Why You Need Salt in Your Diet

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Medical Insights & News

When you were a child you were probably told that going in the ocean would help heal your cuts and scrapes faster. Or, perhaps your mother had you gargle with warm salt water to soothe a sore throat. (Today, many holistic dentists continue to recommend salt water rinses to heal inflamed gum tissues and mouth sores). Yet, there is a huge debate as to whether salt is good for the rest of your body. For example, many people are told that they need to watch their sodium intake or they risk having high blood pressure. In fact, sodium has long been the villain when it comes to hypertension and heart disease and stroke.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns Americans to consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, less than your kidneys can filter in five minutes! If you use the My Fitness Pal app, you’ll notice that it warns you if you come within 1,000 mg of the limit. Other health organizations recommend even less than 2,300 mg.

But, sodium is an essential nutrient that your body depends on. And like any essential nutrient, getting the right amount is important for maintaining good health.

Why You’re Confused About Salt

There are a few pieces to the salt puzzle that keep people confused. One part of the confusion when it comes to dietary salt is that many people—doctors included—use the words “salt” and “sodium” interchangeably. However, they are not the same. Sodium is a mineral found in salt. Salt is a naturally-occurring compound comprised of sodium and chloride. Then there is table salt, which is created from natural salt but then is refined through a process of heating it to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, which destroys most of its beneficial compounds. To use the words sodium and salt interchangeably is not accurate. But, to confuse table salt with natural salt is where you get into real problems, as with any refined foods.

Another area of confusion is the theory behind why salt is bad for you. The theory stating that sodium (and therefore salt) causes high blood pressure stems from the myth that when you eat salt, you get thirsty and drink more water. Your body holds onto the extra water in order to dilute the saltiness in your blood. This results in increased blood volume, which the theory suggests leads to high blood pressure. Therefore, the theory states, a low-sodium diet reduces blood pressure.

However, this theory has never been scientifically supported. In fact, some studies show that salt actually helps your body conserve water and makes you less thirsty. Additional studies show that the connection between salt and high blood pressure is more complicated or even non-existent. The Framingham Offspring Study—an offshoot of the Framingham Heart Study—found that participants who ate a low sodium diet (under 2,500 milligrams of sodium per day) had higher blood pressure than those who consumed higher quantities. And, more recent studies show that there is really no link between salt intake, high blood pressure, and risk of heart disease.

Why You Need Salt

Despite the fact that you will probably continue to hear messages that sodium is bad for you, your body cannot function without enough sodium, and the best way to get enough sodium is through dietary salt.

There are many studies that show the adverse effects of too little salt. Some of these adverse effects include insulin resistance and an increased risk of death from heart failure in patients with heart failure, plus an increased risk of death for both type 1 diabetics and type 2 diabetics. Low-sodium or low-salt diets are also associated with elevated LDL cholesterol and tryglicerides and low blood pressure (hyponatremia), which can be particularly concerning for certain populations such as athletes and the elderly.

And these effects aren’t just the result of purposeful salt restriction. Low-carbohydrate diets, such as Paleo and Keto, and certain medications can cause sodium loss. And even if you don’t eat a low-carb diet, if you don’t have a healthy microbiome, you may not be absorbing enough sodium from your diet.

Symptoms of sodium deficiency from salt restriction or poor salt absorption include dehydration, muscle cramps, headaches, weakness, irritability, and even cognitive decline. In addition, when you restrict salt, your body eventually will start to increase insulin to help your kidneys retain more sodium. Over time this can lead to chronically high insulin levels, a craving for sugar and refined carbohydrates, and a cycle of weight gain, insulin resistance, and even diabetes.

By contrast, adequate salt intake can help you to stay hydrated, prevent muscle cramps, support a healthy nervous system and a healthy metabolism, and even help you sleep better. And, while a diet too low in salt may reduce libido in both sexes, increase erectile dysfunction in men, and reduce a woman’s likelihood of getting pregnant, adequate salt intake may support reproduction.

How Much Salt Do You Need?

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the minimum physiological requirement of sodium simply to sustain life is 500 mg per day. However, in The Salt Fix, author James DiNicolantonio, Pharm. D., a cardiovascular research scientist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in St. Louis, says scientists have found that when people’s consumption of sodium is unrestricted, they typically consume between 3,000 to 4,000 milligrams per day. This amount holds true for people across all populations, in all hemispheres and climates, and across a range of cultures and social backgrounds. In other words, all humans gravitate toward the same sodium intake range every day. That’s because this amount of sodium intake is optimal and is driven by the hypothalamus, the part of the reptilian brain that keeps your body in homeostasis.

