8 Reasons To NEVER Follow a Low Salt Diet

8 Reasons To NEVER Follow a Low Salt Diet post image

I go out of my way to add salt to my food. I actually crave salt. Salt is a taste we have on our tongue and it is there for a reason. Our blood and body fluids are salty. Salt is being demonized for raising blood pressure, but the evidence is just not there. So what is the relationship between salt and blood pressure?

Lowering salt intake has very little impact on blood pressure

While reducing salt could, in 30% of the people, lower blood pressure by 3 – 4 mm hg (which is certainly negligible!), it may also raise blood pressure in 20% of the people by the same 3 – 4 mm hg. Once again, we see health officials establishing guidelines for all US citizens, based on poor science. In fact, there is plenty of recent research which suggests that lowering salt consumption is not only unnecessary, it is harmful.

They give you copious amounts of salt in the hospital

In emergency medical care, an IV saline drip is 3 liters a day at 0.9% sodium chloride. That translates to 27 gms of salt a day plus whatever is in the food, maybe 3 – 6 gms in the food. That is a total of up to 33 gms of salt a day in the hospital. Blood pressure is taken every 3 -4 hours as part of patient monitoring and clearly if that high amount of salt was causing high blood presure or any other problems, it would not be used.

New Dietary Guidelines

The new guidelines recommend daily sodium intake of less than 2,300 mg among persons who are 51 and older and 1,500 mg for those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.

This ignores or overlooks recent research that points to obesity and other causes, not salt, as the main culprit in rising blood pressure rates. Many nutritionists predict the guidelines will worsen, not improve, the obesity crisis, because people will consume more calories to satisfy their salt appetite for salt.

Note: Most of the studies indicate amounts for sodium intake as opposed to amounts for salt. A general rule of thumb is that 1500 – 2300 mg of sodium (the current guidelines) translates to 4 – 6 gms of salt and 4 – 6 gms of sodium (salt consumption around the world) translates to 8 – 10 gms of salt.

Morton Satin of the Salt Institute sets it straight

I just finished listening to Morton Satin of the Salt Institute give his talk about salt and the misguided USDA guidelines. Morton Satin is known as the Salt Guru and he is a very knowledgeable and entertaining speaker. He is the Vice President of Science and Research for the Salt Institute.

A molecular biologist by training, he is an internationally-known food industry and United Nations executive and author with extensive experience in all aspects of the food industry. He has been involved in the commercial food market for many years and has been one of the people responsible to bringing gluten-free foods to market as well as young coconut water in tetra paks (for which I am very grateful).

How blood pressure is regulated in the body

At the Wise Traditions Conference, Mr. Satin blew apart the myth about salt and high blood pressure. He explained the role of salt in the regulation of blood pressure. In our bodies we have a very strict regulation of blood pressure via the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone axis (RAS).

The RAS axis regulates sodium balance, fluid volume, and blood pressure. When blood pressure falls low, renin (an enzyme secreted by the kidney) is secreted, which triggers the plasma hormone angiotensinogen to release angiotensin I. This hormone is rapidly converted to angiotensin II, a powerful vasoconstrictor (something that tightens blood vessels).

Angiotension II also stimulates aldosterone secretion (from the adrenal cortex), which causes sodium retention, and an increase in blood pressure. This shuts off the signal for renin release in this negative feedback system.

What this means, is that when the RAS axis is activated because of low sodium, the blood vessels tighten and hormones are released in order to preserve sodium. When the blood vessels tighten or constrict, blood pressure goes up. When enough sodium is present, renin is turned off.

So simple and elegant! But potentially dangerous

It’s a great system, but a chronically elevated RAS axis is very dangerous. A chronically elevated RAS stripes away the endothelial lining of the blood vessels and decreases flexibility in the blood vessels. This puts you at risk for cardiovascular disease.

How do you get a chronically elevated RAS? By not eating enough salt! When sodium is low the RAS system is activated in order to preserve sodium.

