By Matt Stone
The Mayo Clinic put out an article entitled ?Sodium ? How to Tame Your Salt Habit.? I figured the “180 Degree Mayo Clinic” needed an article about the many powerful benefits of sodium, when you might need more salt, how much you might need, and some foolproof ways to get lots without taking in too much lifeless, depleting water with it.
Before we begin, I must point out that it is the nature of those who spend way too much time perusing health articles on the internet to take things to extremes. If you eat enough salt, and take in too little fluids to balance it out, you will die. Likewise, if you take in enough water, without enough salt to accompany it, you will die. Life is about balance, and when you have the optimal amount of salt in proportion to fluids for your own personal body fluids, your body will work better. Plain and simple.
You may need more salt in general. You may need less salt in general. I don’t know. But I don’t want anyone buying into the idea that some necessary mineral is ?bad.? It’s neither good nor bad. It just is. Taking in more or less can be highly beneficial or highly detrimental depending on the individual that this change is interacting with.
The mainstream tendency is to come out with some kind of blanket recommendation for all humans when it comes to certain substances. And that is exactly what has been done with the mineral sodium, a primary constituent of salt. My Morton’s sea salt container tells me that a ? teaspoon, 1.5 gram serving of salt contains 590 mg of sodium. This represents about a fourth of my recommended daily allowance ? a number established by a bureaucratic entity that is effectively doing what I did when working as a Wilderness Ranger for the Forest Service years ago when I heard some hikers coming down the trail while napping? I jumped up and tried to look busy.
This number is meaningless. When it comes to salt, you want to consume as much salt in proportion to water as is required to get the benefits of salt, but not so much as to encounter the detrimental effects of salt.
The benefits of salt include an increase in body temperature, metabolic rate in general, a healthy blood volume, and a decrease in sympathetic nervous system activity (suppression of stress hormones that is) ? much of which can all be felt by a feeling of relaxation and well-being, increased blood circulation, and a noticeable increase in general body warmth and the warmth of extremities like the hands and feet in particular. These important physiological changes on an ongoing basis can result in a far-reaching number of overall health improvements and general degenerative disease avoidance and health prolongation. Some of the many potentially beneficial attributes of salt are discussed in Ray Peat’s fascinating discussion on the topic: Salt, energy, metabolic rate, and longevity.
Consuming too much salt in proportion to water can result in, as discussed in my important post on Restless Leg Syndrome, muscle twitching (including restless leg syndrome), sleep disturbances, strong feelings of fatigue, headache, irritability, an uncomfortably strong pulse, and a handful of other forms of malaise. It’s not a case of the more the better. Eat a bunch of salt and avoid fluids when you are already toasty warm and you will run into the consequences of overdoing it.
Having said all that, this article is really geared toward those who tend to be my target audience in general ? those who are chronically cold, with body temperatures well below normal, who urinate frequently with pale-colored urine, who tend to have icy cold hands and feet, who have low blood pressure (though not always), particularly enjoy salty foods or crave salt, and who suffer from spending way too much time in such a physiological state.
If you are in this state and trying to get out, how much salt should you take in, and what are some good sources?
For starters, let’s cover the basics. You can consume as much salt as you want, but what matters is the amount of salt in proportion to water. If you consume enough water to create what’s called a hypertonic solution ? meaning that the salt concentration of the salt/fluid combo you’ve consumed is stronger than your cells, the sodium content of your body fluids will increase and you can expect a rise in body temperature and accompanying changes. If the salt concentration is weaker ? let’s say you ate a whole, salty-ass pizza but drank an entire gallon of water with it, you will have effectively taken in the equivalent of a hypotonic solution, and you can expect your body temperature to plummet, stress hormones to surge, urine density to be lowered, and so forth.
So to answer the question, ?How much salt should you take in?? you must also consider how many fluids you are consuming ? from all sources. If you want to drink water all day and eat tons of ?health foods? like fruits, vegetables, salads, juices, smoothies, and the like, you’ll need a lot of salt ? especially seeing that all those foods contain tons of water and very little salt. If you eat concentrated foods with low water content ? lots of burgers and bread and pizza and chips, you’ll need a lot less salt. Of course, such foods have tons of salt, so you’ll need to drink more fluids!
