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Are You Eating Too Much Salt?

February 28, 2004 | 22,795 views

By Dr. Joseph Mercola
     with Rachael Droege

As with many aspects of diet, there is a lot of conflicting information about how much salt is healthy. The government has lowered their sodium recommendations and is now recommending that people get 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, down from the current recommendation of 2,400 milligrams, which is about the amount in a heaping teaspoon of salt. They are also recommending 2,300 milligrams of chloride a day, so the sodium and chloride combined comes out to a recommended 3,800 milligrams of salt a day.

According to the Institute of Medicine’s report, this is the amount needed by healthy 19- to 50-year old adults to replace the amount lost each day through sweat while taking in an adequate diet. They set the "tolerable upper intake level" for salt at 5,800 milligrams a day, but note that over 95 percent of American men and 75 percent of American women regularly consume more than that.

Since most Americans already eat far more salt than is recommended, this decrease would mean a substantial reduction in salt intake for most, but it’s important to look at where the majority of this salt is coming from. Not surprisingly, three-quarters of the salt Americans consume daily comes from processed and restaurant foods. Generally, cutting out these processed foods from your diet, which should be done for a number of health reasons, would drastically reduce the amount of salt you consume.

Though most people are far from following a low-salt diet, in reality most people are harmed by true low-salt diets, and salt is not as bad as we have constantly been told. While restricting salt in the diet may indeed be beneficial in some cases, others will easily achieve a healthy amount of salt if they follow a nutritious diet.

However, you don't want to use your current table salt. Instead, obtain "real salt." The difference between conventional and "real salt" is that conventional salt is dried at over 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. This amount of heat changes the chemical structure of the salt. Also, conventional processing adds harmful additives and chemicals. When you do obtain "real salt," you can use it liberally on your greens, such as kale, to decrease any bitter taste.

Please be aware, though, that not everyone should take salt. The best index I have found to determine if one needs salt is to look at a fasting chemistry profile, which shows the serum sodium level, from a good reference lab. The sodium level should be 139 with an ideal range of 136 to 142. If it is much lower, you probably need salt; if it is higher, you probably want to restrict salt intake.

Salt is sodium chloride so you will also want to look at your chloride level. The ideal is 102, with an ideal range of 99 to 105. Just like sodium, lower levels suggest one should add salt and higher levels suggest you should restrict its use.

If you need to avoid salt, lemon, garlic and other fresh herbs are great replacements that will give your food added flavor and a healthy kick.

People with weak adrenals lose sodium and need to eat more natural salt. This is easily observed on a hair mineral analysis that is not washed at the laboratory. The sodium and chloride levels on a serum test are not a reliable indicator, in my experience, because the body keeps them fairly even no matter what.

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