I’ve never been a pre-packed meal person because I knew of the staggeringly unhealthy levels of sodium and sugar that goes in to those foods, even though at times, their convenience would have appreciated.
But is looking at sodium (salt) alone the right way to be looking at whether something is healthy or not?
Let me give a quick example of this. It’s been said for hundreds of years, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are good for you, yet if you eat too many apples you will eventually develop sclerosis of the liver… so are apples really good for you? Of course they are, but like anything, in moderation. The same goes for sodium.
It’s shocking to say the least how narrow minded and blinkered we can be when it comes to looking at statistics and data. As an ex-statistician, I can tell you that numbers can be shown to prove anything and couple that with ones own confirmation bias, it’s no wonder most of us are totally confused when it comes to sodium intake recommendations.
Consider first that, correlation does not equate to causality. By this I mean that just because some facts correlate with other facts or an issue, this does not by default mean that those correlating facts caused the issue. For example, In the year 1500 there where more sea fairing pirates than SUV’s (a fact), in 2018 there are more SUV’s than pirates (a fact)… therefore, should we conjecture that, the increase in SUV popularity can be attributed as the demise of pirates??? We know this not to be true.
The exact same principal needs to be applied to sodium.. here’s why.
You need natural salt AND potassium in your diet.. and avoiding it is not healthy for you at all.
Without trying to sound conspiratorial, mainstream media, governments and the pharmaceutical industry have been telling us for decades to reduce salt.. but this isn’t the full story. We need to be increasing our intake of potassium as well as consuming good natural salt.
Global research has demonstrated that increasing our potassium levels has a far greater beneficial impact on our health than reducing sodium intake.
Since the late 70’s and early 80’s, we’ve been bombarded with “low fat” this and that to the point that the message is almost lost to us… this means a loss in revenue for its promoters… so up next came “low salt” and “no added salt”… and the money started to roll in again.
Food processing plants can reduce salt easily and to make the food taste the same, they pump it full of sugar and corn syrup. This then leads to the “no added sugar” gravy train gaining steam.. and money. So why not just market products with “added potassium”.. simple, the foods producers are not allowed to add potassium to foods by law. Still think government is working for you and for your benefit?
The bottom line is this, a salt-restricted diet is not the way to protect your health.
The most important factor is potassium intake.
A four year study involving over 100,000 people in 17 countries, the PURE study (Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology study) actually found that sodium intake was not a reliable predictor of heart health – those tested and found to be in the lowest risk group were consuming 3-6grams of sodium per day – far more than the daily recommended limit. Meanwhile, the study also found that those in the test consuming LESS than 3grams a day were in the higher risk group.
Study upon study has been conducted into sodium and human health, and there is no compelling evidence that a low sodium diet helps. In fact, most show the very opposite to be true.
This suggests a non-linear relationship between your heart and sodium (remember correlation does not equate to causality) – too much could be bad, too little could be bad – and too little leads to other risks, however, these studies proposed a different approach, and a new focus – rather than aggressively reducing sodium – we should be focusing on increasing potassium.
[Note: The results were published: “Association of Urinary Sodium and Potassium Excretion with Blood Pressure & “Urinary Sodium and Potassium Excretion, Mortality, and Cardiovascular Events.”]
In 2004 researchers from the Cochrane Collaboration conducted a meta-analysis of 11 low salt trials and found that, in normally healthy people, over the long-term, low-salt diets decreased blood pressure from 120/80 to 119/79. In other words, it made very little to no difference at all.
And in a 2006 study in the American Journal of Medicine compared the reported daily sodium intakes of 78 million Americans and showed that lower sodium diets led to HIGHER mortality rates among those with cardiovascular disease!
In 2011, the Cochrane Collaboration conducted yet another review of the available data, concluding that when you reduce your salt intake, you actually increase several other risk factors that could theoretically eliminate the reduced risk for cardiovascular disease predicted from lowering your blood pressure!
Or, in their own words…
“Sodium reduction resulted in a significant increase in plasma cholesterol and plasma triglyceride which expressed in percentage, was numerically larger than the decrease in blood pressure”
Both potassium and sodium assist in the proper function of the kidneys and are essential minerals in maintaining the correct fluid balance around your body. It is also being found in research now that both of them play a role in bone density and overall bone health. Though it is still early days in this area of research.
So it should be promoted that you NEED salt. Not just any old table salt (sodium chloride refined with dozens of man-made chemicals), but the right kind of salt. You need natural salts – sea salt – natural, unprocessed, unrefined salt.
It has yet to be proven that little to no salt is supportive of heart health, but it (little to no salt) HAS been linked to other risks and even to your heart and blood pressure.
In a 2016 study published in The Lancet – while those already diagnosed with high blood pressure should measure and monitor their sodium intake so as to not go too high…for those WITHOUT high blood pressure, a low sodium diet was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events and death.
What levels of potassium should we be consuming?
In the “Western” cultures, the recommended potassium intake level should be around 4,000mg/day to around 4,800mg/day. Asian cultures who eat far more green leaf vegetables will consume a much higher level of potassium by default.
However, what is actually more important than minimum levels or recommended levels is the ration between sodium and potassium intake that we have. Today, we consume far too much sodium in relation to potassium. This imbalance has been linked to..
- high blood pressure / hypertension
- cardiovascular disease
- muscular loss
- low bone density
The body only NEEDS 200mg of sodium a day to survive, but the average person eating a regular western diet is having up to 7,500mg per day – crazy.
And as mentioned, it’s recommended we have 4,700mg of potassium yet most people are getting half of that amount at best.
So we’ve evolved* with a sodium potassium ratio requirement of around 1:6 sodium to potassium and we’re actually consuming 4:1 sodium to potassium.
In the 2011 study “Sodium and Potassium Intake and Mortality Among US Adults” the researchers found, after looking at studies involving 12,000 adults that “Our findings suggest that a higher sodium-potassium ratio is associated with significantly increased risk of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) and all-cause mortality”.
The 3 step balancing act.
To get on the road to re-balancing your sodium/potassium intake there is a very simple 3 step plan to follow.
- STOP eating processed foods.. now!
- eat plenty of green leaf vegetables and a wide variety of fruits
- eat a “normal” amount of healthy natural salt (what you would normally add as flavouring)
* By the word evolved, I’m referring to micro evolution not inter-special evolution. In the same way that Western cultures have consumed far more dairy products (milk, cheese) for far longer than Asian cultures, Western people have a far greater lactose tolerance than Asian people. That is called micro evolution, a simple variation in the expression of genes. Dogs giving birth to cats would be an example of inter-special evolution.