Is Salt a Superfood?
Does salt have great health benefits or the potential to do harm?
You may have seen a video with a health “guru” telling you that some type of salt, perhaps Himalayan or Celtic sea salt, would be something beneficial to consume. Some videos and articles online claim that consuming sea salt could be good for your adrenal glands or in some way help you to be better mineralized. In some cases, they hinted that it would even rise to the level of being considered a “superfood”. But is this correct? What if excessive amounts of salt, even relatively unprocessed types of sea salt, have the ability to do harm?
It is true that some salts are less processed than others. Celtic sea salt and Himalayan salt have trace minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium and others. But they are in very small amounts in these salts. Over 90% of sea salt is sodium chloride. The other trace minerals touted as being in these sea salts are more easily and efficiently derived from fresh, unprocessed foods. There is no need to source “healthy” salts for their mineral content.
Both processed and unprocessed salts (as in sea salt) have something in common; they are mostly sodium chloride. There is about 2000mg of sodium in each teaspoon of any of these types of salt. What we actually need each day for proper physiological functioning is 500mg of sodium. This amount of required sodium can be easily obtained from a diet rich in starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, as well as fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, many processed foods contain substantially more sodium than the needed 500mg. The average American consumes a shocking 3400 mg of sodium each day.
Looking out at the world, excess dietary sodium is a contributing factor to 1.65 million deaths annually, with 40% of these deaths occurring before the age of 70 . It is truly important to know that there is no need to consume salt from the salt shaker for overall health. There is certainly no reason to intentionally add sea salt to your food or to add it as a “superfood” or to consider it a mineral rich manna.
We do indeed need sodium for our body to work properly. A fairly small amount of sodium is required by the body for the proper functioning of our nervous system and our muscles. Sodium assists in the regulation of fluid and electrolyte balance as well as maintaining proper blood pressure. We are wired to be motivated to keep a sufficient amount of sodium in our body for overall survival.
In fact, consuming salt or sodium gives our brain a dopamine boost as a way to give us a reward for maintaining this crucial mineral in the body. This is something processed food companies are aware of; add more salt to the product and you will eat more of it! Adding salt to your food will cause an increase in appetite and likely the consumption of excess calories.
It would be very rare for someone to have too little sodium and our body does compensate by preserving sodium when our consumption is low. This is done in the body through kidney function. It would be much more common for us to experience problems because of excess consumption rather than having a sodium deficiency. The effects of excess sodium can have substantial health implications.
Consuming in excess of 2000 mg of sodium on a regular basis could result in harmful changes in the vascular system, the immune system and even the gut microbiome. The American Heart Association says that the ideal daily limit is 1500 mg of sodium per day. Exceeding these amounts happens very easily and it is estimated that 90% of Americans consume too much salt.
I have found that there is much confusion about salt in general, about whether sea salt is good or should be sought out and particularly misinformation about the consequences of consuming too much salt. Let’s first look at how easy it is to consume excess sodium in the modern diet today.
Common foods and sodium content:
1 cup of chicken noodle soup - 1780 mg
1 McDonalds Big Mac - 1007 mg
1 Taco Bell Bean Burrito - 1042 mg
1 cup tomato soup - 750 mg
1 slice store-bought frozen pizza - 765 mg
3 ounces of potato chips - 510 mg
1 Tbsp ketchup - 154 mg
You can see how low sodium is in most unprocessed foods:
1 cup of tomatoes - 7.54 mg
3 stalks celery - 90 mg
1 medium potato - 13 mg
1 cup of cooked brown rice - 10 mg
1 medium sweet potato - 73 mg
1 cup garbanzo beans cooked - 11 mg
One thing we commonly associated with the excess consumption of salt is the elevation of blood pressure. The body has to maintain a steady fluid balance. If you consume more salt, you have to also retain more water to keep the fluid balance (osmolality). If you have more fluid going through the vessels, this can increase blood pressure. If the vessels also become smaller (vasoconstriction), then the blood pressure can also increase. Salt is involved in causing both effects - retaining more water (fluid) and causing vasoconstriction of vessels.
Within a short time of consuming salt, your blood vessels' ability to keep the vessels open (vasodilation) is impaired and blood pressure could become elevated as a result. The damage from long-standing high blood pressure can affect the circulatory system in such a way it can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other problems.
Salt consumption also affects the proper production of nitric oxide. The functioning of NO is crucial to healthy circulation. This allows the blood vessel to vasodilate (open) and allow the proper flow of blood to deliver oxygen and nutrients. But excess salt consumption may impair this function in the body.
