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Avoid Added Salt

Like sugar, there are few things that humans crave more than salt, which explains its high level in most processed foods. However, some in the Paleo community have started claiming that eating more than the RDA of 2,300 mg of sodium per day is healthy. The reality is that added salt has a variety of health consequences; it also does not agree with the Paleolithic template.

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Sodium is an essential nutrient; we’d die if we didn’t consume it.

Beyond that, there isn’t a lot of mystery to salt. Despite the claimed health benefits of less processed forms like sea salt, all salt is mostly just sodium chloride. Much of the health impact of salt comes from the sodium in the compound. Our bodies don’t care if it comes from a saltshaker or a pink rock.

The ethnographic data indicates our Paleolithic ancestors ate 1,000 mg of sodium or less per day. In fact, it would have been next to impossible for hunter-gatherers to eat even the current RDA for sodium based on the natural foods available to them.

Yet, there is an increasingly popularized notion among some in the Paleo world that hunter-gatherers ate a high salt diet. They claim that eating more than the RDA is good for us. They’ve tried to back this claim by saying that our ancestors followed animals to salt-licks or got their sodium from animal blood. Neither theory holds much scientific weight.

The fact is, science has shown that humans crave two foods above all else—sugar and salt. We already know the many negative consequences of excess sugar consumption. So why would salt be different. Unfortunately, the answer may lie in the fact that in Western society, most natural unprocessed foods aren’t considered very palatable without a pinch of salt.

The claim that eating more salt is healthy came out of a series of studies in the mid-2010s that showed a J-shaped curve relationship between sodium consumption and mortality. The people who ate a lot of salt had higher rates of mortality, but so did people who ate a low-salt diet. Dr. Loren Cordain, the founder of the Paleo Diet movement, wrote extensively about these studies showing serious methodological flaws. When the flaws were corrected, the relationship was a straight line: increasing salt consumption correlated with increasing mortality rates.

Since those studies were published, Dr. Cordain and the team here at The Paleo Diet® have written extensively about the negative impacts of excess sodium on our health and how it contributes to many diseases including hypertension and heart disease, cancer, autoimmunity, and insulin resistance.

What is just as important as the quantity of sodium in our diets is the ratio of sodium-to-potassium. Increasing the potassium in your diet can mitigate many of the negative health effects of salt. The easiest way to improve this ratio is to reduce the added salt in your diet and increase the fruits and vegetables—both are high in potassium.

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