Why a low sodium diet might be harmful
You may have heard before that if you want to lose weight, you need to cut three whites from your diet — sugar, salt and flour.
Many sources will tell you that high consumption of sugar can cause diabetes, metabolic syndrome and many other heath problems. And flour, which contains gluten, can cause digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut, weight gain, and much more.
But what about salt?
Salt occurs naturally in many parts of the world in mineral form. It’s a white crystalline substance that gives seawater its characteristic taste, and is used for seasoning and/or preserving food or in industry. Table salt or common salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride.
Salt (sodium) is essential for our health — to control the total amount of water in the body, to maintain the correct balance of certain fluids, and also it’s essential for nerve and muscle function and may prevent muscle weakness or severe cramping.
Sodium is a one of the major electrolytes. Electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphate and bicarbonate) facilitate muscle contraction and nerve cell transmission.
Sodium also works together with potassium to maintain normal water balance in the body. The recommended daily intake of sodium is 2300mg for adults up to age 50. With certain health conditions such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes or chronic kidney disease then it’s normally suggested to cut back to around 1500mg.
An adult human body contains around 250g of sodium. Any excess is naturally excreted — and as the sodium level increases, the body’s nature desire for it decreases. But the body has a hard time to conserve sodium when intake is low.
According to a study of Journal of Biomedical Science, sodium restriction is associated with decreased insulin sensitivity. And another study (also here) showed that with dietary sodium restriction the serum total and LDL cholesterol, as well as serum insulin and uric acid concentration, increased significantly.
This may cause insulin resistance (metabolic syndrome). Yet many patients with type 2 diabetes or hypertension are recommended a low sodium diet.
Over many years, encouraging people to cut down their salt intake may have just as damaging an effect on our health as too much salt. Recent research suggests that consuming too little salt may increase the risk of heart disease. A prolonged low-sodium diet can lead to the body not being able to function properly.
Most sodium comes from our consumption of sodium chloride (table salt) in our diet.
Chlorine also is essential to good health and is a fundamental element in the digestion process. It supplies the essence of hydrochloric acid in the gastric juices used in the stomach to help us break down and digest the food we eat, and to control the level of bacteria present in the stomach.
It also enhances the ability of the blood to carry carbon dioxide respiring tissues to the lungs. It preserves the acid-base balance in the body and it helps potassium absorption.
Signs and symptoms of low blood sodium include weakness, low energy, headache, vomiting, muscle cramps, edema, and confusion. Many factors can cause sodium deficiency — such as coffee intake, excess sweating, diuretics, and some medications.
In contrast, an excess of sodium is called hypernatremia and most likely comes from having too little water in the body — this dehydration and can lead to weakness and lethargy, in severe cases even seizures or coma.
When increasing sodium intake, of course the type of sodium is critical. It’s important to not get sodium from highly processed foods, such as packaged food or fast food and baked goods (snack foods). Good quality sources of sodium include real salt, Celtic sea salt and pink Himalayan salt, which is loaded with minerals too.
It’s also important to remember to consume high potassium foods, such as fresh vegetables and fruits — for example spinach, kale, banana, kiwi, avocado, sweet potatoes and coconut water to help maintain natural balance in the body.
As always, listen to your own body — it has the ability to tell you how much sodium is needed. And of course, before changing your daily salt intake, make sure you discuss it with your physician or specialist to be sure that it’s ok for your own health.
Ayda Ersoy is a nutrition and fitness director at The Diet Doc Hawaii. She can be reached at DietDocHawaii.com, Ayda@DietDocHawaii.com or (808) 276-6892