I Eliminated Salt for a Month. Here’s What Happened.

Monday May 1, 2017 | BY |
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salt

I’ve always had a particular difficulty eliminating salt from my diet. Along with caffeine, salt is the one thing that always crept back up in my diet after every attempt of eliminating or reducing it. I don’t have any difficulty not consuming refined sugar, bread, gluten, animal products, oils and processed foods.

But salt is another story.

First, what’s wrong with salt? Decades of research show that a high or even moderate salt intake causes a broad range of health problems — hypertension being of particular concern. But recent research suggests otherwise. As a result, many publications such as Scientific American or the New York Times published articles with catchy titles such as “Time to End the War of Salt.”

I’m not going to get into this controversy now because I have another article that addresses this issue, which you can check out here. Suffice to say that the case against salt (including Celtic, Himalayan, etc.) is robust and well-established and that the studies that tried to undermine it was a marketing effort by the food industry, which relies on salt for its survival.

They used flawed research methodology to try to prove that people on a low-sodium diet are at risk for disease.

That’s why that even in light of this dubious research, the American Heart Association hasn’t changed their stance on sodium — recommending a limit of 1500 mg/day for almost all Americans. Check out their summary here.

Salt is composed of sodium and chloride. The main problem that concerns us is the excessive amounts of sodium in the modern diet.

How many people eat more than 1500 mg. of sodium a day? It turns out that 99.4% do!

Out of the 0.6% of people that eat a “low sodium diet,” the vast majority do so because of existing health issues, and not just for disease prevention. This simple fact explains how some research shows a correlation between poor health and low-sodium diets.

Salt raises blood pressure in almost every individual, although it may take a lifetime for the problem to become apparent. Only 30% of the population does not have hypertension by age 65. And out of those people, 90% will develop it by the end of their lives.

In societies where salt is unknown, the percentage of the population that develops hypertension with age is zero, even when they smoke, drink alcohol or eat meat.

Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, salt damages your body in other ways. Salt intake causes kidney damage, stomach cancer, kidney stones, and has recently been linked to auto-immune disease. But this is only the beginning.

“High sodium intake results in massive albumin excretion, oxidative stress, severe renal arteriolar damage, interstitial fibrosis, increased glomerular hydrostatic pressure, glomerular hyalinization, fibrosis, and end-stage renal disease independently of increased BP.” (REF)

How Much Sodium Did I Eat?

Even though I’ve known about all of this for years, I’ve always had trouble keeping my sodium intake low because I rarely decided to go on a full-on war against salt.

I’ve lived for years at a time on a salt-free diet, but every time I loosened the rules, I kept eating more and more salt.

Earlier this year, this is what my sodium consumption looked like:

I did not add salt when cooking my food but often added it to the surface of my food. I made hummus and babaganoush with copious amounts of salt. I consumed salsa with salt. I ate at vegan restaurants where salt was in the dressing of salads and so forth.

I would estimate my sodium intake as average at that point: probably around 3000 mg. per day.

My blood pressure was borderline: around 125/85 on average.

I stayed fit, walked a lot and ate a plant-based diet.

Then in March I traveled for a month and ate out more often. I had less control over my food. Therefore I would say that my sodium consumption during that period was probably around 4000 mg. a day, perhaps more on days that I ate out.

When I got back home, I didn’t feel well. I was bloated. I had gained weight. And my blood pressure was now at an alarming 150/100!

It took those blood pressure readings to wake me up. I immediately eliminated all salt from my diet and all foods containing any amount of salt.

One week later, my blood pressure was about 125/85, on average.

Two weeks later, my blood pressure was 119/81

Three weeks later, my blood pressure was 118/73

I’ll report back in a few months to see how good it continues to get!

Unexpected Benefits of Eliminating Salt Completely

Besides a much lower and healthier blood pressure, I noticed many unexpected benefits from eliminating all salt from my diet.

1) It make sticking to a healthy diet easier

Without salt, you taste how food is actually supposed to taste. Because of this, you tend to make better choices. No more bread, crackers, cereals and other foods that are loaded with hidden sodium.

You use real food to give taste to your meals. A salad tastes fantastic if you add some diced mango, fresh herbs and spices, avocado and balsamic vinegar, instead of loading it with a salty dressing. And guess what is better for you?

Root vegetables (potatoes, yams, etc.) taste much better without salt than grains do. So this leads you to prefer those foods. And at the same time, you make a healthier choice.

2) No thirst!

This benefit may not seem like much, but it’s very noticeable and enjoyable. On a no-salt diet, unnecessary thirst disappears. You don’t need to drink much water to stay hydrated. You’ll get most of your water from food, and your body no longer needs much extra water to dilute the toxic salt. As a side benefit: you never wake up in the middle of the night thirsty.