I find the best strategy is to wake up and focus on salt at breakfast time, loading up big, and then sipping beverages when thirsty throughout the rest of the day ? including watery foods like fruits, juices, soups, and so forth as long as you are holding onto the warmth in your extremities. The tendency towards sympathetic activity and lower body temperature and metabolism is greater early in the day than late in the day (generally-speaking, not everyone fits this profile), perhaps why eating breakfast has been found to be such a protective habit against obesity and diabetes.
We normally think of things like chips and pretzels as being the foods heaviest in salt, but that’s not true. I find meats and cheeses to actually have the highest threshold for salt before they become unpalatable. In my recent McDonald’s experiment, I noticed that there really is nothing more warming on the planet than Double Cheeseburgers, with 1150mg of sodium in each. That’s far more sodium in a small, 440-calorie cheeseburger than what you would get by eating an entire 1400-calorie bag of Sea Salt Kettle Chips. So you could say that a cheeseburger like that has a ‘salt density? four times greater than even potato chips with ‘salt? in the title.
Do you need that much sodium?? Maybe. If your metabolism is really low you might find that getting 10 grams of salt (roughly 4000mg of sodium) in your breakfast and maybe even your lunch too is what it takes to get you to the point of warmth and nervous system relaxation. It probably depends on your metabolic rate and urine concentration in general. The lower it is, the more salt you need. The higher it is, the more water you need. In the context of a high metabolism, a big salt load won’t do anything for you, and might even make your feel worse ? especially at the time of day when you are likely reaching your metabolic peak (the evening, but like I said, not everyone fits this profile).
Be flexible and find out how much salt you need, and when you need it. In general, hands and feet cold ? salt good, fluids bad. Hands and feet hot ? fluids good, salt bad. Certainly don’t take some standard blanket recommendation at face value and become hysterical if you fail to meet or exceed the mass-prescribed dose. Mass-prescribed doses and blanket advice is dangerous. Focus on getting your body working correctly, and shut out the rest of the noise from those who think they know what is healthy for everybody else ? which I find is everyone these days.
Salt is powerful stuff, rivaled only by sleep and sugar in the category of isolated things that can stimulate your metabolism. Water is powerful stuff too. In a future edition perhaps we will take this line of thinking towards sugar, and theorize as to why sugar consumption is associated with leanness, while soft drink and juice consumption is associated with obesity. Excess water’s ability to impair cellular energy metabolism certainly could play a role.
As of December 1, 2012, you can read more about the virtues of salt and its application towards a higher metabolic rate in the book Eat for Heat.
So how much of this do you think has to do with what is commonly referred to as salt (Sodium Chloride) and with actual Sodium (which in it’s pure, elemental form simply cannot be consumed).
Am I first? YAHOO for Salt. I fucking love it. Miss you Mattie xo haggie
I agree with you. But… what about high blood pressure? Like, had-to-have-brain-surgery-to-repair-a-bleed kind of high blood pressure? Can you still eat as much sea salt as you want?
I read Dr Peat on salt prior, but would be interested in how you determine the proper amount of salt intake related to urine output. On one end you have frequent urination with almost clear urine, and the opposite end would be pedal edema. Is there a goal for timing & frequency/urine color related to fluid intake after a person is well hydrated upon awakening in the morning?
I remember around every 4-6 hours being mentioned as a decent urination frequency, with some color to it.
My son has cystic fibrosis, so the dangers of low salt levels have been made pretty clear to us. But what I find interesting here is the signs of low salts are different to any I’ve heard before. We are told by doctors to look out for sunken eyes, irritability, lethargy (but you mention these latter two in the too much salt category). Nobody has ever mentioned cold hands and feet. Would you suggest this is an earlier indication of low salt levels? My son has sometimes gotten out of bed wailing about how cold he is, but I never thought it might be related to salts.
Have just started reading your site recently. From what I can tell you’re all for salt and sugar earlier in the day, not so much later in the day. Do I have that right? Could you boil it down to (for simplicity’s sake) go energy dense earlier in the day, and nutrient dense later in the day? I know that’s a broad brush stroke, but seems to work for me.
That sounds about right based on what I understand. It varies, but most people tend to see their metabolism peak, along with body temperature, peripheral circulation, etc. later in the day, coming from its low point early in the day. When it’s high, the typical ‘healthy foods’ are more useful, when it’s low, the more easily digested ‘tasty foods’ are more useful.
