Everyone knows that you should avoid salt, right? Because salt can cause high blood pressure, correct?
The answers to those questions: no and no.
In fact, recent research from Germany indicates that older people who choose a sodium-free diet may be doing more harm than good. In fact, MUCH more harm than good.
The salt misconception
‘Of all the flavours one eats, salt is indispensable.’
That’s an old Chinese proverb that doesn’t get much play these days – mainly because of the mainstream mindset tells us that salt is bad. And it can be, when consumed in excess. But for the average person, a moderate daily intake of salt is not harmful. And according to research presented at the European Geriatrics Congress in Vienna, some of the people who need salt in their diets the most may be getting the least.
Professor Ingo Fusgen of the Department of Geriatrics at the University of Witten-Herdecke in Witten, Germany, presented research at the congress showing that as many as 10 percent of elderly people may suffer from hyponatraemia (low blood levels of sodium).
Furthermore, hyponatraemia often goes undiagnosed because symptoms are so similar to some of the conditions that we associate with ageing, such as fatigue, poor concentration, confusion, poor balance and incontinence. When hyponatraemia becomes pronounced, hallucinations and even coma may result.
In a presentation that has not yet been published, Prof. Fusgen reported that 80 percent of the elderly subjects in his research told him that they avoided salt based on the popular misconception that salt intake causes high blood pressure (HBP).
In a press release, Prof. Fusgen stated that many otherwise healthy older people may be in danger simply because of the widespread belief that a low-salt diet is healthy.
Salt’s best friend
I completely agree with Prof. Fusgen, but I’ll take it even one step further. Not only does sodium intake NOT cause high blood pressure, in most cases it’s not even a problem for people who already have HBP, provided they’re getting enough of another nutrient.
According to the late Dr Robert C. Atkins, the problem for those with HBP isn’t sodium, it’s a lack of balance between sodium and potassium levels. In fact, more than 25 separate studies show how increasing potassium intake (without decreasing the sodium) is an effective way to lower blood pressure. And one of those studies demonstrated that with just one daily serving of a potassium-rich food the risk of death by stroke may be cut by as much as HALF.
Fortunately, it’s easy to increase the potassium in your diet. High potassium fruits include apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew melon and citrus fruits. Vegetables with good amounts of potassium are asparagus, potatoes, green beans, avocados and cauliflower. Other foods high in potassium: grain products, red meat, poultry, seafood and dry beans, such as peas and lentils.
It would be difficult to get too much potassium from dietary sources alone. But if you’re already getting plenty of potassium in your diet, a potassium supplement would be unnecessary for most people, and in some extreme cases could lead to kidney damage and other complications. Obviously, balance is called for. And – as always – talk to your doctor, dietician or health care practitioner before using potassium supplements to help manage high blood pressure.
Obviously a long-term overindulgence in salt is dangerous, putting stress on the kidneys, which remove excess salt from the blood. So if you love your salt, you might try using sea salt. According to some physicians, moderate use of Celtic Sea Salt has been shown to have no negative effects on blood pressure and actually provides the body with a number of helpful minerals, including magnesium, which is essential for heart health.