How Much Salt Do You Really Need?

how much salt do you need?New research finds limiting salt intake can be dangerous.

As a whole, Americans consume far too much salt – on average 3,400 mg sodium or more daily (or about 1.5 teaspoons of salt). Our processed “fast food” diet is a major contributor – a bacon cheeseburger and large fry from McDonald’s clocks in at a whopping 1,790 mg of sodium.

But, how much is enough?

I’ve long advised my clients to limit salt intake – and for good reason. For starters, salty processed foods can pack on “false fat” or water weight, and too much sodium is especially harmful for those at risk of heart disease and stroke.

The current U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that people 14 to 50 limit salt intake to 2,300 mg daily, and for people 51 and over, African Americans, and those with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease—1,500 mg daily. And for years, the American Heart Association has recommended that everyone stay below 1,500 mg per day to avoid heart disease and stroke risk, regardless of age or ethnicity.

Recently, a big story hit the news warning that lowering daily sodium intake below the nationally recommended 2,300 mg may do more harm than good.

According to the report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), “these new studies support previous findings that reducing sodium from very high intake levels to moderate levels improves health. But they also suggest that lowering sodium intake too much may actually increase a person’s risk of some health problems,” committee chair Brian Strom of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine said.

While the IOM research does acknowledge the positive correlation between high sodium intake and heart disease and stroke risk, its findings were inconclusive on whether lowering salt intake below 2,300 mg can actually decrease risk as previously thought. In fact, lowered sodium intake was actually found to have negative health affects for patients with heart failure in the mid-to-late stages.

What does this mean for you?

I think this latest study reinforces the common sense notion that moderation is key. While I definitely don’t condone pouring on the salt, I think cutting it out almost entirely can be more dangerous…just learn to live with less!

As a general rule, I’ve always advised that if you’re over 40 or have hypertension, it would be smart to keep your daily sodium intake around 1,500 mg. However, this new research definitely brings to light something that I’ve noticed more and more with my own clients.

Based on the Tissue Mineral Analysis results that have come across my desk over the last few years, I’ve noticed a marked increase in the number of people suffering from severe adrenal fatigue – a result of the stressed out world we all live in. And, with burned out adrenal glands comes the need for extra sodium.

When the adrenals are distressed, the production of aldosterone, the steroid hormone responsible for regulating the body’s salt-water balance and helping regulate blood pressure, becomes disturbed making it necessary to moderately increase salt intake to ensure adequate levels of sodium.

As the summer months approach, I also recommend that Athletes who are sweating more than usual shake on a little extra salt to keep in balance.

As a little extra tip, I’ve found that salt can help prevent the body from becoming too acidic. The next time you find yourself with a pounding headache focused on the forehead region, try taking a pinch or two of salt – you’ll be amazed at how quickly this simple pH adjustment can make your headache disappear!

For tips on how to incorporate salt into your diet healthfully, check out my book Get the Salt Out or read my blog, Need to Shake Your Salt Habit?

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Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty books including The Fat Flush Plan series and her latest book, Radical Metabolism. She’s been rewriting the rules of nutrition for more than 40 years and is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of diet, detox and women’s health issues. 

For a FREE daily dose of tips and strategies for maintaining healthy weight, conquering insomnia, and much more…check out my Radical Health Tips.

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7 Comments

  1. Mia

    Speaking of my personal experience here. I am prone to edema, in my ankles especially, which can be quite uncomfortable or painful. I’ve tried reducing salt (NaCl) without it helping much, and I’ve had several blood tests that show me with low electrolytes in general, including sodium — and that sort of test result has come in when I wasn’t trying to reduce sodium.

    What I’ve discovered recently is that if I eat both sodium and potassium (whether adding potassium as a pill, or using a table salt that’s half NaCl and half KCl) I get much less swelling — and that’s without making an effort to reduce the amount of salt I eat. Eating food cooked by myself or a friend, rather than restaurant food or junk food such as chips, is clearly still important — but the discovery that what’s needed is more potassium to balance the sodium is what’s made a difference for me.

    A site I just found while looking up electrolytes (because there are more than just sodium and potassium, but I didn’t remember the others) is http://www.builtlean.com/2012/11/28/electrolytes/ . It doesn’t talk specifically about edema (swelling), but as I read it it makes it fairly clear that having an adequate amount of both is what’s needed to keep the right amount of water in the tissues.

    Reply
  2. Veronika

    I think it depends on what salt you are using. If it is Himalaya pink salt or unrefined see salt you are fine and you don’t really need to watch your Intake and it brings you many benefits. But if you are eating loads of processed food packed with table salt stripped of all minerals then you are in trouble….

    Reply
    • Denice

      Veronika, I think your are right on. If you are drinking/using Himalayan Salt, it will balance out your blood pressure. Look up benefits of sole made from himalayan salt stones – it has really helped my adrenal fatigue.

      Reply
  3. Veronika

    Sorry sea salt not see 🙂

    Reply
  4. Jennifer Mull

    I have had severe adrenal fatigue and struggle with swelling in my hands and feet, but I have been improving since starting on Celtic sea salt everyday… I have a stable blood pressure, instead of really low, and no longer have low blood pressure symptoms. I am increasing in energy since also getting my blood sugar more stabilized, and I have noticed that when I don’t use the sea salt or if I am eating more processed foods, but not getting enough potassium, I have more swelling… Last night, I had a little swelling in my hands, so made a little steamed broccoli, with some butter and sea salt, and I was able to eliminate all that extra fluid this morning.

    Reply
  5. Jan

    My mother was hospitalized after collapsing at home. This happened about a month before she died. The doctors did not know what was wrong with her, but finally they found out that she suffered from a lack of salt in her body. It took quite a bit of sleuthing and a doctor way out on the west coast to come up with the diagnosis. She had been on a blood pressure medicine that was depleting the minerals out of her body. She had also been so weak that she wasn’t eating or drinking hardly anything. I no longer worry about my salt intake. I don’t overdo it since I really don’t eat that much processed food, yet I will liberally use the sea salt that I have come to love.

    Reply
  6. Marina

    Dr. ALG, thank you so much for the guidelines on salt and for the excellent tip to remedy pounding forehead headaches! I have followed your guidelines for adrenal fatigue with great success. UniKey’s Adrenal Formula has been very effective for me — and in smaller doses has also helped my teen. I went many years with adrenal fatigue until I came upon your writings. You really restored my health.
    I am saddened to learn of Jan’s mother (above). I believe my mother suffered unknowingly from adrenal fatigue and electrolyte imbalances in her lifetime. We are blessed to have Dr. ALG’s guidance and wisdom for ourselves and our children.

    Reply

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