Yeah, that works for most people. But that generalization also shouldn’t be adhered to with religiosity. Every day is different. Every person is different. Some do better with the opposite eating schedule, going calorie dense in the evening and nutrient dense in the morning.
Yep cool, not wishing to introduce any dogma back in (just eliminated all the paleo dogma), just following this as a general approach with plenty of room for wiggle when eating out etc.
You may be interested, I’ve been a classic skinny ectomorph all my life, could never put on weight no matter how much I ate. Since starting RRARF a few weeks ago I have easily got up to a higher weight than I’ve ever been, and it has only been with a very minor, almost unnoticeable increase in belly weight (not that it would bother me even if there was more, as I feel fantastic). Definitely noticed a muscle gain all over despite (or perhaps because of) consigning the home gym set to mothballs for the time being.
And it’s been fun!
Is it really that nutrient dense foods are bad when you have a low metabolism or is it just that these food generally have low calories, lots of fluids and are difficult to digest?
My feeling is that if you wake up in the morning already needing salt, then you probably should have had more before you went to bed, as it takes a little while to absorb and assimilate through the body.
Hey there Matt.
I have recently purchased a saline refractometre, my urine measurement reading came out at 6, what would you say is the perfect saline measurement?
Thanks in advance!
This is from the RBTI Update post (http://180degreehealth.com/2012/01/rbti-update ), and may be helpful:
1.5 Refractometer reading:
This is considered ?ideal. Don’t look at a set number and attribute an ideal status to it, especially if you are not following the full RBTI program and are not testing (like most people). At 1.5 I feel pretty much like ass, with cold hands and feet and many obvious signs of being ?washed out? I like to call it. You may notice that you don’t feel really toasty and happy until your urine brix gets up into the 3’s and 4’s. I would encourage most casual RBTI?ers like myself who are trying to take advantage of some of the basic ideas without it cutting into your lifestyle, to pay more attention to biofeedback to determine your ideal ‘sugar level.
Rob thanks for the link, really useful. I know have a greater understand of the ratios…. Silly question but in regards to the conductivity metre, does the letter C represent %? My conductivity metre is in % and my measurement came out at 3% whilst my brix was 5. I’m concerned about my salts, I know I need to increase my salts.
I look forward to your response and thanks again for the link.
What are your thoughts on iodized salt? Yes, I know iodine is a necessary nutrient, and adding it to salt is probably beneficial to some populations. But the compulsory supplementation of it… blanketed over everyone…
Sad but true story. My aunty works at an old folks home and they recently banned cornflakes because the sodium content was too high! Despite the fact that “Hyponatremia is a common occurrence in nursing home residents” – http://ukpmc.ac.uk/abstract/MED/7490395
The older you get, the colder you get, and the more salt you need. The elderly suffer even more from low metabolism, high stress hormone burden, and poor peripheral circulation. The pro-metabolism substances are even more important for them than they are for the rest of the general population.
Given the high cholesterol content of eggs, they should change the name from “Mayo Clinic” to “Balsamic Vinegar Clinic”.
What about the Miracle Whip Clinic?
Just read your article and I seem to have the symptoms of frequent and pale urination, cold hand and feet and low blood pressure but I have a high metabolic rate. Can you explain this and is this possible and still be linked to requiring more salt?
What makes you think you have a high metabolic rate? None of that is congruent with a high metabolic rate at all, and the lowest metabolic rates I see are amongst those who are underweight – so if you are making some assumptions there you probably shouldn’t be.
OMG, love the pic, even though that would make me vomit.
One more symptom of too little salt: hypoglycemia, and all of the symptoms that go with it. Eating lots of salt stopped my blood sugar crashes. It’s amazing.
One other thing that is not mentioned in the article above: the best way to determine “optimal” salt intake is by APPETITE! If you listen to your body it will tell you how much salt and fluids it wants. It’s when we start ignoring the body’s cravings and doing silly things we think we “should” do (like “taming your salt habit”) that problems come in.
Amy, do you just sprinkle on sea salt onto everything? Or do you use regular table salt? And what salty snacks are best? Thanks for sharing…you and I seem to have similar physiology.