3) I lost face “fat.”

On a salty diet, you retain water, and there is puffiness in your eyes and face. This improves and can even disappear on a low-salt diet.

3) My skin cleared up

I’ve always had problems with cystic acne on my back. I noticed that by eliminating salt entirely, my skin cleared up 90%. I’ll be posting photos soon to support this.

4) I slept better

Although there is some contradicting information on this topic, some earlier studies showed that low-sodium diets could help with insomnia. I experience deeper sleep with fewer periods of awakening during the night when I remove all salt from my diet.

5) I felt better!

Eating a no-salt diet just feels “clean.” Your body feels good after every meal with no unnatural thirst. You’re no longer looking for something to eat to compensate for something else you ate. For example, looking for sweets at the end of a meal to balance out a salty meal. You just feel better overall!

6) My taste buds adapted quickly

It takes about six weeks for most people to adjust to a low-sodium diet, to the point where foods with an average amount of salt start tasting too salty and unpalatable.

For me, this change was much quicker, probably because I often have consumed a diet completely devoid of added salt. Now I don’t miss the salt at all, and I prefer to eat this way than to add salt to food.

Sure, adding a pinch of salt creates a “burst of flavor” but it’s rather short-lived and doesn’t compare to the pure joy of eating “clean” food that doesn’t make you feel like a piece of crap after you’ve eaten it.

Do I cheat?

I’m now convinced that I’ve made this change to a salt-free diet for life. In my 20s and 30s, I did it because I believed in the theory, but I needed the additional push to seeing results in my health to commit me to this path.

Will I ever eat something with salt in it? It would be a lie to say that I won’t.

During the one month, I ate a few things that contained salt, but in such small amounts that they couldn’t have contributed to more than 300-400 mg. of sodium on that day.

I don’t prepare food at home with any salt, and that’s not going to change. I’ll keep requesting salt-free meals when I go out, but sometimes it will be impossible, and I’ll probably eat something with some salt in it, but will continue keeping it as low as possible. I plan on keeping this lifestyle to the best of my ability.

Is it time for you to ditch the salt habit? Comment on this story below!

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

42 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. sandra rust says:

    What about Himalayan sea salt?

  2. kathy warras says:

    My doctor, Dr. David Brownstein MD, Center for Holistic Medicine in W. Bloomfield Michigan, 248-851-1600, has written a book about why it good to eat salt. not the stuff we buy in grocery store but Himalayan salt. Maybe you have heard of him. He writes a news letter and has also written several other books. I have learned of another salt from Colima, Mexico which is supposed to be better than Himalayan salt because of it’s minerals. The article I read said it was now the best in the world. On my last visit to his office Dr Brownstein has suggested I eat more salt. and recently one of his newsletter talks about why we should eat salt. Best, Kathy Warras

  3. Tim Miller says:

    Great article, Frederic, thanks! I’ve been using very little salt for 3 years now, since I went to True North. Things taste just fine, wonderful even, without it. I live with someone who eats mainly snack foods, and stores tons of them, all loaded with salt, in the pantry, so I constantly have to look at them and force myself to choose not to eat any. I have been completely successful for the last 3 months (at abstaining from alcohol as well), and since then, any excess weight just melts off and I feel so much better. Totally fit and energetic – best shape of my life by far at 65. BP 110/65.

  4. Tania Persad says:

    What if a person, like me, has hypotension, with blood pressure in the range of 80/40, on a regular basis. We are often told to increase the amount of salt in our diets. Does the caution against salt still apply?

  5. Steve says:

    So what happens to our bodies during periods of heavy sweating through exercise or travel to hot, humid climates? Is there a need to temporarily replace the lost salt to bring the body back into balance? Does the body change when it’s used to little or no added salt in the diet and change the composition of the sweat to excrete little or no salt?

    • That might be necessary, or not. The body gets used to low-sodium and retains its sodium so less is lost in sweat. Added salt during exercise might be more important on people consuming average or high-salt diets, to avoid water poisoning and electrolyte imbalance. In might be useful to those on a low-sodium diet in extreme circumstances too. However, those situations will be extremely rare and will likely apply only to elite athletes.

  6. suzanne says:

    What do you think about Wright Salt? A reduced sodium replacement with minerals formulated by Dr. Jonathan Wright. See more at ruved.com

  7. Dearest Frederic ~

    Once again, you have enlightened me, challenged me, and even convinced me of something I was aware of and ‘knew better’ than to indulge in – SALT! You’re awesome Frederic, and I am ‘up for the challenge!’. I’ve already indulged in a little salt today, but tomorrow is a new day! Some of your symptoms have been mine as well recently – puffiness in the face, bloating and higher Blood Pressure than my usual of double digits vs triple digits (my BP is usually between 99/70 or maybe 110/80, but recently had been going up too much for my comfort zone!).

