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Why you need salt on keto

Why You Need Salt on Keto and 5 Key Takeaways

Salt – the WORST thing you could possibly eat right next to fat, right!? WRONG! At least as far as keto is concerned. As we continue to find, this diet flips many of our commonly held nutritional beliefs upside down. Salt intake is only one of them. The ketogenic diet changes the body (In a very GOOD way of course). We need to add specific nutrients such as sodium to help it adjust.

1. Salt is Incredibly Important on Keto  

Salt alongside potassium, magnesium, and calcium are some of the most important electrolytes. In the very beginning of the diet, your body is going to flush fluids. With that initial fluid loss, you are also going to be losing these electrolytes. So, it’s important to stay hydrated during this time. Sodium will help with retaining your fluids. [Chapter 2, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living]

A little background on this – The process of flushing water and sodium is called the “natriuresis of fasting”. It doesn’t happen with a high carbohydrate diet, but it DOES happen while on keto. Keto actually makes your body more efficient at managing it’s fluids. But, you DO need to make sure you’re getting enough sodium to aid with fluid retention. 

It’s not just fluid balance that sodium assists with. It also plays a heavy role in our nervous system. Lower levels of sodium have been attributed with decreased cognitive performance – especially in the elderly [0]. Without sufficient sodium our neurons simply cannot fire correctly. Have you ever heard about drinking pickle juice as a remedy for cramping during intense exercise? The reason this works is due to the high sodium content in pickle juice. We sweat sodium out during a workout. Without it, our muscles don’t know what they should be doing so cramping occurs.

If you are person with a history of insulin resistance here’s something that may be interesting to you. Low salt intake can actually contribute to higher levels of insulin resistance – possibly setting someones health back even further.  [1] [2]

2. Five Important Signs to Determine a Salt Deficiency 

Here are the more notable symptoms of having low salt. 

  • Light Headedness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Malaise
  • Constipation

If you lose enough salt, the circulation of your blood can actually be impaired. This leads to the feeling of light headedness and fatigue – a very common “keto flu” symptom. It can be especially noticeable as you intensify a workout  before keto adaptation is complete. So, you might want to consider taking a cup of bone broth before a workout. Remember, we also excrete salt when we sweat.

3. We Need a Certain Amount of Salt on Keto

The FDA recommendation for sodium is to stay under 2400mg per day HOWEVER this on a Standard American diet. Most keto experts are recommending getting between 2000mg to 5000mg per day if you are on the diet.

Here’s a real example –  In Dr. Stephen Phinney’s 2004 study on ketogenic athletic performance, his study participants received a 3000mg sodium supplement. That was on top of the 2,000mg they were ALREADY getting from the foods they were eating. The basic idea here is that we need a little extra sodium to stay at peak athletic performance. [3]

Just keep in mind – Your keto adapted metabolism is going to excrete excess salt in a matter of hours. While I wouldn’t go eating spoon fulls of it, extra sodium does leave the body a lot quicker than with a high carb diet.

4. Not All Salt is Created Equal

Pink Himalyan Salt

By now, you’ve probably heard about Pink Himalayan salt or have at least seen it at the grocery store. In my opinion – all the hype around it IS warranted. It’s actually pretty interesting just how different this salt is from regular table salt.

Pink Himalyan Salt is one of the purest salts available on earth.  As you might have guessed, it comes from deep in the Himalayan mountains. These salt deposits are over 250 million years old. The beautiful thing is that 15% of this salt contains 84 different trace minerals that our bodies can use. Contrast that with regular table salt which contains 97.5% processed sodium chloride and the other 2.5% of that containing an anti-caking agent (as well as a few other additives).

Sea salt is another great option which contains 60 different trace minerals. Either way – natural salt is by far much more healthy than processed table salt.

5. The Truth About Salt and Blood Pressure

“Chill out on the salt” they said. “It will help your blood pressure” they said. Well, how is your blood pressure now after dropping 4 pounds of water weight overnight since starting keto? Chances are… it has dropped significantly. 

