Salt and the Low Carb Diet

The following is adapted from the forthcoming book, “The Art and science of Low Carbohydrate Living” by Jeff S. Volek, PhD, RD, and Stephen D. Phinney, MD, PhD

Whole books have been written about the history of salt. Wars were fought over access to salt. Roman soldiers were often paid with a measure of salt, hence the origin of the English word “salary”. Hunters and their prey, herders and their cattle, all shaped their actions and habits around access to salt.

The reason, of course, is that salt (sodium) is necessary for life.

Humans did not need to know chemistry to understand the value of salt. Salt deprivation leads to lightheadedness, fatigue, headache, and malaise. Aboriginal cultures could figure out that if they drank from one spring they began to feel lousy, but if they drank from that other one, they’d feel OK. The Inuit knew which ice to melt for water to boil their meat. Sea ice loses its salt content with age. Fresh ice had too much salt, fresh snow had none, whereas older seas ice was just right.

Today we “know” that too much salt is bad for us, so why this long discussion of a discredited nutrient?

The short answer is that the amount of carbohydrate in our diet changes our need for salt.

High carbohydrate diets make the kidneys retain salt, whereas a low carbohydrate intake increases sodium excretion by the kidney. Hunting cultures seemed to understand this, and thus their highly evolved practices of finding sodium and consuming enough of it to maintain health and well-being.

The body’s metabolism of salt is uniquely different when one is adapted to a low carbohydrate diet.

Salt and water are more efficiently excreted, which is a good thing as long as you maintain an adequate minimum sodium intake.

Ignore this lesson and you are likely to suffer the completely avoidable problems of headache, fatigue, weakness and constipation—maladies that any Inuit healer would have promptly resolved by giving you a bowl of blood soup, or meat broth made with sea ice of the proper age.

jb@jonnybowden.com'

Author: Jonny Bowden

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, (aka "The Nutrition Myth Buster") is a nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition and health. He is a board-certified nutritionist with a master’s degree in psychology and the author of fourteen books on health, healing, food and longevity including three best-sellers, “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth”, “Living Low Carb”, and "The Great Cholesterol Myth".

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6 Comments

  1. nancyrose3008@gmail.com'

    DR JONNY YOU ARE ON THE CASE! I ALSO REALISE THAT THE QUALITY OF SALT COUNTS! IT MUST BE SEA SALT FOR SURE! I EVEN HAVE THE PINK HIMALAYAN VARIETY VERY CHEAP FROM TRADER JOE’S!
    THANXAMILL
    NANCY

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    • gblw@gmail.com'

      Yes very cheap for the salt miners too. Why not just buy from home and stop enslaving peoples of other cultures for your food fetishes.

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  2. mjkshaw@hotmail.com'

    Sometimes when I have eaten mostly fruits and vegetables and very few carbs, I have gotten that light-headed ditzy feeling that you’re talking about. It is the very worst thing about eating well–getting too low of sodium. A blog comment on the internet suggested that certain people, especially if they have low blood pressure, may feel better after a cup of bouillion soup. I tried that and it worked well!

    :-) Marion

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  3. relax@onsitemassageworks.com'

    I grew up with a SAD-eating family who also salted food like crazy. Part of my food rebellion was to develop a taste that eschewed salting food.
    Now I follow a Primal Blueprint version of paleo. When I go to a hydrotherapy spa (hottub, steam, sauna, etc) I get headachey after. Finally I realized that I needed to bring my seasalt shaker and basically make a “salt lick” for myself before hitting the hottub, etc. It made a real difference with the headaches!

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  4. surende222@gmail.com'

    nice post!!!!
    thanks everyone to share their opinions ..
    Foods with high sodium may causes to high blood pressure and heart decease. Do you know a average person consumes close to 9 grams of salt a day? 77percent of the salt overload comes from processed food.

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