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You might notice one tiny detail about Michelin-rated restaurants—or at least, something that’s missing. Scan the table next time you sit down for a fancy dinner and ask yourself, “Where’s the salt?"
For master chefs who slave over every flavor in a dish, haphazardly tossing some salt over a perfectly cooked meal is practically blasphemous—it’s so bad, they don’t even bother offering it. And these restaurants might be doing us a favor; some 90 percent of adults in the United States over consume sodium daily, according to the FDA’s guidelines.
But the tide change on saturated fat over the past few years has made us wonder: How bad is salt, really? And is there any reason we should avoid it?
Humans need salt
Salt, or sodium chloride, is an essential electrolyte that our bodies need to function. Electrolytes help maintain muscle function and regulate fluid retention, and we can typically get enough from eating a healthy diet.
Some types of salt, like Pink Himalayan or Celtic sea salt, contain lots of trace minerals and electrolytes like calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron; table salt is fortified with iodine to help protect iodine deficiency. Regardless of the type of salt you opt for, it will certainly contain sodium chloride, and if it’s organic or naturally occurring it’s likely to have other important electrolytes as well.
Plus, salt makes food taste better! Obviously, we salt our food to bring out more of the flavors. But it has also been used for centuries as a way to cure and preserve meat for a long period of time, in lieu of refrigeration.
Too much salt can be bad for you
Just like any healthy food, it’s possible to go overboard on salt. Eating too much has long been linked increased blood pressure, which increases the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. Despite anecdotal evidence that salt is a no-no for those with high blood pressure, there’s very little proof that decreasing salt intake has a major effect on heart health.
One thing salt lovers should be wary of, though, is throwing off their gut flora balance. Turns out that eating too much salt has been linked to causing stomach cancer, the fifth most common cancer diagnosis in the United States. Some researchers believe that salt might be to blame for stomach cancer might be because excess salt can damage the stomach lining … or because Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that can lead to inflammation and gastric ulcers, thrives when fed salt.
But giving up salt entirely has nasty side effects
And we’re not just talking bland food—it’s possible that going on a low-sodium diet is downright unhealthy. Restricting salt intake has been linked to elevated “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, increased risk of heart disease, insulin resistance, and even type 2 diabetes.
Everything in moderation
At Integrative Nutrition, we teach students how to make health decisions based on their own unique nutritional needs—and that critical thinking comes in handy in situations like these. Of course, salt isn’t the bully that old nutritional information makes it out to be; it’s incredibly necessary to maintaining our overall health. But highly processed foods that contains lots a table salt (and salt that’s been processed) are probably best to stay away from. Instead, opt for more nutritionally rich salt varieties for cooking and eating.
What’s your take on salt? Let us know in the comments below.