This fact about how the blood pressure homeostatic system works is not taken into account by health bureaucrats, resulting in the radically misinformed guidelines set out by the government.

In our evolution, there have also been several other failsafe systems built into our biology to keep sodium from going too low. This indicates the utmost importance of adequate sodium to our well being.

Risks of elevated RAS System

A meta-analysis published 11/9/2011, in the American Journal of Hypertension confirms what the Salt Institute has been warning for years: that a low sodium diet triggers an increase in plasma renin, aldosterone, adrenaline and noradrenaline.

This is a dangerous chain reaction in the body that increases the following risks:

  1. Increased risk of insulin resistance and diabetes
  2. Increased risk of loss of cognition in neonates and adults
  3. Increased risk of gait problems
  4. Increased risk of congestive heart failure in people with heart disease
  5. Increase of all cause mortality
  6. Increase LDL cholesterol
  7. Increase triglycerides
  8. All of the above increase the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease

The effects of low salt on insulin

A study by R Garg et al from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School studied this very question. They took two large groups of healthy people and gave one group a low salt diet and the other a high salt diet. The low salt group developed insulin resistance in 7 days!

Why don’t our health officials from such prestigious organizations such as the Institute of Medicine and the American Public Health Association know this?

The effects of low salt on the cardiovascular system

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Katarzyna Stolarz-Skrzypek, MD, PhD, et al,(JAMA) involving 3,681 people, correlated salt intake with hypertension and cardiovascular disease and death. The results may surprise you. The researchers found that the people with greater salt intake had significantly lower rates of heart disease and mortality.

The authors concluded:

The associations between systolic pressure and sodium excretion did not translate into less morbidity or improved survival. On the contrary, low sodium excretion predicted higher cardiovascular mortality. Taken together, our current findings refute the estimates of computer models of lives saved and health care costs reduced with lower salt intake. They do also [sic] not support the current recommendations of a generalized and indiscriminate reduction of salt intake at the population level. However, they do not negate the blood pressure-lowering effects of a dietary salt reduction in hypertensive patients.

The effects of low salt on cognition

Most importantly, there are the cognitive effects of a low salt diet. Nerve transmission cannot occur without salt. A study from The Research Unit for the Study of Hydromineral Metabolism, Belgium, showed that low salt diets impair attention and gait in the elderly, putting them at risk for hip and other fractures. All nursing home patients are automatically put on low salt diets.

Other Research

Watch this short video of Morton satin explaining recent research against salt reduction. It’s too late to voice your comments to the FDA but the video is very informative.


How much salt should we eat?

Mr. Satin researched military records in order to answer this question. He found that between the war of 1812 and WWII, people were eating 18 – 20 gms of salt a day! In those days everything was preserved with salt.

Today, around the world, people who can get salt, eat between 7 – 12 gms of salt a day. About half of what it used to be.

It turns out there is no evidence that reduction in salt intake is beneficial

As the Cochrane Collaboration and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force agree, there is insufficient evidence of a health benefit for low-sodium diets. As evidence from three studies of the NHANES database for the U.S. and independent studies in Scotland and the Netherlands note, there is either an absence of cardiovascular health benefits for those on lower sodium diets — or an actual increase in risk for those following the recommendation to reduce dietary salt.

This is just another case of health bureaucrats from prestigious institutions who have based their careers on faulty data and now will never rescind the guidelines, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

I know one thing, I’ll definitely be going out of my way to add a good quality sea salt to my food! Sea salt contains the important trace minerals and is minimally processed.

Where to buy good quality sea salt.

What about you? Leave a comment and let me know!

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  • Hanna March 28, 2012, 4:31 am

    I think the problem (not for the people on this site of course) is that most people eat a lot of processed crap filled with sugar and salt, probably intaking more then double the 20grams a day (with some burgers from a take out shops containing more then 5grams of salt without the chips and coke on the side).
    I love salt on my eggs and home made potato chips, but I use dried chilli like salt and pepper on some of my meals as well, just another condiment in the pantry!

