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The Flavor Of Life: Salt Is Our Friend

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The dry warm weather of southern Oregon summers allows us all to find some time of the day when we can be outside and exercise comfortably. As a morning person and a rower with Rogue Rowing Club, my favorite exercise happens early in the morning out at Emigrant Lake. If you’re a hiker, you may be heading up into the hills and mountains for some cooler air that allows for longer walks. If you’re a swimmer or a boater, you might find yourself out in the middle of the day, cooling off with a refreshing dunk.

All the possible outdoor scenarios share one critical characteristic and that is the dryness of our air. In the mornings the air holds a bit more moisture, but by the afternoon, we are as dry as the high desert of eastern Oregon. When the air is dry, and especially if it’s warm or if you’re working hard, you will perspire but that sweat will evaporate so quickly you may not realize how much you’re losing. And as any trusty dog pal will tell you, your sweat is rich in salt.

The key to feeling good while you’re outside, and for the rest of the day, is replacing what is lost to sweat. Water and salt are the most important nutrients to consider, but other minerals are lost in sweat as well. Sweat losses can be remarkable with any prolonged exercise and in shorter periods of exercise when the humidity is low and the air is dry. Electrolyte-rich fluids are optimal sweat replacement, but simple salt and water are good as well. Pastured animals do well with salt blocks, and we humans—when outside—would do well to increase our salt intake.

I hear a few of you objecting that your doctor has cautioned you against eating too much salt, and I am sad to say that the fear of salt has taken a persistent hold in the medical community.

A new book, The Salt Fix, by Dr. James DiNicolantonio is an extremely well-researched counter to our long-standing fear of salt. In a nutshell, it’s sugar that we should fear, responsible for many of the hazards attributed to salt. Communities and individuals that enjoy salt without restriction typically consume between three and six grams of salt daily (and some much more than that) and have lower (!?) blood pressure, less heart disease, better sleep, better digestion and even better sex and increased fertility!  

Conventional medical advice suggests limiting salt intake to one to two grams daily, but looking at population evidence, there is no consistent relationship that would condemn salt. Here’s one for you: folks in Japan do NOT follow our guidelines. The Japanese eat about 13 grams of salt daily and have very low heart disease rates, third behind South Korea and France, both eating about what we do (3.5 grams)  when we disregard medical advice. Longevity in general and heart health in particularly do very well with higher salt containing diets.

But salt and blood pressure? About 20 percent of people are sensitive to salt, and if they restrict salt will see about one point lower blood pressure. Whoopee, and it’s not even clear that the benefit extends beyond those specific numbers.

Fancy salts offer some benefit over commercial salts, but plain old table salt will give you a nice dose of iodine: comes in handy if you don’t eat much seafood.

You and your circulatory system—just like that of the hiker on the Pacific Crest trail, the water skier out on the lake, and the endurance runner—benefit from a healthy balance of water, salt and the minerals found in a diet of real food. And when it comes to the amount of salt: salt generously, enjoy the taste—it will do your body a favor!

Read more of Dr. Deborah’s healthy insights at www.DrDeborahMD.com.


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