Saturday, 10 September 2016

Post 23: Why You Should Eat More Salt


Hi guys,

So far we’ve knocked down some nutritional barriers. First there were carbs - the nutritional lucifer, fallen from heaven. Turns out you don’t need as many as you thought and in fact could thrive on near none.

Then there was fat. Heck! Let’s keep the biblical theme running, and call fats the prodigal son. First they were a part of everyone’s diet, then they were left and were shunned, and are now back in our good books. In contrast to carbs, we can thrive and be completely healthy on high fat diets.

Then there was protein. Protein is the hipster of the macronutrient world. “I ate protein before it was cool!”. Protein is currently the poster child of the diet industry and can do no wrong. It’s satiating, helps us to maintain and increase muscle mass, and can be quite delectable! But we did need to take a step back from this protein lovefest, because we learned that eating too much protein can actually be a hindrance.

But what about salt?


Much like fat, salt has taken a bad rap from conventional wisdom and doesn’t deserve it. The word salt actually helps us to derive the word salary, as Roman soldiers were often paid in measures of salt. In Greek, halo means salt, and there’s more than a modicum of truth in that angelic suggestion. In primitive cultures salt ice was melted and drank, as well as the blood of animals, partially for its salt content. Over years of trial, error, and evolution, humans found that getting adequate salt was essential for higher functioning. Overall it’s clear that in previous eras, salt was treasured much more than it is today.

I don’t know why, but I feel like setting out today’s post as a throwback to my days in academia. So in turn, we’re going to look at motivation, mechanism, side effects of low sodium intake, method, and results of my self experimentation.

Let’s get this show on the road!


Motivation

I’ve got something to admit: I wasn’t getting enough salt. This led me down a path of discovery and provided the inspiration for this post. My hunch emanated from the following: when I ate salty foods I thought it was God’s gift, and this is usually something that sets off alarm bells in my head. The way I see it, if you enjoy something that much, your brain is trying to send you a signal. Either it’s chemically designed to be addictive (think sugar or MSG), or you have a deficiency. If it’s the latter, you should be eating a heck of a lot more! The same thing has happened to me with particular vegetables too: imagine my surprise when I just couldn’t get enough cauliflower!

We’ll learn today why on a low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet you need to actually increase your salt intake. Don’t worry, it’s not going to harm you! Because of a couple of simple mechanisms you can eat a lot more salt and still be healthy.

So after doing a little research and consulting my trusty guidebook (The Art of Low Carbohydrate Living, by Volek and Phinney: a must read), I was convinced that I needed to up my salt intake.  

A must read
But why exactly was that? What could I expect? How much salt could I handle/enjoy? And what would be the results? Let’s find out…


Mechanisms

Let’s revisit what I said earlier: you can eat a lot more salt and still be healthy. How is this possible? Firstly but not foremostly (…is that a word?...), if you’re not eating processed food then you won’t be taking in much sodium. If you really think about it, the seasonings that you might put on your meals aren’t actually that much, so if you’re not paying attention you can easily be deficient. Although, of course, please don’t take this the wrong way, and see it as an excuse to eat more processed food!

You see, when you’re on a low carb or ketogenic diet, then your whole sodium paradigm is different. This is because of the “natriuresis of fasting”, which took me a long time to pronounce as well…

What this does, is increase the efficiency of sodium excretion by your kidneys. Holding less salt, means you hold less water, which explains part of the drop in water weight experienced by low carb and keto dieters. When sodium is low, and in particular when the concentration of both sodium and potassium is off-kilter, then your adrenal glands will release aldosterone. Aldosterone signals your kidneys to secrete potassium to rebalance concentrations, which we don’t want to do because potassium’s presence in muscle protein cells inhibits muscle wasting. Furthermore, when potassium and sodium concentrations are off you will contract the circulating volume of fluids.

Now, earlier in this post I promised a simple mechanism, and it appears that I couldn’t help but get ahead of myself. So here’s the breakdown in simple terms:

  1. Start LC or keto and don’t have enough salt
  2. Kidneys excrete sodium more efficiently leading to low sodium levels
  3. Potassium and sodium concentrations are skewed
  4. Bad things happen (see below)


While you could eat more potassium rich foods such as avocados, nuts, dark leafy greens, salmon and mushrooms, I don’t think this is the most efficient way to go about correcting the problem. For one, salty food in your deficient state will be delicious, and secondly, I already was eating a load of these potassium rich foods yet I was still suffering the symptoms. This is just my N=1, but my choice was clear. Sodium supplementation it is...


Some potassium rich foods

Side effects of low sodium

At this point, we’ve identified how we end up with a sodium/potassium imbalance, but what are the specific “bad things” that come off of the back of this? They include:

  1. Lightheadedness
  2. Fatigue
  3. Headaches
  4. Malaise
  5. Muscle wasting
  6. Muscle cramps
  7. Constipation

I can admit that I’ve experienced every single one of these symptoms (yep, even the last one…). I can’t attest to the degree of muscle wasting, but considering I suffered from the rest I assume it must have been present in some way. Once I found out that I was really loving salty foods, I did some digging and found a list of symptoms which perfectly matched my own.

