More Salt? Less Salt?

The lively, great salt debate continues this week as the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that concludes people throughout the world are eating too much salt resulting in high rates of cardiovascular disease and death. (1) The answer?  Cut back on salt, of course. But wait!  Another study in the same NEJM issue, no less, showed  that people who weren’t  getting enough salt were also at greater risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke and death from cardiovascular causes. (2,3)  What to do?! Before you throw up your hands and console yourself in a bag of salty chips, there is a way to understand where you fit in this debate.

YOUR HEART NEEDS SALT
You see, your heart needs salt (and by salt we actually mean sodium).  Sodium, an electrolyte, is needed to trigger contractions of the cardiac muscle – your heart beat.  Your heart also needs a second electrolyte to beat well – potassium, which by the way is also a ‘salt.’  Potassium relaxes blood vessel walls. Together they create that life giving heartbeat. The ratio of sodium to potassium is critical to heart health. One way to get a measure of this ratio is by looking at blood pressure; a measure of the pressure of the blood against the inner walls of blood vessels produced primarily by the contraction of the heart muscle – in other words, the quality of your heartbeat. In a nutshell, it’s all in the ratios!  Too much sodium and not enough potassium can raise blood pressure; too little sodium in proportion to potassium can lower blood pressure which can cause other health issues.  The point?  If you know your blood pressure you now have a clue about your sodium to potassium ratio.

FINDING BALANCE
OK, back to: What can I do?  Not too many of us can or will successfully navigate how much sodium we’re getting from day to day.  Let’s see..2500 mg equals how many teaspoons of salt?  How about this… if your blood pressure is high, cut back on sodium and if your blood pressure is low, use more.  Better yet, use a sea salt or rock salt that contains potassium to help with the important sodium/potassium ratio.  Better still, eat a potassium rich diet. Potassium rich foods include leafy greens, root vegetables such as potatoes and squash, citrus fruits and fruits from vines like grapes and blackberries.  An electrolyte supplement like Lyte Balance used daily can provide sodium, potassium and magnesium in a balanced formula to promote healthy electrolyte levels without spiking any individual electrolyte salt.

Just as important - eat real food, not boxed, processed or fast food that is the source of most of the bad sodium we consume.  Real food naturally contains less sodium than most processed or fast food.  Also, with real food you can add the amount of salt that you want and need.

This salty debate exemplifies the age of confusing health information from people who all have a PHD after their names.  The challenge is to know what advice fits YOU – your body and your life.  Our approach: tuning into your body will help you optimize your health.  Make a few positive changes to your diet.  Pay attention to your taste buds when it comes to how much salt to add in cooking and on your foods.  Monitor your blood pressure to get a measure of how well you’re doing or ask your doc for a blood test.  One size fits all health advice may not be a good fit for you.  Get in the middle of the great salt debate – when you think about salt, remember potassium - and use your diet to balance the highs and the lows for optimal benefit.

REFERENCES
(1) http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa1304127
(2)http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1311889
(3) 
http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMe1407695
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