Salt and Weight Loss – What’s The Connection?

Many trainers and nutritionists recommend that you cut the salt to cut the fat, but is there really a connection? Do salt and weight loss go together?

Let’s find out…

The Surprising Truth About Salt And Weight Loss…

Do we have a problem consuming too much salt? Answer: Yes.

The powers to be in the government recommend that we consume no more than 2,400 mg of sodium per day (approximately 1 teaspoon). We, as Americans, consume 3400-3700 mg per day.

The government, however, is likely very wrong in their recommendations (no surprise)…

If we could hop in a time machine and ask “Dr. Caveman”, “How much sodium should we consume?”, his answer would likely be, “Unga bunga bunga”; translation…”About 600 mg per day (0.6 grams).

Here’s why this is so important…

During our evolution, sodium was scarce and potassium was abundant. In fact, the average “caveperson” (to be politically correct) consumed up to 15,000 mg of potassium and 600 mg of sodium.

To adapt to such an environment of sodium deficiency and potassium excess, our kidneys became very efficient at removing potassium from the blood and very inefficient at removing excess sodium.

Fast forward to modern day, we consume less than 2,800 mg of potassium and over 3,500 mg of sodium…and you better believe that this does cause problems, especially because our body retains sodium and excretes potassium!

So What? The Importance Of Healthy Sodium and Potassium Levels

Sodium and potassium are extremely important for the heart, brain, kidneys, and practically every other cell in the body. When we have too much sodium and too little potassium in the blood we suffer many consequences, including:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Heart arrhythmia
  3. Heart failure
  4. High blood pressure
  5. Muscle weakness
  6. Constipation
  7. Delayed emptying of the stomach

But…What About Weight Gain?

Now back to the question at hand, “Does excess sodium and insufficient potassium result in weight gain and fat storage?”

The answer is “Yes” to weight gain and “Maybe” to fat storage…

Sodium retention does cause weight gain by causing the body to retain water, no one will dispute this truth…

As to fat storage, the only evidence that I can find that speaks to this question is population research that shows that people who consume more sodium also have a higher likelihood of weighing more (higher BMI). In other words, if we took 100 overweight folks and compared their sodium intake to 100 lean folks, the overweight folks would likely consume more sodium on a daily basis. Not exactly compelling data…

We simply can’t know if sodium excess causes fat storage or is simply an artifact of eating more processed food. My guess is that the sodium to BMI link is just an artifact of the reality that many overweight and obese folks have unhealthy diets rather than sodium causing fat storage. It’s also worth noting that a lot of “diet food” is precooked, and typically, high-sodium.

So, for now, sodium is released from custody due to insufficient evidence on the charge of making people fat.

That Doesn’t Mean That We Should Ignore Salt

Look at the list of negative effects from consuming too much sodium and too little potassium (above)…

Do you think that fatigue and muscle weakness could throw a monkey-wrench in your plans to be active and fit? Would a heart arrhythmia be a problem for you if you decide to run a marathon?

Of course; the reality is, to be healthy, we should cut sodium and simultaneously increase potassium intake. That’s the way nature wanted it!

Tips On How To Balance Our Sodium to Potassium Intake

  1. Don’t worry about the salt shaker. Only 11% of our sodium intake comes from the salt-shaker and salt added during home cooking.
  2. Don’t worry about sodium in natural foods…only another 12% of our sodium comes from the sodium that occurs naturally in food.
  3. Definitely worry about prepackaged and restaurant food! 77% of sodium that we consume comes from prepackaged food and restaurant eating. That’s where we find our greatest impact on the sodium-potassium ratio.
  4. Focus on eating high-potassium foods, rather than avoiding high-sodium foods. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, legumes are all good sources of potassium…no surprise that these are all real, natural foods.
  5. We want to aim for 6,000 to 8,000 mg of potassium from food and supplements. NOTE: If you take certain drugs for high blood pressure, you may be at risk of low potassium or high potassium depending on the drug. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before adding extra potassium or even consuming extra potassium.

So, as you can see the story of salt and weight loss is not quite as black and white as many weight loss experts would have you believe.

About the Author Dr. Ray Hinish

Dr. Ray Hinish is a nutritional pharmacist, certified personal trainer, & certified Lifestyle & Weight Management Coach. He currently practices in Baltimore, MD, where he owns and operates a wellness center and natural foods restaurant. His mission is to help folks to live their health potential so that they can pursue their passions with confidence and endless supplies of energy!

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