    • Hanna March 28, 2012, 4:32 am

      Im not up at 4:30am, Im in Australia and its 7:30pm lol!

      • Jill March 28, 2012, 7:06 am

        Hi Hanna,
        According to Morton Satin, the salt consumption has actually dropped, even with taking fast and processed foods into account. The 18 – 20 gms a day of salt comes from military records back when food was mainly preserved with salting and fermentation. People were not dropping from high blood pressure back them!

        (Sometimes I’m up at 5:00 AM blogging LOL!)

  • Andrea March 28, 2012, 10:15 am

    Hi Jill,
    Can you add a bit about the difference between processed iodized salt and sea salt? I think this stumps a lot of folks not familiar with the traditional whole foods diet.


  • Braver Jill March 28, 2012, 12:40 pm

    Amen! I look at it this way…we need to eat, therefore, food needs to have flavor. Salt adds flavor. If you cut out ALL salt, you’re still going to want flavor – so whether you get your flavor from a little salt, a little fat, or a little sugar, you need SOMETHING or else food will be bland.

    I agree with Hanna. if you eat a lot of highly processed fake foods then you are getting way more sodium than the body needs.

    It all boils down to moderation. If you’re eating something and all you taste is the salt, than yes, you’re eating too much. Same with sugar or oils. But a pinch or two of salt in the pot isn’t going to kill anyone. It will, however, draw out the flavor much more.

    To address Andrea’s question, Iodized salt has iodine added. I would advise cooking with non-iodized salt – – only because, in some dishes, the iodine will create an off-flavor. And please everyone, don’t buy those “salt mills” or “salt grinders”. Salt is sodium chloride – a naturally occuring chemical, plain and simple. Grinding it doesn’t do anything to improve flavor. (Unlike peppermills, where the grinding opens up the oils in the peppercorn for the first time, making the flavor more fresh).

    Great post! I’m glad I’m not the only one rebelling against the “no sodium” rule!

  • Elise March 28, 2012, 3:43 pm

    Interesting and timely post. I been reading a book called What Every Pregnant Woman Should Know, written back in the 80s (I think), which explains the link between low salt/low calorie/low protein diets and pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia.

    Animals aren’t the only ones whose bodies are made to crave only as much salt as they need.

    • Jill March 28, 2012, 4:02 pm

      Hi Elise,
      Morton Satin did mention pre-eclampsia in his talk — but didn’t elaborate. He did allude to past medical practices of low salt in pregnancy as approaching negligence.

  • The Provision Room March 29, 2012, 1:38 am


    I’ve always felt that salt MUST be a healthy thing despite all the “experts” because so often in various old proverbs and literature (including the Bible) salt is always viewed as a positive thing. It seems like innate and ancient wisdom.

    btw, my husband is Mongolian and I lived in Mongolia for about four years. They eat a LOT of salt compared to Americans. Their drink of choice is a green tea, with milk, and salt! Often it also has ghee or tallow floating in it! It’s usually tough for Americans to swallow at first. But delicious once you get used to it!

    • Jill March 29, 2012, 6:54 am

      Hi Provision Room,
      They actually used salt for currency in some parts of the world. The drink sounds nice!

  • Vicky March 29, 2012, 9:23 pm

    This is so interesting! My Grandmother lived to be 92 and she seemed to go through packets and packets of salt. However, she never ate any processed food swearing that her good health was attributed to an onion and a carrot a day!

    We don’t go overboard with the salt but neither do we deny ourselves! We don’t eat processed food and I totally agree with Hanna, that is where the problems lie!

    • Jill March 30, 2012, 6:59 am

      Hi Vicky,
      Honestly, I don’t think it is the salt in the processed foods — remember that years ago the salt intake was as high as 20 gms a day due to the fermented foods — I think it is the other garbage chemicals in the modern processed foods that are the culprits.

      • Vicky March 30, 2012, 10:42 am

        I totally agree – I think it’s because she ate REAL food regardless of the salt she managed to stay so well for so many years.

