We hear recommendations about how to reduce our sodium intake. While there are tons of articles about how to “slash” your sodium intake, one thing the FDA got right is that this harmful sodium they speak of is mostly coming from packaged and preserved foods. When we are picky about our packaged foods and know how to expertly read a label, we can avoid harmful sodium and soak up the good stuff. And the good stuff? Salt is a major part of that.
Salt isn’t just table salt. In fact, there are countless types of salts from all over the world—from seas to mountain ranges, mines and the like, all containing different minerals, levels of salinity, textures, scents, and even flavor nuances.
The mineral content is what is super important, and while many people associate salt with water retention and dehydration, these crucial minerals known as electrolytes are actually known for boosting optimal hydration on a cellular level. We spoke with Heather Ertel, Integrative Health Coach, pro-aging expert, and founder of The Glow Wellness, who gets down to the salty meat of the issue.
“Feeling tired, stressed, bloated, craving sugar? Amazingly, salt can fix all of this, but a good-quality salt. Salt has been demonized forever. But a good-quality, mineral-rich salt is essential for basically every bodily function and for keeping your body functioning systematically and harmoniously.
Sodium is both an electrolyte and mineral. It helps keep the water (the amount of fluid inside and outside the body’s cells) and electrolyte balance of the body. Salt is essential for cognitive function, the thyroid, and the nervous system, and it can even help to optimize digestion and sleep.”
“Salt is needed to form stomach acid, digest food, and absorb nutrients. Sodium, potassium, and magnesium both play a role in proper muscle function and contraction. Chronically low levels of these minerals can slow down the wave-like muscle contractions that move food through the digestive tract, leading to compromised GI health. A proper electrolyte balance ensures your digestive system can stay healthy and regular.”
“Electrolytes, which include sodium, help conduct nerve signals and regulate fluid balance in the brain. Maintaining proper fluid balance is critical for brain health; it ensures that the brain is getting the oxygen and other nutrients it needs to function properly. It is also very beneficial for sports performance as it helps to boost blood volume, lowers heart rate, and reduces the rise in core body temperature with vigorous exercise. Salt is important for hydration, energy, and nerve transmission.”
Stress, hormones, and sleep
“Electrolyte supplementation factors into:
Cortisol, which has a bi-directional relationship with sodium. Most of us need less stress and more salt.
Adrenaline. Our body’s response to low salt intake? More adrenaline to help you retain sodium.
Aldosterone: low sodium raises this hormone, in turn depleting potassium and raising blood pressure.
Renin also shows up when sodium levels drop, increasing blood pressure.
Electrolytes balance hormones, but a lack of electrolytes can throw that balance off just as quickly.
Low-salt diets have also been shown to worsen sleep, as they increase numerous stress hormones, in particular, epinephrine (adrenaline) and noradrenaline.”
So what about fluid retention? After a night of drinking, don’t skip the salt the next day in hopes to relieve your hangover! (OK, we can blame the alcohol for all the dehydration, but that salty late-night pizza didn’t help with the fact that we can’t get our rings off the next day.) In fact, skipping salt will make things much worse. It’s not all about hangovers though—it’s also sweating in a sauna, hiking, working out, anything that makes you lose water, or when you’re feeling like you’re retaining extra.
Ertel shares that “electrolytes help regulate fluid balance. A couple of my female clients swear by salt’s ability to completely eliminate bloating simply by balancing their electrolytes.”
What type of salt should you use?
Sodium is necessary to keep things in balance. It’s full of minerals, including, iron, zinc, and magnesium. You want a high-quality salt. I like Redmond Real Salt over the more popular Himalayan pink salt because it contains 60+ trace minerals and doesn’t have any additives. I salt all my meals with Redmond’s salt, I have a salt and lemon water drink before a workout, or I use LMNT [Ertel’s preferred electrolyte drink mix, though there are many to choose from], which is a combination of sodium, potassium, and magnesium and tastes amazing. I even add Redmond’s to my coffee or matcha (try it, it enhances the flavor and balances the diuretic effect or loss of electrolytes).
I encourage people to try adding a mineral-rich salt like Redmond’s to their foods for a week and see how they feel. When I got my electrolyte balance right, I felt the benefits immediately. I had more energy for my workouts, slept better, and felt my brain functioning on new levels. I saw firsthand how easy it is to overlook this important mineral balance equation. When I started to pay as much attention to my electrolytes as I do my food and my movement, everything changed.”