When I searched for a picture to display lightheadedness, I found this one, but in truth it just looks she has mind powers, so I stuck with it. That's right, going keto gives you superpowers...

Before upping my salt intake, I would feel very dizzy when I stood up quickly, I experienced headaches every now and then with no good alternative reason, I would wake up in the night with painful leg cramps below the knee, and I would constantly feel as if my eyes were very tired, much like you do when you’ve had a bad sleep. It wasn’t that I was totally exhausted, just not bustling with energy, which is something that people should aim for.

Sidebar: you shouldn’t want to just feel okay or good, you should want to feel great!

And this is definitely TMI, but I was quite constipated for a time and my bowel movements were rarer than I wanted them to be.


Method

Now, how much salt should one consume exactly?

Several low carb studies have been conducted where the participants safely consumed 5g of sodium a day, which might come as a surprise to you! If it does, and you object to the idea of 5g of salt a day, then perhaps start by having less, maybe 3g, see if your symptoms subside,  if they don’t then increase it by 1g and see how you do. I personally have no problems consuming salt at the 5g a day level.

But how do you eat that much salt? Of course I don’t expect you to just shovel it down or salt your food to a point where it could survive the winter! The most convenient answer can be found in bouillon/broth/stock. You can salt your food a little extra than usual throughout the day, but I prefer to concentrate my intake and don’t want to oversalt anything. You can drink bouillon just as you would tea or coffee, or incorporate it in meals as a cooking medium or soup.

I personally recommend the Kallo Organic Stocks which I’ve included links to at the end of this post. Each cube contains 4g of salt, leaving the other gram to be easily consumed through seasonings and other vitamins/supplements. It tastes pretty good and comes in various flavours, letting you mix it up day to day. The cubes are also really easy to transport and no I did not receive any payments to endorse this product, I just like to give you guys the truest idea of what I’m eating.


Results

What can I say? Outstanding comes to mind! It was amazing how quickly my symptoms cleared away. After having my first stock cube, I felt a real onrush of energy and especially, a feeling of intensity. While I have a lot more energy and focus since cutting the garbage out of my diet, I had never experienced the kind of “high” that other people reported. It was like my eyes were glued open, and I felt very motivated to do things. Suddenly I started looking around for tasks to complete to utilise this newfound drive.

That’s another thing: no more fatigue, or “tired eyes”. I wasn’t feeling exhausted, just that I could go to sleep at any point for a few minutes if I wanted to. Having introduced the extra salt this problem went away completely.

I can now also stand up quickly and not experience dizziness or lightheadedness, I don’t wake up during the night with cramps (ever!), and my bowel movements have become a lot more regular (I’m trying to keep this blog as honest as possible...).

These benefits persist throughout the day (not quite the third one, of course), but are especially pronounced when I have my daily cuppa broth. Sometimes I liken it to a healthy Red Bull, one without the jitters, weird taste, and energy crash. If I’ve got an important piece of work to complete, one that will require high focus, I always drink my broth just beforehand.  

Furthermore, for someone suffering from the “keto flu”, which I described in the Keto Q&A Part 1, upping your salt can help to alleviate your problems.

To think that it was just sodium holding me back is insane, which makes me grateful for paying attention to my body, investigating the symptoms, and implementing solutions. Your body really is the primary testing ground for any information you find out there. Had sodium not been the answer, I would have continued to consume the higher intake, but in the back of my mind I’d still be searching for the answer. Here’s a rule of thumb you can follow: think of a day when you felt really motivated to complete your chores, to get up early, and to dig into that list of things “you’ve been meaning to do”. This is the sort of day when you have a lot of patience, and the relationships you have with other people only strengthen. You’d also feel incredibly confident, and the stars seem to align for you; you are successful in everything you do. It is possible to feel this way if not every day, then at least for some part of it. If this isn’t true for you at this moment, then there’s probably something holding you back, be it in your life, your diet, or your psychology.


Takeaways

I hope you enjoyed this week’s post and found it useful. I also hope you start to question your own salt intake, and try out what has been discussed. If you, like me, weren’t getting enough, then this is really going to help you out. Here’s this week’s takeaways:
  1. Identify whether your sodium intake is low; are you suffering from the side effects of low sodium?
  2. If your answer to 1 was “Yes”, pick up some bouillon/broth/stock, and get drinking, or start putting more salt on your food.
  3. If every day you don’t at some point experience a sense of motivation, energy, patience, and success, then analyse what is holding you back; what can you do to improve your life?


Until next time,
Cowlean





Stock cubes:



Vegetable stock- http://www.sainsburys.co.uk/shop/gb/groceries/kallo-organic-vegetable-stock-cubes-88g



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