Is Salt Actually Bad For You? A Nutritionist Sounds Off

Salt cravings: activated.

By Edie Horstman

There’s no way around it: Salt gets a bad rap. Like tofu and sugar, salt’s been demonized for years. But the benefits of salt can’t be ignored. When it comes to our health, we need to take an individualized approach. We’re all unique, after all! The secret to vibrant health (and a normal relationship with food) lies in an open-minded perspective. It’s all about deciphering what does—and doesn’t—feel great in your body. This will likely change over time, which is why you want to remain curious and inspired by new ingredients and different types of food.

So, back to salt. Unfortunately, it’s been made out to be a villain in the dietary world. But that’s not entirely the case. Today, we’re sprinkling on the good stuff—and I’m sharing all the benefits of salt for hydration, metabolism, and of course, flavor.

Featured image by Michelle Nash.

Lauren Gores Ireland with kids kitchen_benefits of salt
Image by Emma Bassill
Edie Horstman
Edie Horstman

Edie is the founder of nutrition coaching business, Wellness with Edie. With her background and expertise, she specializes in women’s health, including fertility, hormone balance, and postpartum wellness.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.

Salt: An Undeserved Bad Rap

You’ve likely heard that to be healthy, you have to cut back on salt. But is it actually as dangerous as we’re lead to believe? Just like alcohol, caffeine, and oil, salt’s impact on the body is multifaceted. That said, given the critical duties it performs, salt’s reputation is misleading. In an effort to qualm fears and inspire you to re-think salt’s role in your diet, we’re uncovering the virtues of this controversial nutrient. To begin, let’s take a deeper dive into sodium research.

Image by Michelle Nash

Why We Need Sodium

Sodium—like iron—is essential. It does everything from produce nerve impulses to contract muscles, and regulate the fluid in your body. The benefits of salt run deep. We need sodium for our blood, organs, and tissues. Unbeknownst to most, sodium comes in many forms. What we call “salt” (sodium) is a much broader term. It includes electrolytes—which encompass nutrients like magnesium, calcium, potassium, chloride, sodium, and phosphate. And of course, we need a balance of all of these electrolytes. Most importantly, without adequate sodium, our brains would not be able to send necessary electrical impulses to function properly.

spring happy hour, ashleigh amoroso, cocktails, lemon, water, citrus, flowers
Image by Michelle Nash

Daily Recommended Amount of Salt

While the American Heart Association recommends getting no more than one teaspoon of sodium (roughly 2,300mg of sodium) a day, the average American consumes quite a bit more. Most of the sodium in our standard diet comes from processed or prepared foods. These include bread, pizza, cold cuts and bacon, cheese, soups, fast food, and prepared dinners—pasta, meat, and egg dishes. Sodium intake adds up quickly! However, recent studies demonstrate that consuming more than one teaspoon, daily, isn’t necessarily dangerous. After all, we’re all bio-individuals. If you aren’t sure how much sodium your diet should include, talk to your doctor or dietitian.

Image by Michelle Nash

Short-Term Effects of Eating Too Much Salt

While there is an upper limit to sodium intake, it would require you to eat a lot of poor quality salt. Although it’s widely broadcasted that eating more than 5,000 mg of sodium a day (two teaspoons) has a negative effect on your health, newer research proves otherwise. Of course, take this with a grain of salt. As mentioned, chat with your doctor about your specific sodium levels. At the end of the day, excessive sodium consumption can lead to unwanted health conditions.

Water retention

If you consume too much sodium, you may notice you feel more bloated or puffy than usual. This happens because your kidneys wish to maintain a specific sodium-to-water ratio in your body. Increased water retention may result in swelling—especially in the hands and feet. It can also lead to a higher number on the scale.

Increased Blood Pressure

A salt-rich meal can trigger a larger blood volume to flow through your blood vessels and arteries. This may result in a temporary rise in blood pressure. However, not everyone experiences these effects. Factors like genetics, hormones, and age play a role. These variables may explain why salt-rich diets don’t automatically result in a rise in blood pressure for everyone!

Intense thirst

Ever eaten a salty meal and felt very thirsty after? This is common. Feeling thirsty is your body encouraging you to correct the sodium-to-water ratio.

camille drinking water tan happy
Image by Michelle Nash

Is there a link between salt intake and high blood pressure?

Let’s rewind. Salt has played a critical role in ancestral food preparation for thousands of years. But in the last few decades, salt has been associated with hypertension and heart disease. It all began with flawed science. In essence, doctors knew our bodies relied on salt to maintain blood pressure balance. Thus, they believed that consuming too much salt contributed to high blood pressure and heart disease. The result? Government campaigns to get people to eat less salt.

Newer research proves this fundamental theory isn’t clear-cut. A meta-analysis of over 6,250 patients found there was no actual link between salt intake, high blood pressure, and risk of heart disease. Like many of our modern-day dietary recommendations, more research is needed.

Image by Suruchi Avasthi 

What is good quality salt?

Everyone has an opinion on this, but generally speaking, varieties like Himalayan salt or Celtic sea salt pack health benefits you simply don’t get from table salt. In fact, Celtic Sea Salt contains a higher mineral content than Himalayan—and even contains trace amounts of iodine, naturally.

Have fun with salt! You can try different types of specialty salt to make your meals more versatile and savory. Seasoned salt (garlic salt, celery salt, etc.) is an easy way to add more herbs to your dishes, while kosher salt (flaky salt) is the pièce de résistance when sprinkled on most desserts.