I’m jumping right into the science part of nutrition, because I want my athletes to eat their damn salt.
We have at the cellular level something called the sodium potassium pump. This transfer of minerals in and out of the cell is one of my FAVORITE parts of how cells work. Why? Because its arguably one of the most crucial parts of life for us humans.
Without this transfer of minerals, we can’t exist. Literally. We can not move a muscle. Or have a thought. Or breath. Our bodies use the energy that sodium and potassium carry for multiple functions within the cell, including maintaining a specific volume of water.
I personally love salt, and I’m not afraid to eat lots of it.
I also work hard at educating my clients on why its OKAY for them to add salt to their food. See, here’s the thing- as Nutrition Science grows, we learn things- and we tend to learn things that we want to apply right away.
We see a correlation with food and health, and we deliver that correlation to media outlets, who then report on that correlation. However, as I’ve mentioned before, humans are whole beings, and everything we do affects something else.
While an overconsumption of sodium might increase blood pressure, we need to take a step back and look at the big picture, instead of “sciencing” our way through and trying to pinpoint one exact cause of X, Y, or Z.
We won’t go too much into how we ended up overeating salt as a society (read the advent of processed foods), but the trend of increased salt consumption directly aligns with increasing national sleep debt, longer hours in the work place, less sun exposure, higher stress levels, WAAAAY less exercise, and waaaay lower consumptions of fruits and vegetables.
So processed foods and sodium alone are not to blame for heart problems.
That being said, the bag of chips on the way home from work after sitting at your desk all day and 5 days in a row of bad sleep is not helping the situation.
However, if :
- You’re an avid exerciser (you are getting sweaty for 45 minutes plus three to five times a week)
- You spend lots of time outside
- You’re getting good amounts of sleep (7 to 9 hours minimum!)
- You eat 3 to 4 servings of veggies a day
you can pretty much enjoy all the salt you want.
How come? Because when you exercise, you excrete salt.
When you sleep and eat veggies, you maintain healthy cortisol levels, which directly effect your blood pressure.
And most of the time, when you’re focusing on your health, you typically eat less processed foods anyways.
It’s a twofold thing. You need the salt to balance out what you lose when you sweat, and you generally aren’t getting as much as the “average” American because your diet is cleaner.
I tell my clients to add salt to their foods and to not be afraid of getting too much (assuming we’re not dealing with high blood pressure). I don’t want my clients to worry about their sodium levels.
I would rather they focus on eating clean and drinking enough water, and then they can eat salt to taste.
I often will even have them add in an electrolyte supplement during the summer months or during long sweaty sessions to prevent muscle cramping and fatigue.
This nutrition thing can be super confusing, and we often don’t know who to believe and trust. I get that.
I try to get my clients to take a step back and look at where they are big picture. Then we address the different areas of their lives.
I don’t want you gorging on 3 bags of chips a day regardless of how often you exercise. And especially if you aren’t getting enough sleep and/or if you are living a generally stressful life.
But I also don’t want you counting every milligram of sodium and worrying if MyfitnessPal said you went over, or if you really want to add some salt to your mashed potatoes.
I would challenge you to learn to eat intuitively and pay attention to what your body is asking for/ telling you.
Things like thirst, muscle cramps, the weight on the scale (goes up when intake is high, down when intake is low), the color of your urine (hydration status), your cravings for salty foods, and your performance can all be used as determining factors for adequate salt intake.
Use the RDAs as a STARTING point, and then find what’s right for you– because while we’re all similar, we’re not all the same!