The Guilty Pleasure That Could Save You From Heart Disease
by Joseph Mercola: Pasta,
Not Bacon, Makes You Fat. But How?
- Salt is
an essential nutrient required for blood pressure regulation,
transportation of nutrients into and out of your cells, ion exchange,
and brain-muscle communication.
of scientific research have failed to show the benefits of a low-salt
diet, and in fact tend to show the opposite. Low-salt diets are
associated with higher cardiac risk across multiple studies.
- All salts
are not equal, in terms of their impact on your health. Processed
(table) salt is health harming, while natural unprocessed salt
is not only healing, but in fact essential for many biological
For many decades
now, U.S. policy makers have been attempting to get Americans to
eat less salt. But the drive to do this has little basis in science.
In fact, a
recent meta-analysis by the Cochrane Review involving a total of
6,250 subjects found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake
reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death.1
published last year found that lower salt consumption actually increased
your risk of death from heart disease.2
A review of
the available research reveals that much of the science behind the
supposed link between salt and high blood pressure is dubious at
a large study published in 19884,
compared sodium intake with blood pressure in subjects from 52 international
research centers and found no relationship between sodium intake
and the prevalence of hypertension.
the population that ate the most salt, about 14 grams a day, had
a lower median blood pressure than the population that ate the least,
about 7.2 grams a day...
that have explored the direct relationship between salt and heart
disease have not fared much better... For every study that suggests
that salt is unhealthy, another does not."
Link Between Salt and Heart Disease
writing for Scientific American, points out that the evidence
linking salt to high blood pressure and heart disease has always
been on the flimsy side, stating:5
over salt first surfaced more than a century ago. In 1904 French
doctors reported that six of their subjects who had high blood pressure
a known risk factor for heart disease were salt fiends.
Worries escalated in the 1970s when Brookhaven National Laboratory's
Lewis Dahl claimed that he had "unequivocal" evidence that salt
causes hypertension: he induced high blood pressure in rats by feeding
them the human equivalent of 500 grams of sodium a day. (Today the
average American consumes 3.4 grams of sodium, or 8.5 grams of salt,
discovered population trends that continue to be cited as strong
evidence of a link between salt intake and high blood pressure.
People living in countries with a high salt consumption such
as Japan also tend to have high blood pressure and more strokes.
a paper pointed out several years later in the American Journal
of Hypertension, scientists had little luck finding such associations
when they compared sodium intakes within populations, which suggested
that genetics or other cultural factors might be the culprit. Nevertheless,
in 1977 the U.S. Senate's Select Committee on Nutrition and Human
Needs released a report recommending that Americans cut their salt
intake by 50 to 85 percent, based largely on Dahl's work."
This is certainly
not the first time a stubborn dogmatic belief has grown out of a
hypothesis that later turned out to be incorrect. The same applies
to the saturated-fat-is-bad-for-your-heart myth, which is based
on cherry-picked data… Since the days of Lewis Dahl, a long list
of studies has failed to prove ANY benefits of a low-salt diet,
and in fact many tend to show the opposite. In addition to the ones
already mentioned above, the following studies also came up with
For an even
more comprehensive list of research, please see this previous article.
Not All Salt
is Created Equal
Not only is
salt relatively benign, it's actually a nutritional goldmine, IF
you consume the right kind. Modern table salt has very little in
common with natural, unrefined salt. The first will damage you health
while the latter is profoundly healing. Here's a quick break-down
of their basic ingredients:
salt: 84 percent sodium chloride, 16 percent naturally-occurring
trace minerals, including silicon, phosphorous and vanadium
(table) salt: 97.5 percent sodium chloride, 2.5 percent
man-made chemicals, such as moisture absorbents and flow agents.
These are dangerous chemicals like ferrocyanide and aluminosilicate.
A small amount of iodine may also be added
countries, where water fluoridation is not practiced, also add
fluoride to table salt. In France, 35 percent of table salt
sold contains either sodium fluoride or potassium fluoride and
use of fluoridated salt is widespread in South America)
also radically alters the structure of the salt. Refined table salt
is dried above 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, and this excessive heat
alters the natural chemical structure of the salt.9
Benefits of Unrefined Natural Salt
a major component of your blood plasma, lymphatic fluid, extracellular
fluid, and even amniotic fluid
nutrients into and out of your cells, and helping maintain your
the glial cells in your brain, which are responsible for creative
thinking and long-term planning. Both sodium and chloride are
also necessary for the firing of neurons
and help regulate blood pressure
your brain communicate with your muscles, so that you can move
on demand via sodium-potassium ion exchange
the function of you adrenal glands, which produce dozens of
salt is important to many biological processes, however, for every
gram of excess sodium chloride that your body has
to neutralize, it uses up 23 grams of cellular water. Hence, eating
too much common processed salt will cause fluid to accumulate in
your tissues, which may contribute to:
arthritis and gout
- Kidney and
gall bladder stones
(high blood pressure)
of Maintaining Optimal Sodium-Potassium Ratio
unprocessed salt has many health benefits and is indeed essential
for life, that does not mean you should ingest it with impunity.