“An increasing amount of research suggests that high-sodium diets lead to reduced nitric oxide-mediated endothelial function, even in the absence of a change in blood pressure. Increased blood pressure is a known effect of increasing salt consumption, but it is interesting to see that the negative effects could happen even in the absence of elevated blood pressure.” 
Increased dietary salt intake actually increases oxidative stress, which is not an effect I expected. I associate oxidative stress with consuming junk food, smoking or drinking alcohol. But salt….really? “Dietary salt has been found to damage redox systems in the vessel wall, resulting in endothelial dysfunction associated with nitric oxide uncoupling, inflammation, vascular wall remodeling and eventually, atherosclerosis.” 
Another study looked at the effects of just 7 days on a high salt diet and found that it generated oxidative stress on the body as a result and increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokine Th17 cells (think of the effects of overall increase of inflammation in the body). 
Did you know that consumption of salt could lead to endothelial stiffness and reduced responsiveness of the vessels?  It is now recognized that changes endothelial (the lining of the blood vessel) function is a primary event in the development of atherosclerosis. Since changes to this endothelium is predictive of cardiovascular events, an understanding of factors that may contribute to reduced endothelial function – such as dietary salt – are important to know about.
According to the above referenced review, it was observed that just 7 days of the high salt diet resulted in reduced brachial artery flow mediated dilation, the most common and widely accepted non-invasive measure endothelial dependent dilation in humans. Basically, the effect shows that dietary salt loading impairs endothelial function independent of blood pressure in healthy, normotensive adults. Translation: this change in the flow through the brachial artery is a sign that there may be increased risk of heart disease.
Additionally, greater sodium intake is related to greater left ventricular mass in both normotensive and hypertensive individuals and left ventricular hypertrophy is reversed with sodium reduction.  Left ventricular hypertrophy puts a person at significant risk for developing myocardial ischemia, infarction and more. The left ventricle is a chamber in the heart that is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood to the body. It essentially connects to all the organ systems because of this function.
Did you know that excessive salt consumption could even affect your gut microbiome? “High-sodium diets promote local and systemic tissue inflammation and impair intestinal anatomy compared with low sodium intake in both human and animal studies.” 
High consumption of salt appears to decreased the overall amount of healthy gut bacteria as well as the diversity of good bacteria in the gut. One study, done in mice, discovered that a high salt diet caused the depletion of lactic acid-producing bacteria (think lactobacillus acidophilus as an example) 
Short-chain fatty acids are thought to be beneficial food for a healthy gut microbiome. High salt diets seem to decrease these SCFA’s, while low salt consumption appears to be associated with flourishing amounts of these short-chain fatty acids. These SCFA’s are known to be anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular protective and even neuroprotective.
To summarize, here are the know effects of excess salt consumption that we have looked at in this post:
Stimulates appetite and may result in increased caloric consumption
Negatively affects nitric oxide mediated endothelial function
Increases in oxidative stress
Increases endothelial cell stiffness
May cause changes to the heart over time (left-ventricular hypertrophy)
Disruption of the gut microbiome
In practice, should you now completely avoid any salt at all? A small amount of salt added to your food may be enjoyable. It is not about completely avoiding salt, but recognizing that it is certainly not a superfood to be consumed in excess with the expectation of health benefits. Enjoy a small amount of salt and become more aware by reading food labels of your total sodium consumed.
If you discover that your sodium consumption has been pretty high, you may find that you actually feel better in reducing your salt intake. You may even find that you shed a few pounds as a result of doing this. You can most definitely gain some important health benefits from reducing the amounts and replacing them with whole, unprocessed foods.
Ariel Policano is a naturopathic doctor specializing in energy medicine, frequency technologies and principles of nature cure. Learn more at her YouTube Channel, @arielpolicano and at geniusbiofeedback.com
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 Oxidative Stress Induced by High Salt Diet—Possible Implications for Development and Clinical Manifestation of Cutaneous Inflammation and Endothelial Dysfunction in Psoriasis vulgaris, Antioxidants, July 2022, 11 (7): 1269
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 Vascular Effects of Dietary Salt, Curr Opin Nephrol Hypertens, 2015 Jan 24 (1)
 Sodium, hypertension and the gut: does the gut microbiota go salty? Microbiota and Cardiovascular disease, 18, November 2019
 High-Salt Diet Induces Depletion of Lactic Acid Producing Bacteria in the Murine Gut, Nutrients March, 2022 14 (6)
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