High salt diets and high blood pressure, is it really that simple?
Posted on 27th April 2022 at 07:38
We live in an age of sound bites. Pieces of information – or advice – easily encapsulated into a few words, which appear to simplify a potentially complicated – and confusing – matter into one that’s easily understood. Although it doesn’t automatically mean the information or advice is correct, let alone put into practice!
The one we’d like to look at today has been a mainstay of conventional health advice since the 1960’s, particularly for those with high blood pressure and other heart related conditions. To adopt a low salt diet. And, with the part salt plays in helping the body regulate blood pressure, it sounds like a very sensible – and scientific – piece of advice. We wrote about salt back in 2017 and the part it plays in helping regulate blood pressure. If you’d like a quick reminder click here.
Unfortunately, this advice hasn’t had the desired results. A recent review of a number of studies into the effects of a low salt diet on those with high blood pressure and heart failure, found it didn’t have a “statistically significant impact on clinical events”. In other words, there was no scientific evidence to support adopting a low salt diet.
So, why is this?
Well, sadly, life in general – and humans in particular (!) – aren’t quite that simple.
To start with, not all salts are the same. Processed white table salt is not the same as the many different types of natural salts such as Sea Salt or Himalayan Crystal Salt. Not only are they very different nutritionally, but have very different effects on the body.
Processed white salt is just that, salt – or sodium chloride to be more exact – while natural salts contain a wide range of other minerals and trace elements. This, in turn, means that natural salts provide all the resources the body needs to process the salt – as well as to function more generally – without the health problems associated with eating pure sodium chloride.
Added to this, processed white salt contains anti caking agents to ensure it pours easily, as well as other chemicals to help lengthen its shelf life and maintain its colour. And, talking of colour, it’s bleached to make it white and so more attractive to the customer. Finally, if you’re really unlucky, it also contains aluminium derivatives as well.
So, it’s not quite as simple as removing ALL salt from the diet. Instead, it’s about cutting out white processed salt. In practice this means processed and convenience foods, as well as white salt from the grinder or shaker in the kitchen.
However, just as important is what it’s replaced with. Natural salts, such as Sea Salt or Himalayan Crystal Salt, are so much more than simply providing salt. They contain many trace elements not found elsewhere, particularly these days when so much food is intensively produced. Alternatively, herbs, or Sea Salt containing herbs, are another way of adding flavour to food without having to resort to processed table salt.
Which neatly leads us on to another issue with this approach. It ignores other salt related issues. Not only from diet more generally but also from drinks. Some are obvious, with processed white salt being used as a flavour enhancer and / preservative in many foods, including sauces and ketchups. Others are less so or indirectly affect salt levels in the body. Here’s an example of one you may not have heard of before. It relates to coffee which, thanks to its caffeine content speeding up our metabolic rate, can rapidly deplete salt levels – and in similar amounts to heavy sweating.
And, finally, the major problem with this approach. The elephant in the room. The assumption there’s one single cause for a particular symptom – or set of symptoms – AND so one single solution too. Unfortunately, this is just not the case. It may be a cliché, but every person is unique and comes with their own unique causes and symptoms. True, one particular cause – or set of causes – may be more common than others, but it doesn’t automatically mean that others aren’t playing a part too.
So, while a high salt diet may be a factor to take into account, it’s not the only one. In our experience, there are a whole range of factors that may be playing a part – and to different degrees. The trick is in working out which ones are likely to be playing apart with that particular person and then tailoring the advice accordingly. These include stress – whether recent or ongoing – Obesity, Diabetes, other ongoing medical conditions and a whole raft of poor lifestyle choices such as dehydration, poor nutrition, smoking and a lack of exercise.
While this may sound like bad news – as well as making matters unnecessarily complicated (!) – the good news is that the same common sense advice applies to most health concerns. And, there are no prizes for guessing what it is. It’s all the things we talk about regularly in this blog, the simple things we do every day that can either add up to great results – or a potential disaster. Even better, every change ripples through the body as a whole. It has the power to improve our overall health in many different ways, not just the issue it was aimed at. Truly a case of win win.
This is why we focus on the small things you can do at home to help yourself. Not only are they simple – and not too scary (!) – but can quickly be built up to provide great results in a short period of time. It’s the easy way to make changes that become part of your daily life, rather than something you have to make a conscious effort to do.
As always, the choice is yours.
Photograph by unknown author
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