  • France @ Beyond The Peel March 30, 2012, 11:20 am

    Hi Jill, I eat so much salt. Crave it on everything. We use a Himalayan Pink Salt, and we love it. We even have a bottle of salt water (take water and add salt cubes to it until the cubes no longer dissolve, that’s when the water is fully saturated) in the fridge as my “Gatorade” after Bikram yoga or any other activity where I sweat A LOT to replace the sodium I sweat out.
    I love all the science Jill. Thank you for educating us on the topic. Now when people say I eat to much salt I can direct them here!

    • aric January 9, 2013, 7:47 pm

      I also practice bikram and have not been able to properly rehydrate after class since this past summer (practicing regularly for 3 yrs). I regularly lose 8 lbs. in class (1 gallon) and drink that much after and still wake up with a dehydration headaches. My leg,arm,and foot muscles are constantly twitching (no exaggeration) and I occasionally get a cramp. I have been to nutrition stores and tried a variety of supplements to no avail. I recently have been asking teachers and students what to do and nobody has responded with increasing their sodium intake. After some investigating I’m pretty sure I need to try a sodium increase. I’m curious what your sodium intake is on a day when you take class? How many cubes are you using? I just want to get a reference point to start with. Before you added the cubes with water after class were you not recovering, or experiencing any dehydration symptoms? Thanks for any info.

      • Erin R. August 26, 2013, 8:56 am

        Aric, you are magnesium deficient. Along with adding a pinch of sea salt to your water every day, you need to incorporate magnesium as well. It is best absorbed transdermally but you can also find some decent bio available oral forms.

  • Megan March 30, 2012, 2:59 pm

    Love it! Thanks I have been meaning to do a post like this, but yours is even better! I love salt. Whenever I get dehydrated or sluggish feeling, I make a Lemon Honey electrolyte drink with salt- it ALWAYS works! I really believe in salt, especially for adrenal health. And for those of us who eat ferments regularly, we are probably getting more than the average. I still salt everything though!

  • Sherry April 2, 2012, 8:04 am

    I am in my late 40’s in my 20’s, I began to become quite aware of healthy living and eating. High blood pressure runs in my family so I cut back on my salt intake. Big mistake. About four years ago I was sent to a cardiologist because I suffer with and have suffered with most of my adult like extremely low blood pressure. Dangerously low blood pressure. He put me on medication to elevate and told me to increase my sodium intake. I could not tolerate the med but just by increasing my sodium intake my blood pressure though still low most of the time is closer to the normal range than the dangerous low range as it has been for most of my adult life. I learned that we have to be careful even when we think we are making healthy choices not to do everything that comes down the pipe. We need to evaluate what is best for us.

    • Jill April 2, 2012, 10:34 am

      Hi Sherry,
      Thanks for sharing. I, too, thought low salt would be a good idea when I was still listening to conventional nutrition. I did not suffer low blood pressure, but there are a host of other problems one can develop from a low salt diet.

  • Valerie April 2, 2012, 10:47 am

    I have been on meds for almost 10 years now for high blood pressure. Just recently, I became determined to get off the meds. First thing I changed was my diet – we now eat almost entirely whole foods that I make myself, including cooking my own beans from dried. The second thing I did was to start doing yoga almost daily. These two things dropped my blood pressure dramatically within about 6 weeks. I do not restrict salt usage at all when cooking, I just try to keep processed foods out of our diet as much as possible. I don’t know if it’s the sodium in the processed foods, or just all the other crappy additives and such, but whatever – it seems to be working. It will be interesting to see how the salt debate continues, as there has also been a lot of information coming out lately that cholesterol is not the culprit in heart disease either – inflammation is! Hard to know what to do when the info keeps changing!

  • Laura @ Stealthy Mom April 3, 2012, 8:31 am

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. My husband had a mini-stroke at the age of 40 last year while towing our boys (then 1 and 3) on his bicycle. He is fit, lean, does not smoke… but inherited the trait for high blood pressure. We really had two choices: diet or meds. We have dramatically reduced the sodium we consume. Reduced, not eliminated. His blood pressure is back to normal.