That said, whether you need to increase your healthy salt intake depends on many factors, including your diet and lifestyle. For example, if you eat a whole food diet, you may benefit from adding more healthy salt to your diet because unprocessed, all-natural foods are low in sodium. In addition, athletes, people who sweat a lot, people who take diuretics and other medications that cause sodium loss, and people recovering from adrenal fatigue can benefit from added natural salt.

However, sodium is present in high amounts in processed foods where it is often used as a preservative or a flavor enhancer—think monosodium glutamate (MSG) and “natural flavorings.” And even foods that don’t taste salty can have high amounts of sodium, including breakfast cereals and bread. So, if you eat a lot of refined foods (which I don’t recommend), you are probably already getting more than 4,000 mg of sodium per day.

The Best Natural Salts and How to Use Them

Adding natural salt to your diet is one of the easiest ways to ensure that you get enough sodium and other essential minerals, especially if you are active. The most common natural salts are sea salt and Himalayan salt. Celtic sea salt is one that is very popular. Real Celtic Sea salt is harvested from the Celtic Sea off the coast of Brittany, France. A brand that I love is called called Celtic Sea Salt®. It’s a 3rd generation family-run business started in 1976 by Jacques Delangre and operated today by CEO and owner Selina Delangre. In addition to Celtic Sea salt, the company also harvests and sells other wonderful sea salts from around the world under the brand. All their salts are harvested using hand-raking and other proper techniques. (No bulldozers allowed!)

Natural sea salt contains high levels of trace minerals, including potassium, iron, and zinc. It also contains small amounts of natural iodine. These minerals balance the sodium content so your body can metabolize it. The mineral content in each type of salt varies. For example, Celtic Sea Salt® Brand’s salt from Guatemala is lower in sodium and higher in calcium than their Celtic salt from Brittany. And their salt from Hawaii—which is harvested from 2,000 feet below the surface of the water—has a pH of 10! The high alkalinity is possibly due to the coral reefs around salt beds. Celtic Sea Salt® Brand’s salt from Spain is the highest in potassium.

The mineral content also determines the unique colors and flavors of each salt. Celtic Sea salt from Brittany, France is gray due to the clay and sand where it is harvested. It also contains more moisture. Other natural salts include black and red salt from Hawaii, and Fleur de Sel, a solar-evaporated sea salt typically used as a finishing salt. There are many more natural salts that you can experiment with, including exotic salts such as Vietnamese pearl sea salt. I encourage you to try many and use them in different ways.

Should You Use Himalayan Salt?

Himalayan salt comes from the ancient sea beds of the Himalayan mountains and is mostly harvested in Pakistan. Like other pink salts, its iron content gives Himalayan salt a pink color. Himalayan salt has been said to have up to 83 essential trace elements, including magnesium, potassium, and calcium. While very popular and beautiful (think of the lamps and cutting boards that are everywhere), most Himalayan salt is 98 percent sodium chloride. So it is really more like your standard table salt than it is to other natural sea salts.

Last Updated: April 5, 2022

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

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  1. Karina
    2 months ago

    I looked up the mineral composition of Celtic salt and Himalayan salt. Yes, there is less sodium and chloride in Celtic salt, but there is also over 14% moisture. That leaves only 1.8% trace minerals. Himalayan salt, if there is not moisture contains 2.65% trace minerals. And Redmonds Real Salt only has 1.18% trace minerals.

  2. Rita McLeod
    3 months ago

    I love your work thank you for this

  3. Sandrawani
    3 months ago

    Hi Dr Northup, your informations about salt are very interesting. Do you know about aboriginal people and salt? I am a metis and i know that the salt ( sodium chlorure)is not good for me but the potassium chlorure is better. I would like to have your advice on that please if it’s possible.
    Thank you very much for your kindness and your gentelness.

  4. susan
    3 months ago

    Where does kosher salt fall in the healthy vs unhealthy category?

  5. Claire Schillaci
    3 months ago

    I live in Portugal and natural marine salt or ‘Flor de Sal’ from the Algarve (south coast) is excellent.

  6. erik metzger
    3 months ago

    Thank you iDr. Northrop! You have been a beacon of light for me over the years, and no less, since March 2020! I got turned on to LMNT electrolyte drink mix with 1000mg sodium. I am an (older) athlete, sweat a lot, and do have adrenal fatigue (I think?) from working as an addiction therapist and living in the Bay Area (!). Not only has my physical performance improved, and yes, my libido feels even more on fire, but my brain function definitely feels much improved; sleep, well, it’s okay Thank you again for being an incredible healer and using you awesome brain powers for good!!! Much love and respect, Erik

    1. erik metzger
      3 months ago

      Northrup! ❤️

  7. Gerry Tuten
    3 months ago

    Hi Chris ~ Thank-you so much for all this information around salt. I have been benefiting and enjoying your wisdom for years. This has really helped me to figure out salt balance for me and my husband. What are the things that happen if one does not get ample salt? Gerry

  8. Susan Renkes
    4 years ago

    Hi Christiane Thank you for what you do to help everyone!! I had a question regarding bio identical hormones.I am finishing up what ones I take and am going to start on Amata. I wondered how long I should wait when I am done with the hormones to start taking Amata? Thank you so much!! Sue

  9. Elisabeth De Man
    4 years ago

    Thank you for all the wonderful information you share with all of us.

