The Paleo Diet and the influence of salt

Dr. Loren Cordain, founder of the Paleo Diet, has a lot to say about the addition of sea salt to an otherwise Paleo Diet friendly meal. He is disturbed that people have somehow gotten the notion that the addition of sea salt is in keeping his theory of how our ancestors lived and fed themselves.

Cordain and a host of other scientists and physicians in the “Paleo Community” reject the notion that high salt intakes were present in ancestral hunter and gatherers diets. In contrast, the Paleo proponents as with modern day advocates of healthy eating believe that high sodium content in the diet produces long-term adverse health effects.

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended that American adults consume no more than 5.8 grams of salt per day (30 grams in an ounce, 5 grams in a teaspoon. It is recommended that people with high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, those over the age of 50 and those of African American ethnicity should limit their consumption of salt to less than 3.8 grams per day.

This amount is not the amount you can add to your food, it is the total daily amount — because many foods have huge amounts already added by manufacturers. Also important is the ratio of potassium to sodium in the diet. Therefore, the inclusion of fresh fruit in the diet is just as essential s the reduction of salt.

Higher intakes of sodium have been associated with certain types of cancers, autoimmune diseases, as well as chronic low levels of systemic inflammation. High salt intake can result in insomnia and even has been associated with the shortening of the telomeres on our DNA … resulting in signs and symptoms of aging.

High potassium in the diet, has been demonstrated to correct many of the negative effects of a high salt diet. Unfortunately, the typical American diet (termed SAD — the Standard American Diet) is usually high in sodium and processed foods and low in fresh fruit and veggies, unsalted seeds and nuts.

Taking a look at natural and unprocessed foods, we notice that non-processed foods are quite low in sodium. All wild, non-domesticated foods are very low in sodium; however, the rub is trying to find them in their wild un-processed state.

It can be done however, by choosing food in as natural a state as possible and then not adding salt to your meal. By selecting fresh, unprocessed foods the daily intakes of salt will rarely exceed the government recommended limits.

In fact, to exceed the limit so you would have to have a diet consisting of almost entirely shellfish. Fresh fruit contains only 70 mg of sodium per 1000 calories, nuts only 10 mg of sodium per 1000 calories, and fresh meat contains 377 mg of sodium per 1000 calories while veggies average only 1020 mg of sodium per 1000 calories. An example of trying to exceed the limit with a vegetable would be eating 72 stalks of celery in a day to exceed the recommended 2300 mg limit. Really hard to do!

On the other side of the coin, food authors such as Michael Pollan explain that what is inherently wrong with the Paleo Diet is that it still is nothing at all like our ancestors ate. For one thing, cooking meat changes the structure of the molecules.

Cooking meat makes it easier to digest and it may be that our ancestors had either more but usually less options as far as obtaining meat and animal proteins. After all they could only eat what they found or caught. The meat that is largely available to us today (wild meat or organically pastured meat aside) is bred by agricultural companies, is fed antibiotics, GMO corn, and grains rather than grass and natural diets, and is beefed by with hormones.

Hardly the same as our ancestors would have consumed.

Pollan advocates that the cooking of food was the gateway towards us achieving humanity. He notes that our cousins, the apes spend 6 hours a day eating raw food, in order to fulfill their nutritional quotient., whereas, we typically spend about 1 hour a day eating.

This is because cooking food for the most part opens up the molecules for easier digestion and thus improved nutrition. He suggests that this expands space in the day for other options such as culture, science and other markers of civilization. He also notes that the food industry has convinced us that they do a better job of cooking foods than we can ourselves.

Pollan argues that the food that others cook for us is always less healthy than the food we select and cook for ourselves. I must agree. Selecting fresh wholesome foods, going as close to natural as you can find and then not altering the nutrient value by throwing on salt and other harmful additives such as gobs of butter can only enhance your health and your enjoyment of eating clean.


Dr. Jane Riley, Ed.D., is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at, 212-8119 cell/text and


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