The research is pretty clear that eating less salt DOES decrease blood pressure. But, the difference it makes is not very significant to be honest. For example, a 2013 study by Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine found (on average) a 4.18mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure and a 2.06mm Hg reduction in diastolic blood pressure by reducing sodium by about 1760mg per day. [4] Keep in mind most Americans consume about 3400mg of sodium per day or higher. So, in order to get this modest BP reduction, you might need to cut your sodium intake by HALF. 

But, here’s something interesting.  Even if you do decrease your salt intake by this amount, current research doesn’t really support any major health benefits as a result of people who made the change. If anything, it’s controversial whether there is any benefit at all. [5] [6] There HAS been a link made to sodium contributing to BP, but there has been little to NO link established between sodium and cardiovascular disease. I would error on the side of making sure you are getting enough of it versus worrying about the negatives of over consumption – ESPECIALLY on keto. The proof isn’t there right now. Sodium is an essential electrolyte that we cannot live without.

Potassium actually makes a bigger difference than Sodium does in regards to blood pressure. It works together with sodium to manage a healthy balance of fluids in the body. The thing is, ALMOST EVERYONE is deficient in potassium. Ensuring you get 4700mg per day can reduce blood pressure on average by about 8.0/4.1mm Hg. It isn’t always easy to get that much potassium though.

Let’s put 4700mg of potassium in perspective. To get that amount, you either need to eat A LOT of veggies, or you need to supplement it. Let’s use Broccoli for example which is a good source of Potassium. It has 316mg of potassium per 100g. A bag of frozen broccoli has about 1254mg of potassium. So, in order to get your daily intake eating JUST broccoli, you would need to eat 3.75 bags of broccoli per day. That’s a heck of a lot broccoli!

It’s always best if you can get it from your diet. But, If are like me and have a hard time consuming that many vegetables, I would recommend  Pure Potassium Chloride Powder by Bulk Supplements. You want to choose a potassium chloride supplement over a potassium gluconate because the chloride form will be absorbed more easily over time. 

Here are some great natural sources of Potassium. Forget the bananas. 

  • Avocado (975mg per Avocado)
  • Broccoli (316mg per 100g)
  • Spinach (558mg per 100g) 
  • Kale (419mg per 100g)
  • Salmon (800mg per 1/2 fillet or 198g)

A Few Final Words

Listen to your body! If you are experiencing symptoms of light headedness, fatigue, headaches, malaise, or constipation, try experimenting with adding a pinch of salt to a meal. If the symptoms go away, awesome! If not – could you be low on potassium or another electrolyte? As far as Keto is concerned, electrolytes are the most common deficiency, so I would always start there.

I personally experienced brain fog when starting out on Keto. I would have trouble concentrating at work – especially in the morning. It would dissipate after a meal, and then I would feel normal. Had I known to increase my electrolyte intake, these symptoms would have gone away much faster.

In closing, I would use caution with adding extra salt to your diet. Do it slowly, and gauge how you feel after upping your intake. As a general rule of thumb – I wouldn’t go above 5000mg (diet and supplement combined) per day unless you are directed by a doctor to do so. I say this because the ketogenic studies that are out there haven’t gone above 5000mg with study participants.

And, If you are going to supplement potassium, do so with caution as well. Too much potassium can actually be dangerous – granted you would need to take quite a bit. But, If you are person with renal failure, talk to your doctor first. The kidneys are responsible for removing both excess sodium and potassium from the diet. However, most of us ARE very deficient in this electrolyte. With a daily recommended value of 4700mg, It’s no wonder only 8% of the population is getting enough of this electrolyte (potassium).

Further Reading

Interested in further reading on this topic? Check out our similar post discussing the safety of keto long term. There are 5 myths about keto that people tend to get hung up on.

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