    I use salt every day for the noose (nasal wash). Which type of salt would you recommend for that ritual ?

    I have another important question. Having bronchiectasis, the lung specialist told me to take Ezytromycine, an antibiotic (3 times a week) for the rest of my life and twice a day Pulmicort !!! Me, taking medication,…. Are there better alternatives ? Thank you so much for the answer.

    Elisabeth

  10. Cheryl Smith
    4 years ago

    How large a jar do you use when making the sole water? What amount of water for the 1 cup of salt?

    1. claudia macgruer
      4 years ago

      hi cheryl,
      i have been making SOLE forever.. here is an easy way..
      get a quart or mason jar… put about a cup of excellent salt [ pink or celtic ] in it..
      add water so it is fairly full…
      wait till next day.. if the salt has dissolved then you add more to the mix.. stir a bit and again wait.. once you do not have salt dissolving any longer it is called SOLE or 26% solution.. this concept is also found in a book called water and salt.. i forget the author’s name..
      that’s it.. follow the rest of directions form dr northrup..
      best,
      claudia

  11. Nina
    4 years ago

    Thank you Dr Northrup for making sense of so much data and your guidance. I am very grateful for you.

  12. J. Cooper
    4 years ago

    Is a teaspoon of salt measured the same regardless of the crystals size when substituting sea salt for table salt?

  13. Tammy
    4 years ago

    I now stay away from sea salts because it has been found that it contains micro-plastics. You may want to research this. I use the pink Himalayan and Redmond’s real salt both from ancient salt sources before plastics. Cheers to your research!

  14. Elisabeth De Man
    4 years ago

    Thank you so much for the wonderful feed back.. What type of salt would you recommend for my daily nose rincing? Happy thanksgiving!

  15. Zora
    4 years ago

    Thank you for this information, Dr. Northrup! I am appreciating how thorough your research is on this subject, and I have learned a few things on salt intake from this article. It confirms some of what I feel about salt, innately, and now you have not only verified it, but added deeper elements to my knowledge. What a great idea to incorporate different types of salt, especially the unrefined sea salts! I am now eager to try out your “sole water” recipe. Once again, many thanks for your wonderful, professional article! Many blessings to you! 🙂

  16. Ms Ifetayo Azibo
    4 years ago

    Greetings Dr Northrup,
    I’ve been a fan of yours for many years and I trust you and your words of wisdom.
    The article ” Why you need salt in your diet” is a blessing in disguise for me. I am 67years young and recently was diagnosed with Osteoporosis. Ouch! Who would have thought? I also have high blood pressure and have been prescribed medication.
    Both conditions I am not happy about but life goes on.
    Thanks again for making my day in my world!

  17. Gayle E Holsinger
    4 years ago

    My 98 year old mother (101 lbs) has lymphedema in her legs. On occasion they even weep. Usually knee high compression hose help control the swelling but on occasion I wrap them for her. Her Dr has, of course, told her ‘No salt’ so we work hard to eliminate it from her diet – which is not always totally possible, but we try. The only medication she is on is for bladder control: toviaz at night and bumetanide in the morning. Can I consider natural salt for her?
    Thanks for your help.
    Gayle Holsinger

  18. Alda
    4 years ago

    Thank you, Dr. Northrup. I do appreciate your books and blogs. You’ve ‘open my eyes’ all way back to the 1980s when I read one of your books. I’m still reading them. It’ safe to say it’s not the salt (uncorrupted) it’s the sugar. With gratitude.

  19. Denise Zahares
    4 years ago

    Dr. Northrup,
    Do you recommend using iodized salt? I have hypothyroidism and I’m trying to get enough iodine in my diet.

  20. christine clements
    4 years ago

    What about soaking in the tub with bath salts,. epsom salt ?? 🙂

  21. susana
    4 years ago

    Dr Christiane Northrup ,your article on sodium consumtion is absolutely right! You have a great insight in today’s mistaken medical advices! They are thousends of it. I love to read your advice regarding any topic you touch it,you go deep in and analyze it and the best of the truth comes out from it.I think you are one of few visionary pioneer not just in the field of women’s health but in all health issues too.
    It is my great priviledge knowing you.

    Warmest regards ,
    susana K.

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