Another important factor is the potassium to sodium ratio of your
diet. Imbalance in this ratio can not only lead to hypertension
(high blood pressure) but also contribute to a number of other diseases,
disease and stroke
and stomach cancer
way to achieve this imbalance is by consuming a diet of processed
foods, which are notoriously low in potassium while high in sodium…
According to a 1985 article in The New England Journal of Medicine,
titled "Paleolithic Nutrition," our ancient ancestors got about
11,000 mg of potassium a day, and about 700 mg of sodium.10
This equates to a potassium over sodium factor of nearly 16. Compare
that to today's modern diet where daily potassium consumption averages
about 2,500 mg (the RDA is 4,700 mg/day), along with 4,000 mg of
sodium… If you eat a diet of processed foods, you can be virtually
guaranteed that your potassium-sodium ratio is upside-down.
This may also
explain why high-sodium diets appear to affect some people but not
others. According to a recent federal study into sodium and potassium
intake, those at greatest risk of cardiovascular disease were those
who got too much sodium along with too little potassium.
The research, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine
in July of last year11,
was one of the first and largest U.S. studies to evaluate the relationship
of salt, potassium and heart disease deaths.
reported on the study in an article for the Huffington Post:12
have too much sodium and too little potassium, it's worse than either
one on its own," said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City's health
commissioner, who has led efforts to get the public to eat less
salt… "Potassium may neutralize the heart-damaging effects of salt,"
said Dr. Elena Kuklina, one of the study's authors at the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention… The research found people who
eat a lot of salt and very little potassium were more than twice
as likely to die from a heart attack as those who ate about equal
amounts of both nutrients. Such a dietary imbalance posed a greater
risk than simply eating too much salt, according to the study."
So, how do
you ensure you get these two important nutrients in more appropriate
ratios? Ditch processed foods, which are very high in processed
salt and low in potassium and other essential nutrients, and eat
a diet of whole, unprocessed foods, ideally organically-grown to
ensure optimal nutrient content. This type of diet will naturally
provide much larger amounts of potassium in relation to sodium.
About 90 percent
of the money Americans spend on food is spent on processed foods
and more than 75 percent of the sodium in the U.S. diet comes from
processed foods, so it's easy to see how this kind of diet can lead
to lopsided sodium-potassium ratios. Emerging evidence suggests
that this ratio is actually crucial for improving health, and the
way to optimize potassium intake is by increasing consumption of
vegetables, which are the highest sources of potassium.
Why You Need
Your body needs
potassium to maintain proper pH levels in your body fluids, and
it also plays an integral role in helping regulate your blood pressure.
It is possible that potassium deficiency may be more responsible
for hypertension, rather than excess sodium, as it also affects
- Bone mass
- Muscle function
- Heart and
can lead to electrolyte imbalance, and can result in a condition
called hypokalemia. Symptoms include:
- Water retention
- Raised blood
pressure and hypertension
- Heart irregularities/arrhythmias
weakness and muscle cramps
I do not advise
taking potassium supplements to correct a sodium-potassium imbalance.
Instead, it is best to alter your diet and incorporate more potassium-rich
whole foods. Some of the richest sources in potassium are:
- Baked potato
(1081 mg per potato) But limit as has high levels of starchy carbohydrate
which can increase your insulin and leptin resistance
- Lima beans
- Winter squash
- Cooked spinach
fruits and vegetables include:
papayas, prunes, cantaloupe, and bananas. (But be careful of bananas
as they are high in sugar and have half the potassium that an
equivalent of amount of green vegetables. It is an old wives tale
that you are getting loads of potassium from bananas, the potassium
is twice as high in green vegetables.)
broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, avocados, asparagus,
a Far More Likely Culprit in Hypertension and Heart Disease
foods will also help you avoid another primary risk factor for high
blood pressure and heart disease, namely fructose. If you check
the labels, you will find that virtually every single food and beverage
you contemplate buying contains fructose, either in the form of
high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, or some other version. The
amounts of salt Americans consume pales in comparison to
the amount of fructose eaten on a daily basis, and I'm convinced
that it's the sugar/fructose consumption that is the major driving
force behind our skyrocketing hypertension rates, not excess salt.
link between fructose consumption and hypertension lies in the uric
acid produced. Uric
acid is a byproduct of fructose metabolism, and increased uric
acid levels effectively drive up your blood pressure.
The more you
can move toward a diet of whole
organic foods in their natural state, the healthier you'll be.
And given that salt is essential to good health, I recommend switching
to a pure, unrefined salt. My favorite is an all-natural sea salt
from the Himalayas.
is completely pure, having spent many thousands of years maturing
under extreme tectonic pressure, far away from impurities, so it
isn't polluted with the heavy metals and industrial toxins of today.
It's hand-mined, hand-washed, and minimally processed, and contains
some 84 different trace minerals. It's likely to be the most delicious
salt you'll ever find, which is why it's so popular among gourmet
Salt to Taste…
In the featured
article Melinda Moyers writes:13
we have clear data, evangelical anti-salt campaigns are not just
based on shaky science; they are ultimately unfair. "A great number
of promises are being made to the public with regard to this enormous
benefit and lives saved," Cohen says. But it is "based on wild extrapolations."
I agree, and
based on the evidence available, I think it's safe to just relax
and salt your food to taste provided you use a natural unrefined
2012 Dr. Joseph Mercola
Best of Joseph Mercola