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The things we know about health, nutrition and fitness are forever coming into question with new research studies and anecdotal evidence bringing to light new information and theories that can alter the views we take on certain topics. With media being so prevalent in today’s society a lot of this information can become quite skewed. This generates a multitude of views and standpoints on a wide variety of topics, some true, some not, leaving concepts quite hard to grasp, as differentiating between fact and fiction become far more difficult than it needs to be. So which of these commonly held dogmas are truth and which are nonsense? That’s what we’re here to shed some light on.
Salt, or sodium in particular has been vilified for years. Media and certain health movements have used it as a scapegoat to blame on such things as weight gain and hypertension, however all may not be as it appears in regards to sodium. While there are studies that have shown excessive amount of sodium can have a negative effect on some health markers, these studies are based on overweight, sedentary individuals who put very little consideration into nutrition and exercise. Those who choose to live a sedentary and unhealthy life require as little as 200-500mg of sodium daily, which isn’t a whole lot. From this it is easy to see how consumption of over processed foods can lead to a massive influx in sodium, putting these people in severe state of overconsumption in comparison to the amount of sodium they actually need on a daily basis. In a situation like this, sodium is more correlated to a bigger issue than it is causation of poor health. But what about someone more like you, someone who cares about their health markers, pays attention to the food they consume and exercises on a regular basis?
This is where all the misconception arises. These “truths” on sodium aren’t standard across such varied living habits. To really understand the impact things have on individuals, we must look at it in context and consider a variety of different measures before making broad sweeping statements like “stay away from sodium”. If we are active we need sodium to maintain our overall health and performance. Sodium plays a large role in muscle contraction, nerve function, blood volume, intracellular & extracellular fluid, joint health, acid balance, and water balance. All extremely important right? So if we’re active, why would we deprive ourselves? Strenuous exercise can deplete up to 2,000mg of sodium per hour, so if you exercise regularly you are going to need a much greater amount than the ‘average’ sedentary person.
Mineral balance is key when it comes to sodium intake, its not so much the direct amount that we take in as opposed to how much is in the body compared to other essential minerals and electrolytes. The sodium-potassium pump is something important to touch on when trying to explain the importance of sodium in the body. Our sodium-potassium pump is an active transport system that allows both sodium and potassium ions to move across the cell membrane in order to play a role in our body’s production of energy. This means ensuring our balance of sodium and potassium in the body is essentials for providing the necessary energy we require.
So how do we ensure we get this balance right? Simple, doing things such as choosing a natural sea salt, pink Himalayan salt or other natural salts over the conventional “table salt” is a great way to ensure we get both the sodium we require as well as an array of other minerals that we need. Sticking to a healthy diet with a variety of whole, natural foods, while limiting consumption of over processed foods is an excellent way to avoid excessive amounts of added plain table salt while getting a wide spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals that are required regulate healthy bodily function. These are two very simple things we can incorporate into our daily eating habits which elicit so many health benefits all the while balancing our body’s mineral levels. It’s is also important to note that cutting sodium may result in some temporary weight loss, however this is not fat loss and it is a transient effect. It is simply a process of the body dropping intracellular & extracellular water, to compensate of the deprivation of sodium, potentially making you appear leaner for a short time. This is not a healthy process and the results don’t hang around long before adverse health effects start to appear.
So all things considered what’s the take home? While in underactive and overweight individuals, sodium may be linked to a negative health issues however this standard view doesn’t apply to us all. If we make smart food choices and exercise regularly, sodium is essential for our function, both in terms of health and performance. It all comes back to that good old term, moderation. There is no need to deprive ourselves of sodium nor is there a need to overindulge, make smart, healthy lifestyle choices, enjoy the things you love and the rest will fall into place.