    • Jill April 3, 2012, 3:31 pm

      HI Laura,
      I’m glad to hear your husband is doing better without medications. As with any written information, one has to evaluate it for themselves. Clearly your husband falls into the small percentage of people that would have their blood pressure lowered by lowering salt intake. That is usually only 3 – 4 points. However, other things can cause lowering of blood pressure, such as removing other additives in foods and also sugar.

      Congratulations on investigating and implementing a diet that works for you.

  • Heather April 3, 2012, 9:02 am

    I’m with you on this post! Thanks for the solid info. I’ll pass it along.

  • Madge April 3, 2012, 9:48 pm

    I moderation in all things is best, not high in some and low in others…

  • Amber April 4, 2012, 2:12 pm

    Hi There Jill,

    I featured your awesome post this week on Allergy-Free Wednesdays. Your post and other highlights can be seen here: http://www.thetastyalternative.com/2012/04/allergy-free-wednesdays-week-11-april-4.html

    Please join us again this week for more allergy-free fun and inspiration.

    Be Well,

  • Janis P. April 4, 2012, 9:22 pm

    For my situation,a low salt diet is what I need to survive….I have Congestive Heart Failure due to Chemotherapy attacking my heart valves; the low-dose heart meds and 1,000 mg’s or less a day of salt keeps the BP in check and fluid from building up in my heart and lungs, and keeps me from developing lymphedema in my right arm and hand (from the loss of 20 lymph nodes). Just saying, one size does not fit all….

    • Jill April 5, 2012, 6:42 am

      Hi Janis,
      Exactly what I said to Laura (above comment) — there are certainly exceptions and you have to find what works for you. Congratulations on doing that!

  • seejanemom April 5, 2012, 7:36 pm

    Perhaps someone else may have mentioned….this “scientist’s” name is….um….MORTON…

    Doesn’t that name ring a bell??

    ***hello Morton’s SALT!!!!***

    Because NOBODY goes out of their way to name their son MORTON unless they are DARNED PROUD of some FAMILY NAME.

    ***just sayin’***

  • Rebecca @ Natural Mothers Network April 6, 2012, 1:06 pm

    This makes fascinating reading, I had no idea that restricting salt was so dangerous. Thank you so much for sharing this with us on Natural Mothers Network’s Seasonal Celebration

  • Gavin April 17, 2012, 4:35 pm

    Wow. Very interesting. For the past few months I’ve been eating way healthier and have lost a lot of weight. But looking at my average salt intake (since I do not drink sodas or eat processed foods)… I get hardly any. Without even giving salt a second thought. But I guess this means I get to put a lot of salt on my popcorn. 🙂

  • Nicole, The Non-Toxic Nurse June 2, 2012, 10:11 pm

    Fantastic post! You have saved me some work here. My parents had asked me to back up my opinion that they should not avoid Celtic Sea Salt and Himalayan Sea Salt despite hypertension . . . I will be sharing links to this post for sure! Thanks!

  • Bill December 16, 2012, 9:02 pm

    This report is dangerous and should be removed…Sodium, comes in many forms, but will have the same affect, and worse effect, if lowers levels of Potassium are present…The bit about the IV, yes, it is true, but it is given to replace, fluids, lost, to hydrate tissue, raise blood pressure and blood manufacturing, not as a dietary supplement, just as many drugs are given to patience as a last resort, to compensate for a problem…In nursing care homes, and hospitals, salt is not given, unless prescribe by the doctor…Too much sodium affects blood pressure by causing the body to produce more blood, and retain more water, to compensate for the higher levels of sodium in the blood stream…This is why diuretics are given, as a first attack to lower blood presser and should be taken in conjunction with high levels of Potassium, since the increased water intake, and urine loss, from the diuretic, Potassium is lost first, before the sodium is removed from the body…The increased water intake and Potassium, will reduce blood pressure in days, from the lower sodium intake, lower blood volume, and patient should notice legs craps and stiffness reduced in anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months…We need more Potassium not sodium