I use kosher salt usually, but whatever is around will do. I prefer sea salt if kosher is not around, only because I don’t love the additives in regular table salt.
If I need a snack I’ll usually have pita chips or even potato chips, or maybe some bread with olive oil/butter and salt. The carb + salt combo is key for me, and I like to have at least a bit of fat in there. I don’t even need that many snacks anymore, though. Eating enough salt at meals has been huge – I add salt to taste and do not skimp. I usually get thirsty after meals, and I drink to appetite, too.
Still trying to find the balance I find that if I drink to appetite I get hypo again.
Interesting. I don’t find that. It seems to balance out.
I use Morton’s Canning and Pickling Salt, which I get at WalMart, 4 lbs for less than $2. It’s all sodium chloride, so it takes less to actually get all the sodium you need. For the other minerals I take supplements. Since using it, the electrolyte levels on my blood tests have normalized.
I put lots of salt on most of my food, but sometimes felt a little ‘guilty’ about it, due to the low-sodium dogma. Sheesh.
However, I did read on a blog article I found about things to avoid in relation to RBTI, that one should avoid sea salt due to it having some types of sodium that the body can’t process. I’d been primarily using sea salt for years, but have been making the switch back to Morton’s regular (non-iodized) salt over the last couple of weeks.
Though I’m not on the RBTI train as it were, I figured my metabolism needs all the help it can get, so paying attention to those avoids may be helpful. Any input in whether I really should avoid sea salt?
Ha, that’s why I started using kosher salt, too. I don’t know if Matt still follows the no-sea-salt rule, but I’m curious, too.
Mostly back to using Kosher salt. I don’t really split hairs over stuff like that anymore. I doubt it will make much of a difference either way for most people when it comes to how they feel or how long they live.
K, thanks for the info. I can switch to that for cooking & baking, I already have some of the coarse kosher salt. I’ll be on the look out to see if I can get any that’ll work in a salt shaker, otherwise I’ll punt and go with regular salt in the shaker most of the time.
I can’t find the McDonalds experiment you referenced in the this article… any ideas?
It’s on YouTube on the 180DegreeHealth channel.
According to the study on the links down bellow, in some people (salt resistant people), drinking the combination of salt and water can actually lower the body temperature more than just drinking plain water. So, if consuming more salt can lower the body temperature in salt resistant people, could eating more salt also lower the metabolism of salt resistant people?
“The study found that the ingestion of salt and water lowered body temperature more than the ingestion of water by itself. In addition, body temperature decreased more in individuals who are salt resistant than in individuals who are salt sensitive. ?It appears that salt sensitive individuals maintain core body temperature equilibrium more effectively than salt resistant individuals, but experience increased blood pressure in the process,? Dr. Blankfield says. ?Conversely, salt resistant individuals maintain blood pressure equilibrium more effectively than salt sensitive individuals following salt and water intake, but experience a greater temperature reduction in the process.
I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time and not sure if this is the right post, but I think it applies. Pretty much all traditional medicine systems (Chinese medicine, Avurvedic, and so on) recognize different body “types” and have different dietary recommendations for each. Despite the mainstream health, and many alternative health, (paleo, etc) recommendations that want to apply certain dogmatic rules to all people, I feel quite certain that there is a reason these ancient practitioners created different types. People have different dietary needs based on their constitution and health state. It makes total sense that some people (like me) would need a lot of salt and some people need a lot less. This is actually the #1 reason to listen to your appetites, reactions to certain foods, etc.,. instead of following any guideline. The one time in recent years I went against this (RBTI) it was a total mess.
AMY, While I have mixed opinion about Chinese Medicine (sometimes works, often doesn’t, and always costs an arm and a leg), homeopathy, and don’t have any experience with Ayurveda, I do at least like the way these systems (in theory at least) take into consideration the whole organism and recognize individual differences. Let’s face it: so-called “Wholistic Medicine” is anything but that. True, it often attempts to go beyond just treating symptoms, but it tends to view a malady in isolation and rarely takes into consideration individual differences (though it may pay lip-service to such). To this effect, I am currently reading a relatively old book, Aubrey Walker MD’s “The pattern of health”
I wonder why I and a lot of people need so much salt to keep their metabolism up. Somehow this doesn’t seem natural to me, and that perhaps it’s just a quick fix to my problems. I have the feeling I should be able thrive with a lot less salt. Maybe a clue to this is still in the RBTI protocol where some people heal while drinking a lot and consuming very little salt.
