Many people consume too much salt, but new research may have uncovered one reason people crave it -- it might lead to a better mood.
Researchers found that when rats are deficient in sodium chloride (common table salt), they shy away from activities they normally enjoy. A loss of pleasure in normally pleasing activities is one of the most important features of psychological depression.
If salt is a natural mood-elevating substance, it could help explain why so many are tempted to over-ingest it, even though it's known to contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and other health problems.
Science Blog March 10, 2009
Physiology & Behavior August 6, 2009; 94(5):709-21
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Most processed foods and restaurant meals contain very high levels of sodium from refined salt, and account for about 77 percent of Americans’ total salt intake. (90 percent of the money most Americans spend on food is for processed foods, and every one of these foods is loaded with unnatural highly processed salt).
One 2007 study, featured on BBC News found that the amount of salt consumed in just one Pizza Hut meal is more than twice the recommended daily limit for an adult and four times the daily limit of a six year old.
However, the vilification of salt is similar to the issue of saturated fat, which is in fact a healthy type of fat, but is typically consumed in many fast foods that also contain large amounts of trans fats, which can cause a number of health problems. Similarly, whereas natural salt is a healthy ingredient, processed table salt can be a problem.
Natural salt is in fact essential for life and play a key role in:
· allowing fluids to pass in and out of your cells
· helping carry nutrients to your cells
· helping nerve cells in your brain and body to transfer information
· various metabolic reactions in your body
· regulating blood pressure
An adequate intake of sodium is also required for optimal growth of fat, bone and muscle tissues. According to the study above, severe sodium restriction may negatively affect your glucose metabolism and disturb normal blood viscosity. They also found that sodium deficiency can induce behavioral changes such as reduced motivation, fatigue, and feelings of depression.
However, it’s important to understand that the salt used in processed foods is the highly processed variety, and NOT at all the same as the natural salt your body actually craves to perform these vital functions, including the maintenance of proper brain function.
Personally I seek to avoid all processed foods whenever possible and rarely consume regular table salt. I like the taste of Himalayan salt so much I carry it with me when I travel, and as many who have dined with me know, I typically put it on the table and offer others to try it and they just love it.
Of course I warn them that Himalayan salt tastes so good, many who try it like it so much they refuse to use regular table salt again.
Mood Changes May Signal Sodium Deficiency
In the scientific review above, the researchers discovered that sodium taste as well as certain motivational/affective processes converge at sites in your limbic forebrain, suggesting that taste and motivational processes overlap, and because they are related to your sodium homeostasis, changes in sodium levels can influence your behavior both in terms of mood and taste cravings.
In fact, changes in mood are frequently among the first signs of a nutritional deficiency in your diet.
For example, people who work day-to-day in extremely hot environments and lose large amounts of sodium through sweating commonly complain of fatigue, headache, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances — symptoms that are often associated with psychological depression.
In a classic study in 1936, they showed that it took about seven days to make subjects sodium deficient when consuming sodium-free diets and sweating.
Mood-related symptoms reported by the subjects included:
· loss of appetite
· loss of capacity to experience pleasure and joy
· difficulty concentrating
· excessive fatigue
· general sense of exhaustion
Since they did not detect any changes in blood pressure or pulse rate, and none of the subjects experienced cramps, it was determined that the deficiency did not initially disturb physiological functioning to any noticeable degree.
Interestingly, the researchers believed it is possible that changes in mood and appetite are among the first noticeable manifestations of sodium deficiency.
Salt actually becomes more palatable as a consequence of sodium loss, so when you become deficient in sodium, your taste buds play a fundamental role in restoring the balance.
People suffering from sodium deficiency typically report having a peculiar sensation in their mouth that is more commonly associated with thirst than with craving salt. People with weak adrenals usually report that they crave salty types of foods.
How Much Salt Does Your Body Need?
Normally, the homeostasis of your body fluids is corrected primarily by your kidneys, and proper renal handling of sodium is necessary for normal cardiovascular function. Given that your survival and normal physical development are dependent on adequate sodium intake and retention, the central question is – how much salt do you really need?
Previous research has shown that the worldwide average for salt intake per person is about 10 grams per day. Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommend a maximum of 2.4 grams per person, which still may be more than double what your body really needs.
As an example, the New Guinea Highlanders average daily salt intake is around 0.5 g/day, and there is no evidence they are unhealthy. In fact they show far less cardiovascular disease than populations that consume the worldwide norm.
A strictly vegetarian diet contains about 0.75 grams of salt per day, and it’s been estimated that the Paleolithic diet contained about 1 to 1.5 grams, which was clearly sufficient for survival, even though it falls far below the FDA recommended amount.
I believe it’s clear that most Americans consume FAR too much processed salt that offers minimal health benefits. But if you want to find out whether you’re eating the proper amount of salt for your body, a fasting chemistry profile that shows your serum sodium level can give you a good idea, so that you can modify your diet accordingly.
Your ideal sodium level is 139, with an optimal range of 136 to 142.
If it is much lower, you probably need to eat more salt; if it is higher, you’ll likely want to restrict your salt intake.
Keep in mind that if you have weak adrenals you will lose sodium and need to eat more natural salt to compensate.
Why You Should Avoid Regular Table Salt
As I mentioned earlier, there’s a big difference between standard, refined table salt and natural health-promoting salt.
Your table salt is actually 97.5 percent sodium chloride and 2.5 percent chemicals such as moisture absorbents and iodine. This salt is dried at an excessively high temperature -- over 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit -- that actually negatively alters the natural ionic physical structure of the salt.
Virtually all of the naturally occurring minerals that are typically in the salt have been processed out. Additionally, the processing imparts unhealthy vibrational frequencies into the salt, somewhat like a harmful homeopathic.
Moreover, when your body attempts to eliminate the excess processed salt, water molecules surround the sodium chloride to break it up into sodium and chloride ions in order to help your body neutralize these ions.
To accomplish this, water is taken from your cells, which tends to compromise the fluid balance in your cells.
You may be surprised to learn that for every gram of sodium chloride that your body cannot get rid of, your body uses 23 times the amount of water to neutralize the salt. Eating common table salt therefore causes excess fluid in your body tissue, which can contribute to:
· Unsightly cellulite
· Rheumatism, arthritis, and gout
· Kidney and gall bladder stones
Considering the fact that the average American eats 40 to 60 grams of salt each day this is really a pervasive issue. One reason for this overconsumption (other than the fact that it’s in virtually every type of processed food you buy) is that salt appears to be addictive, in a manner similar to that seen after regular consumption of coffee or nicotine.
Your Body Needs Salt – Choose Unprocesed Salt!
Considering the many biological functions facilitated by salt, it would be a mistake to eliminate it entirely. However, it’s important to make sure you’re consuming the right kind of salt – the kind of salt your body can actually process and use.
I believe it’s perfectly fine and beneficial to use a pure, natural salt, such as Celtic or Himalayan salt, to add flavor to your food. (Personally, I far prefer the pink Himalayan salt, but either one will do as they are unprocessed salts and are not associated with most of the problems of commercial salts.)
Natural salt is dried naturally, and is not chemically processed so it contains minerals that your body actually needs to function normally.
If you are following the advice in Take Control of Your Health and have already eliminated processed foods from your diet, then your salt consumption will automatically be very low, as the only salt you’ll be consuming is what you personally add to your meals.
If your sodium levels are too high and you need to avoid salt, you can use lemon, garlic and other fresh herbs as replacements that will give your food added flavor and a healthy kick.