does definitely have some very real health risks if you use too much. While I’m not at all a fan of the American Heart Association’s rhetoric on ‘low-fat heart healthy diets,’ part of their heart healthy diet is low-sodium, which is a real legitimate concern.
Let’s take a look at what can happen to your blood pressure when you’ve got too much sodium in your body and why this is a bad thing:
Salt, or sodium as we’ll call it when its in your body, is the primary extra-cellular ion. This means it is in larger quantities outside your cells than inside. Its counterpart, potassium, is the intra-cellular ion that keeps the delicate charge on either side of the cell membrane in check if hydration status is adequate. Salt attracts water, so in your body, if there’s too much sodium circulating, it will pull water out of the surrounding tissues and into your circulation, which increases the volume of your blood. This increased blood volume causes your heart to work a lot harder to pump that extra blood. Here’s the important part: your heart working harder to pump the extra blood is not the same as you running a few miles to get your heart rate accelerated for cardio-vascular exercise. Its your heart literally pumping harder for a longer period of time, which it can’t sustain over the long haul.
In addition to the stress you’ve just placed on your heart, your kidneys are also working extra hard to try to filter out and excrete all that excess sodium from your circulation. This causes strain on the kidneys, which are not renewable. Once they start to fail, they don’t regenerate or heal. As your heart is over-worked trying to pump the extra volume, your kidneys are overworked trying to get rid of the extra volume. When the sodium in your diet starts to pull fluid from other tissues in the body, you get a thirsty feeling. You go drink more water, then you’ve just added more fluid to the mix. And that’s if you’ve just had water. If you went and drank something else, such as soda, you’ve added even more charged particles to the equation and even more load on your kidneys to try to clear out, when they’re already struggling as it is.
It is estimated that the average American consumes between 3000 and 6000mg of sodium a day. The daily requirement in your diet is about 500mg. You can easily get that from fruits and vegetables, because, yes, there is some small amount of naturally occuring salt in vegetables. Also, seafood is an excellent source. In order to meet the guidelines for a ‘heart-healthy’ sodium intake your salt should be no more than about 1500mg per day.
On the Paleo diet, you’re really only getting about 500mg naturally from vegetables and a small amount in some spices. The rest should come from tiny and moderately used sea salt or the occasional bite of grass-fed dairy cheese.
I think I was talking to someone about my favorite sea salt and I mentioned that I use a Pele Red Hawaiian sea salt, which has a little bit of a sweet zip to it, with the salty flavor. Here is a pic of it and you can buy it here on Amazon. I have also seen Himalayan pink salt, which may or may not be the same type of flavor profile, so I can’t say for sure.