There’s a lot of contention in the health world over the amount of sodium allowable in a diet. Nowhere is this idea more widely debated than in paleo dieting. If you look through the wide assortment of paleo cookbooks out there, you’ll see what I mean. While some use salt in almost every recipe, others strictly forbid it.
The problem with salt in the paleo diet is that paleo purists believe that the body was created to digest only those things that existed during the lifetime of the earliest man, the Paleolithic era. Because salt was not introduced to the human diet until long after that, they forbid it in their diets and urge others to do the same.
However, some argue that just because it was not used doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist. It was available in the form of evaporated sea salt and salt deposits. Early man just lacked the forethought or means utilize it.
So, why does any of this matter? The debate over sodium is not limited to just those paleoites arguing over it’s origin or some inconsequential evolutionary timeline. It’s a debate that has sparked nationwide talks over the last food years.
Because the long-term effects of high-sodium consumption have been linked to such diseases as stroke, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, edema and stomach cancer, many experts believe that stricter guidelines are need for healthy consumption.
The FDA recommends that the average person consume no more than 2300mg of sodium per day (1500mg for people over 51, African-Americans or people with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease), but studies show that the average American gets between 3400 and 4700mg per day, and that an “estimated 75 percent of the average consumer’s intake comes from packaged foods.” (according to Food Navigator-USA )
For this reason, in 2010 New York City launched the National Salt Reduction Initiative, a campaign which urged food manufacturers to voluntarily reduce the sodium content of their products. The long-term goal is to see a 25% reduction across the board by 2015. This campaign has been met with a high amount of success, thanks in large part to the support and championing for the cause by First Lady Michelle Obama.
To the untrained eye, these all seem like great measures and reducing your sodium consumption to the lowest levels possible would just be icing on the health cake. Unfortunately, this a very flawed idea. To explain why, we need to look at what exactly sodium does on a biological level.
Sodium is a mineral, and an essential one at that. It regulates blood volume and blood pressure and our primary source of sodium is salt. For minimal function, the body requires at least 500mg. Too little sodium in the body can lead to muscle cramps, dizziness, neurological problems, or even death. Increased water consumption with insufficient sodium levels can cause a condition known as hyponatremia, or water intoxication.
In the average diet, eliminating sodium is an unwise decision, but for paleo dieters, a large population of which are athletes, the elimination of sodium from the diet can be life-threatening. When you sweat, you lose sodium deposits in your system, and when you rehydrate on a sodium-deprived system, your risk of water intoxication goes way up.
The best way to manage sodium in your diet is just to cut out processed packaged foods. Stick to foods that are fresh and freshly prepared. Don’t be afraid to salt your food while cooking or eating, but be wary of recipes that call for huge amounts of it, and eat salted or cured meats in moderation. Drink plenty of water, but don’t go overboard. The general rule is one ounce of water per two pounds of body weight, slightly more if you sweat a lot. If you have a high-salt day, compensate by boosting your potassium intake, which can help offset the negative effects of the sodium.