The RBTI protocol destroyed me last summer. And I wasn’t even drinking much water. For some reason, not having enough salt was awful for me, as well the whole meal pattern thing. It was a massive blood sugar roller coaster, and I think the low-salt part was the biggest problem.
The salt thing makes more sense when you realize that 1) Historically people have eaten a lot more salt than the levels we are trying to eat today (food was preserved in salt, etc.), and 2) a lot of people have adrenal fatigue and that raises sodium needs
Yeah, I understand that RBTI can have unwanted effects. But still, I dont think all people who did well on RBTI where those with too much salt. Some of those also had frequent urination etc
do you think us humans are somehow different than other animals in that we need more salt? (animals seem to do well without extra salt added to foods)
A lot of animals do need salt (deer, cows, etc.). Humans definitely have different needs from other animals in many nutrient levels, though. Salt could be one.
HORSES definitely need salt. In any case, by going with this line of argument (wild animals eat like this or cavemen eat like that) we are returning to a line of reasoning that has proven unfruitful: trying to imitate wild animals or paleolithic man. If Franz wants to follow this line of reasoning, he should be free to do so, but in that case, he would be best advised to go to Paleohacks or see what Viktoras Kulvinskas is up to these days.
hm I didn’t know those animals needed salt. And after googling it a bit it seems that wild animals do look for places where they can lick salt of rocks :). And Thomas, take a chill pill. It’s not that I want to imitate wild animals. But I do think that ignoring this line of reasoning all together is not smart either. It’s good to put things into perspective.
I’m actually eating more salt than my taste requires and drink less than I would normally. This just seems a little strange to me. Perhaps it’s what amy said with adrenal fatigue and that when my health has recovered a bit I don’t need to consciously add more salt and drink less.
Franz, chill pill taken but where has this line of thinking been fruitful? I would say that if we look back at all the health food movements over the past 100 years, from nature cure to Raw vegan to Paleo diet, there has been an obsession to base diet upon some earlier time in our evolution: agrarian diet (Weston Price), Glorified Feudal Japanese diet (macrobiotics), long lived cultures (Hunzas), primitive simians (the various Raw/Raw vegan diets) and finally the Cave man (Paleo). I am not saying some good hasn’t come out of that, but for every good thing, there are at least 10 bad things. It’s time to study ourselves as we are and our reactions to food NOW, rather than look at other animals and other “Golden Ages” of man for our diet.
true true, it’s definitely not where the emphasis should be. Thats why I like this blog so much. I prefer to do something that works instead of something that just sounds good in theory.
While I’m no authority on this, animals do need salt. Easiest way to attract deer is to put out a salt lick (which horses and cows and other pastured animals require as well). And here’s a neat video of elephants mining salt:
So I would question what our assumption of animals salt intake is in relation to the actual reality.
Animals do need salt. That’s why we put salt blocks with minerals in all of our livestock pastures. I have seen horses who look like crap become beautiful and happy again just by having a salt block available 24/7. They suck on it constantly and then slowly lick less as they ge better.
Reams was a genius for connecting urine concentration to various health problems and how the body works. His belief that changes in concentration were “blood sugar” was way off. He was seeing mild states of hyper and hypo natremia with a refractometer, for the most part. Ultimately though, his template is way too inflexible. I would have to eat a whole pizza for breakfast to be able to drink like that early in the day.
I had hay fever all day: runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, even diarrhea. But then settled down to a “too salty” meal of chorizo sausage, veggies and rice and almost miraculously all my hay fever symptoms subsided. Maybe, as Matt postulates, all the herbal iced tea I drank earlier today to keep hydrated in the summer heat was raising my something or other stress hormone and the inflammatory cytokines whatevers were going beserk. I’m going to try salty foods next time my allergies act up. Thanks Matt.
I’ve been drinking an electrolyte mix of 3 teaspoons sugar with 1/4 teaspoon salt in 500 ml of water it seems to working better for me to satiate thirst.
