I’ve always had a particular difficulty eliminating salt from my diet. Along with caffeine, salt is the one thing that always crept back up in my diet after every attempt of eliminating or reducing it. I don’t have any difficulty not consuming refined sugar, bread, gluten, animal products, oils and processed foods. But salt is another story.
First, what’s wrong with salt? Decades of research show that a high or even moderate salt intake causes a broad range of health problems — hypertension being of particular concern. But recent research suggests otherwise. As a result, many publications such as Scientific American or the New York Times published articles with catchy titles such as “Time to End the War of Salt.” I’m not going to get into this controversy now because I have another article that addresses this issue, which you can check out here. Suffice to say that the case against salt (including Celtic, Himalayan, etc.) is robust and well-established and that the studies that tried to undermine it was a marketing effort by the food industry, which relies on salt for its survival.
They used flawed research methodology to try to prove that people on a low-sodium diet are at risk for disease. That’s why that even in light of this dubious research, the American Heart Association hasn’t changed their stance on sodium — recommending a limit of 1500 mg/day for almost all Americans. Check out their summary here. Salt is composed of sodium and chloride. The main problem that concerns us is the excessive amounts of sodium in the modern diet. How many people eat more than 1500 mg. of sodium a day? It turns out that 99.4% do! Out of the 0.6% of people that eat a “low sodium diet,” the vast majority do so because of existing health issues, and not just for disease prevention. This simple fact explains how some research shows a correlation between poor health and low-sodium diets.
Salt raises blood pressure in almost every individual, although it may take a lifetime for the problem to become apparent. Only 30% of the population does not have hypertension by age 65. And out of those people, 90% will develop it by the end of their lives. In societies where salt is unknown, the percentage of the population that develops hypertension with age is zero, even when they smoke, drink alcohol or eat meat. Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, salt damages your body in other ways. Salt intake causes kidney damage, stomach cancer, kidney stones, and has recently been linked to auto-immune disease. But this is only the beginning.
“High sodium intake results in massive albumin excretion, oxidative stress, severe renal arteriolar damage, interstitial fibrosis, increased glomerular hydrostatic pressure, glomerular hyalinization, fibrosis, and end-stage renal disease independently of increased BP.” (REF)
How Much Sodium Did I Eat?
Even though I’ve known about all of this for years, I’ve always had trouble keeping my sodium intake low because I rarely decided to go on a full-on war against salt. I’ve lived for years at a time on a salt-free diet, but every time I loosened the rules, I kept eating more and more salt. Earlier this year, this is what my sodium consumption looked like: I did not add salt when cooking my food but often added it to the surface of my food. I made hummus and babaganoush with copious amounts of salt. I consumed salsa with salt. I ate at vegan restaurants where salt was in the dressing of salads and so forth. I would estimate my sodium intake as average at that point: probably around 3000 mg. per day. My blood pressure was borderline: around 125/85 on average. I stayed fit, walked a lot and ate a plant-based diet.
Then in March I traveled for a month and ate out more often. I had less control over my food. Therefore I would say that my sodium consumption during that period was probably around 4000 mg. a day, perhaps more on days that I ate out. When I got back home, I didn’t feel well. I was bloated. I had gained weight. And my blood pressure was now at an alarming 150/100! It took those blood pressure readings to wake me up. I immediately eliminated all salt from my diet and all foods containing any amount of salt.
One week later, my blood pressure was about 125/85, on average.
Two weeks later, my blood pressure was 119/81
Three weeks later, my blood pressure was 118/73
I’ll report back in a few months to see how good it continues to get!
Unexpected Benefits of Eliminating Salt Completely
Besides a much lower and healthier blood pressure, I noticed many unexpected benefits from eliminating all salt from my diet.
1) It make sticking to a healthy diet easier
Without salt, you taste how food is actually supposed to taste. Because of this, you tend to make better choices. No more bread, crackers, cereals and other foods that are loaded with hidden sodium. You use real food to give taste to your meals. A salad tastes fantastic if you add some diced mango, fresh herbs and spices, avocado and balsamic vinegar, instead of loading it with a salty dressing. And guess what is better for you? Root vegetables (potatoes, yams, etc.) taste much better without salt than grains do. So this leads you to prefer those foods. And at the same time, you make a healthier choice.
2) No thirst!
This benefit may not seem like much, but it’s very noticeable and enjoyable. On a no-salt diet, unnecessary thirst disappears. You don’t need to drink much water to stay hydrated. You’ll get most of your water from food, and your body no longer needs much extra water to dilute the toxic salt. As a side benefit: you never wake up in the middle of the night thirsty.
3) I lost face “fat.”
On a salty diet, you retain water, and there is puffiness in your eyes and face. This improves and can even disappear on a low-salt diet.
3) My skin cleared up
I’ve always had problems with cystic acne on my back. I noticed that by eliminating salt entirely, my skin cleared up 90%. I’ll be posting photos soon to support this.
4) I slept better
Although there is some contradicting information on this topic, some earlier studies showed that low-sodium diets could help with insomnia. I experience deeper sleep with fewer periods of awakening during the night when I remove all salt from my diet.
5) I felt better!
Eating a no-salt diet just feels “clean.” Your body feels good after every meal with no unnatural thirst. You’re no longer looking for something to eat to compensate for something else you ate. For example, looking for sweets at the end of a meal to balance out a salty meal. You just feel better overall!
6) My taste buds adapted quickly
It takes about six weeks for most people to adjust to a low-sodium diet, to the point where foods with an average amount of salt start tasting too salty and unpalatable. For me, this change was much quicker, probably because I often have consumed a diet completely devoid of added salt. Now I don’t miss the salt at all, and I prefer to eat this way than to add salt to food. Sure, adding a pinch of salt creates a “burst of flavor” but it’s rather short-lived and doesn’t compare to the pure joy of eating “clean” food that doesn’t make you feel like a piece of crap after you’ve eaten it.
Do I cheat?
I’m now convinced that I’ve made this change to a salt-free diet for life. In my 20s and 30s, I did it because I believed in the theory, but I needed the additional push to seeing results in my health to commit me to this path. Will I ever eat something with salt in it? It would be a lie to say that I won’t.
During the one month, I ate a few things that contained salt, but in such small amounts that they couldn’t have contributed to more than 300-400 mg. of sodium on that day. I don’t prepare food at home with any salt, and that’s not going to change. I’ll keep requesting salt-free meals when I go out, but sometimes it will be impossible, and I’ll probably eat something with some salt in it, but will continue keeping it as low as possible. I plan on keeping this lifestyle to the best of my ability.
Is it time for you to ditch the salt habit? Comment on this story below!
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