Monday, September 1, 2008

To salt or not to salt?

One of the frustrating things about working hard to eat only healthy foods is the amount of disagreement among the experts. It is clear to me that a healthy diet should eliminate or reduce to a very small amount all animal foods including beef, pork, chicken, fish and dairy products. Equally as clear is the need to rid our diets of fake and processed foods.

But, becoming a vegan is only half the battle. Their are so called vegan foods that need scrutiny and one of them is salt. I have read so many conflicting opinions about salt, my head is spinning. So, let me try to clarify.

The two physicians I rely on for advice about diet and health are Joel Fuhrman and John McDougall. Their websites are linked on my list of favorites at the right side of this page. Dr. McDougall and Dr. Fuhrman have somewhat different views on the subject of salt. McDougall's views on salt are summarized in his latest newsletter article linked with my favorites also on the right side of this page.

In essence, McDougall says that while salt can contribute to slight increases in blood pressure, the main problem is that lots of salt comes packaged with foods that are very unhealthy, salted meats, cheeses, pizza, and other foods high in saturated fats. It is not clear, according to McDougall, that salt is itself unhealthy. He advises that salt should be added by the person eating the food. Moderate amounts of salt from the shaker on our dinner tables cause no harm. Processed foods high in salt should be avoided. People with high blood pressure and serious heart ailments should keep their salt intake low. Low means under 2,000 mg of salt per day.

Fuhrman considers salt to be much more of a serious health problem and he advises no more than 1.000 mg per day. He advises to go to great lengths to avoid salt in our food and suggests that we never add any from a shaker or anywhere else. He argues that we can train ourselves to not miss the taste of salt. Once acclimated to low salt eating, food actually tastes better. I would agree. Fuhrman links salt to heart problems, stroke and high blood pressure.

I religiously avoid salted foods and never add any to my foods. Now, when I eat something with a little bit of salt, the strong salt taste is not pleasant.

I am still not sure about whether or not pure salt is a health risk. But, to be safe, good salt consumption practices are as follows:

-- Avoid eating all processed foods with added salt. For that matter, avoid all processed foods.
-- If you must use a salt shaker, add no more than 1/4 teaspoon of salt to your food per day. If you avoid all other salted foods, you should get less than 2,000 mg per day.
-- It is better, however, especially if you have heart problems and/or high blood pressure to consume under 1,000 mg per day, most of which will occur naturally in whole foods. Keep the salt shaker off the table.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an email to Dr. McDougall asking about salt. He said, "There is no downside to low salt."

1 comment:

Elijah Lynn said...


I read your post and just wanted to add that any added salt for me brings back symptoms of toxic hunger. I am just like you and I can taste salt on food a mile away! Foods taste so much better without it!

Congrats on your journey!