Do salt and water play a role in how “plump” your veins are ? I had gone to donate blood recently and they were having a lot of problems taking it out. Initially it was coming out very slow and after that they could not get anything as they said the vein had “flattened” out. They tried the other arm and could not get at the vein at all ! So I ended up getting lectured on the importance of hydration to make sure one doesn’t have ‘flat’ veins.
Anybody had an experience like this? Made me feel a bit weird !
My boyfriend is an endurance athlete (I know, I know…) and he consumes massive amounts of salt (and calories, actually). When he races or trains, he will eat salt tablets in addition to electrolyte drinks with sodium, sugar and other minerals and eating packs of sugary sports gels. He says being able to do endurance sports is “all nutrition” and they key is eating a lot while you’re racing. Doing so prevents hitting the wall. After training, he hits the salt pretty hard, too, and lots of carbs and some protein. Anyway, he’s really good at what he does and can finish a triathlon seeming in great form (not totally dog tired or anything) so I think he knows what he’s doing. Not that everyone here is an athlete, but I think there are some lessons to be learned – like the power of salt, and giving your body enough calories for its needs.
As for the target audience: “those who are chronically cold, with body temperatures well below normal, who urinate frequently with pale-colored urine, who tend to have icy cold hands and feet, who have low blood pressure (though not always), particularly enjoy salty foods or crave salt, and who suffer from spending way too much time in such a physiological state.” – that sounds a whole lot like me! Great article and I look forward to getting re-acquainted with salt…
I can’t believe there is no mention of potassium in this article which talks of salt. Shouldn’t The ratio of sodium-potassium in the body be just as important a factor to have balanced than water and sodium?
I agree if I eat salt I get a small headache for 10-20 minutes which I think is due to bad ratio of potassium and salt but even with any combination of diet fruits/veggies/starch/grains/meats I still get headaches if I eat salt, salted butter or cheese. It doesnt last for a long time but it’s still anooying to be out of service for 30 min after eating.
“Having said all that, this article is really geared toward those who tend to be my target audience in general ? those who are chronically cold, with body temperatures well below normal, who urinate frequently with pale-colored urine, who tend to have icy cold hands and feet, who have low blood pressure (though not always), particularly enjoy salty foods or crave salt, and who suffer from spending way too much time in such a physiological state.”
I am confused because then you say that the more salt you eat the more fluids you need to consume….but, I thought you said less fluids is better for those who are always cold, chronically fatigued, low blood pressure and urinate frequently, and have cold hands and feet (all of which I have), and I crave salt and bread like no other.
So, which one? More salt, or more fluids? And since most of my food intake is carbs, roughly 85% carbs….including much of that coming from heavy breads, bags of pretzels and chips a day….should that help?
I also eat roughly 2500-3000 a day. Thanks. And dont regularly exercise as I am trying to repair from chronic restriction and an eating disorder from exercising too much, and that’s what made me develop the chronic fatigue, sickness, cold feelings, headaches and everything in the first place.
It’s about ratios of salt to fluids. More salt, calories, and carbohydrates in proportion to total water consumption. My newer books coming out later this year have a “Metabolism Equation” in it to this effect.
Thanks for the reply! Okay, so more salt, carbs and total calories IS GOOD and what is needed….and that means less water consumption is best righT?
Yes, but it’s about proportions, which is why most people in a low metabolic state do much better eating calorie-dense foods
Thank you- I do enjoy my carbs and find it easy to get in between 2500-3000 a day of high salty food diet, and my only craving for years has been carbs, and salty foods. And I honor that gratefully and consume near 450 grams a day, being a female, and 120 pounds.
Hi All, I just wanted to comment on the salt debate. I started taking Matt’s advice about a year ago and saw big improvements. I went from being having perma- icy hands to being warm and toasty in a T-shirt when those around me were wearing hoodies. I still struggle with feeling fatigued though. I recently had a physical to check out the reason for my fatigue. My thyroid (I’ve had issues in the past) was just fine. Vitamin D levels were really low (probably just living in a northern climate and being a nursing Mom) and…. my kidney function was classified in the range of ‘chronic kidney disease’. Yikes. I’ve never had an issue before with my kidneys. I attribute it to my high salt intake. So- just a word of caution. Do NOT go too nuts with the salt. I’m cutting way back.