Sodium is a naturally-occurring element found in everything from milk to beets to celery sticks. Most people’s main source of dietary sodium is table salt (sodium chloride), which is 40% sodium; fancier sea salts contain roughly the same amount of sodium, although they also contain several other trace minerals that are stripped from table salt during processing.
Sodium is crucial for maintaining proper muscle and nerve function and electrolyte balance. It helps maintain the volume of blood plasma, an important balance for heart health. Salt also aids in digestion by providing chloride to the hydrochloric acid (HCL) in your stomach.
We lose salt every day through urination and sweating, and the human body has no way of synthesizing sodium from other dietary elements, so some salt consumption is clearly necessary. The specific amount, however, is much less clear.
Salt and a Paleo Diet
One of the most important of these nutrients was potassium. Potassium, which is found all kinds of fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meats, seems to reduce the risk of hypertension – in a sense, it balances out any detrimental effects of sodium consumption. The ratio of sodium to potassium in the diet is particularly significant, especially for anyone interested in an evolutionary eating plan: one of the changes brought by the Agricultural Revolution was a drastic reversal of the ratio of dietary sodium to potassium.
One NIH study even found that the ratio of sodium to potassium more strongly correlated with risk of cardiovascular disease than the absolute levels of sodium or potassium alone. Other studies found that the balance between the two elements is so important because a high ratio of sodium to potassium disturbs the body’s natural acid levels, slowing growth in children, and decreasing bone and muscle mass in adults, as well as contributing to the formation of kidney stones.
This makes the Paleo diet ideal from a blood pressure standpoint, since, like the this diet, it provides high doses of all the important nutrients that help maintain fluid homeostasis.
The Paleo lifestyle also imitates several of the factors that made populations like the Yanomami Indians outliers in the INTERSALT study: low levels of stress, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and lowered intake of stimulants like caffeine.
In other words, without directly restricting salt, the Paleo diet gets at the root causes of the lowered blood pressure touted by salt-reduction champions. This makes salt restriction itself not only unnecessary, but problematic.
Human consumption of salt has shown a remarkable resistance to public health campaigns, suggesting that we’re physiologically designed for a certain level of salt intake and probably shouldn’t fight our bodies’ needs.
Reviewing the available data suggests that a diet based on evolutionary science most closely meets human requirements for all of the many micronutrients regulating healthy blood pressure. The Paleo diet might be naturally lower in salt than the standard American diet, due to the exclusion of sodium-rich processed foods, but there’s no need to artificially restrict sodium intake.
Paleo Salt Conclusion
Salt is not the enemy. Even though public health officials continue to scold us for enjoying it, their recommendations are based on faulty data and ignore the potential health problems of universal salt restriction. People with certain kidney problems may see some benefits from reducing salt consumption, but it’s not necessary or even healthy for most people.
The historical stability of salt consumption suggests that our bodies know better than we do how much salt they need: on a Paleo diet rich in other important micronutrients like potassium, there’s nothing harmful about eating as much salt as you have a taste for.