Shake It Off: 3 Myths About Salt

When it comes to salt, people have a lot of old-school ideas that don’t quite hold water. Here are three commonly held beliefs that need debunking—and why:

MYTH #1: Salt is nutritionally worthless.

THE REALITY: It’s what’s inside that counts.

Demonized as nutritionally useless and an evil booster of blood pressure, sodium has gotten a bad rap, not all of it deserved. It’s partially a question of semantics. While the words sodium and salt are often used interchangeably, most people don’t realize that they’re slightly different at the molecular level, and even more different in terms of their impact on the body.

While I would certainly advise anyone, hypertensive or not, not to be too liberal with table salt, keep in mind that a modicum of sodium in your diet is necessary to help maintain heart, brain, and muscle function and assist with a number of your body’s chemical processes. The body’s need for sodium is not, however, an invitation to pour on the table salt. That stuff usually winds up being a heavily processed devitalized substance that’s about 40 percent sodium, plus a mix of anticaking agents, iodine, sugar, and other chemicals. Whereas sodium, the naturally occurring mineral, is found in nutritious sources such as veggies, fruits, and meats from pasture-raised, plant-eating animals.

BOTTOM LINE: Take traditional table salt off the table. Throw it over your shoulder for good luck. Use it to help remove stains or clean the toilet bowl or extend the life of cut flowers—just don’t put it on your food. Instead, get the sodium you need from the fresh, unprocessed, whole foods that are the cornerstone of a nutrient-rich diet.

MYTH #2: Eliminate salt to eliminate high blood pressure.

THE REALITY: Cut processed foods instead.

If you’re not eating a healthy diet of whole unprocessed foods, or you eat out a lot and fill up on processed foods, then yes, you’re very likely taking in way too much added salt every day—the crappy table salt kind—and your blood pressure may suffer for it. Processed foods, including processed meats, are indeed loaded with salt, though your jaded taste buds are probably not even registering them as salty anymore.

As one of the cheapest flavor enhancers, salt is everywhere, and we’re not just talking about the obvious stuff like pretzels and chips. You’ll find loads of salt dumped into everyday staples like deli meats, soups, canned foods, bread, cereal, vegetable juices, condiments, spaghetti sauce, and more. Chances are, if you’re living on a diet of this stuff, your blood pressure problems won’t be solved by counting grains of salt or switching to “low salt” versions. Instead, lose the processed foods that are also loaded with sugar.

Why do sugar, and all the refined carbs, matter? Because they drive obesity, which in turn drives up blood pressure as well as stroke and heart attack risk. Take away the high-sugar, salt-heavy processed foods, replace them with fresh whole unprocessed foods—plants and pasture-raised meats—and see how quickly blood pressure returns to a healthier range. Eating this way will still give you the small amount of sodium your body needs to function, with none of the nasty, processed, chemical-laden stuff known as salt.

BOTTOM LINE: Cut out processed foods, and you’ll be eliminating the stuff that boosts blood pressure, namely salt and sugar.

MYTH #3: Switch to a salt substitute to add flavor instead.

THE REALITY: Salt substitutes can have lethal effects.

Instead of dropping processed foods, many people hit the supermarket in search of something to mimic salt for their dulled taste buds. What they find are things like Morton Salt Substitute, NoSalt Sodium-Free Salt, or Nu-Salt, all of which tend to add a slightly metallic or bitter taste rather than a salty one. Taste issues aside, though, most salt substitutes contain potassium chloride, too much of which can literally be a heart-stopper for those with cardiac issues, while in others it can trigger severe, potentially lethal kidney problems. Potassium chloride can also interact with popular prescription and over-the-counter meds—like blood thinners, ibuprofen, and aspirin—causing severe reactions and even sudden death, making salt substitutes an anything-but-tasty trade-off.

BOTTOM LINE: Pass on the salt substitutes. To add flavor as you cook, skip the salt and go heavy on organic spices and herbs—many of which have positive health benefits. Create your own blend or try Bragg Organic Sprinkle Seasoning. After the cooking is done, if needed, try adding small amounts of Himalayan, unrefined sea salt (from clean waters) or dried organic sea kelp seasoning to your meal—but taste it first. You may find you don’t need to salt it at all.

PIONEER IN FUNCTIONAL AND INTEGRATIVE MEDICINEFor Dr. Frank Lipman, health is more than just the absence of disease: it is a total state of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social wellbeing. Dr. Lipman is a widely recognized trailblazer and leader in functional and integrative medicine, and he is a New York Times best-selling author of five books, How To Be Well, The New Health Rules, 10 Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat, Revive and Total Renewal.After his initial medical training in his native South Africa, Dr. Lipman spent 18 months working at clinics in the bush. He became familiar with the local traditional healers, called sangomas, which kindled his interest in non-Western healing modalities.In 1984, Dr. Lipman immigrated to the United States, where he became the chief medical resident at Lincoln Hospital in Bronx, NY. While there, he became fascinated by the hospital’s addiction clinic, which used acupuncture and Chinese medicine to treat people suffering from heroin and crack addiction. Seeing the way these patients responded so positively to acupuncture made him even more aware of the potential of implementing non- Western medicine to promote holistic wellbeing. As a medical student, he was taught to focus on the disease rather than the patient, and now as a doctor he found himself treating symptoms rather than the root causes of illness. Frustrated by the constraints of his training, and the limitations in helping his patients regain true health, he began a journey of discovery to search for the path to meaningful long-term health and wellness.He began studying nutrition, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, functional medicine, biofeedback, meditation, and yoga. Dr. Lipman founded the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in 1992, where he combines the best of Western medicine and cutting edge nutritional science with age-old healing techniques from the East. As his patient chef Seamus Mullen told The New York Times, "If antibiotics are right, he'll try it. If it's an anti-inflammatory diet, he’ll do that. He’s looking at the body as a system rather than looking at isolated things."In addition to his practice, Dr. Lipman is the creator of Be Well, an expanding lifestyle wellness brand he founded in 2010 to help people create, sustain and lead healthier lives.