    You have given me more incentive now to abstain from all forms of salt, other than what is naturally existing in a plant based diet. On with my Celery!! Bless you, dear Frederic! (Also, I finally gave up coffee permanently, and have not had any for the past 7-8 months – what a difference this has made! YOU, Frederic, and that article you wrote years ago on Caffeine – set me straight, even though I caved time after time. But YOU got me started on getting OFF of caffeine permanently and I always would go back to that article! Thank you for being so gut honest and sharing your weaknesses as well as your strengths with us!

    Bless you, dear Frederic!

  8. Steve M says:

    Do you restrict consuming any fruits or vegetables that have higher sodium content? Or is that source of sodium treated differently?

  9. christine says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I’d add to the problems of salt the fact which is the main reason for me to try to quit it. The overall health starts and ends with the health of our cells. An salt changes the elasticity of the membranes of our cells with the time, making them hard and less and less elastic and less and less able to work properly. The sodium intake is a growth factor for the cancer cells (anorganic calcium as well). The high blood pressure is just one of the “macroscopic” effects of salt. One will notice to have a problem when there is already a much wider issue, which cannot be fixed in 3 week of good diet but requires a couple of years or more for a good renewal of the cells in the body. With some bad condition (cancer for instance) one has unfortunately not all that precious time…
    Without a good membrane a cell cannot receive the right factors needed for the life or for the healing.
    As you describe for yourself…i’ve started many times to quit salt and i succeded…for a while. The cravings are never gone…and i know…the more salt i eat the more i would eat. So…i go in and out of a salt free diet…there are unfortunately moments that i’m just extremely fed up to have those stupid cravings and i want just to feel free of those feelings.
    I can report that my skin looks much softer and much better when i’m not eating salt.
    I honestly hate to crave something and to feel all day long frustrated and unsatisfied…which is unfortunately related to my diet…with mostly just raw foods, which are so much better for my energy, well being and so on (but so much worse for my short-term satisfaction)…and salt can sometimes give me the short illusion to be “satisfied”. As you mention…the illusion is short…the day after i feel bad…i’d need more salt to feel “happy” again…there is not a good and fair way to cope with salt without paying a bill…which i do not want to pay because actually is just an addiction with a lot of unwanted effects (i speak for myself)…
    Sorry for my poor english…probably i’ve written something which cannot be understood…lol…
    Thank you so much for this beautiful and inspiring piece.

  10. Tim says:

    Did this same experiment many years ago and had the exact opposite reaction. More “unprocessed salt” = better health. Dozens of confounding variables exist in everyone.

  11. This is very interesting issue. Most people encourage me to increase my salt substantially and I have kidney weakness and high blood pressure. Of course I take real salt and not the bad stuff stripped on all mionerals. Salt and water reduces blood pressure consistently on the geberak population. Some people remain salt sensitive. I hAve paradoxical reaction to salt. Not understood my most and this is a very tricky topic. Sometimes makes my BP high, sometimes lowers it dramatically,

    What remains true is that salt is a vital nutrient but we cannot have this discussion unless we are discussing real natural salt and not the stripped down dangerous sodium chloride compound mandated by the state. No salt almost always harmful. High salt can be dangerous but mostly because the rest of the diet is horrible.

  12. ROBERT JOKEL says:

    Dear Frederic,

    I enjoy reading your thoughtful and informative articles.

    I am happy to hear of the health benefits you are deriving from your “salt free” diet.

    In my experience in working with people for over 40 years and with my own health concerns a change in diet, such as yours, can often bring significant benefits.

    In many cases it is because it brings the body back into balance. When a person continues often (not always), the diet then creates imbalance in the other direction.

    Low sodium or hyponatremia is a serious condition and can cause seizure and death.

    People especially at risk are people challenged by later stage cancers, kidney disorders, adrenal dysfunction, and the elderly.

    I hope you check your electrolytes regularly with a blood test and before you recommend such a low salt diet to others please let people know there are precautions to be taken.

    I am confident most people will benefit from your experience, but best not to let anyone be hurt by information that may create benefits for many, but other individuals (or even one) may be harmed.

    In my experience it is best to see each person as an unique individual. Again, gratitude for your informative articles and I hope my post adds something of value to your great posts.

    warmly, Rob

    • Hi Robert,

      Thank you for contributing your experience and offering your advice.

      I agree that hyponatremia can be a serious condition. But there’s a distinction to be made between salt and sodium that I think is getting lost in the shuffle. There’s no question that the body needs sodium to function. Our requirements are in the range of 500 mg. of sodium per day to perhaps as much as 1000 mg. a day. The American Heart Association and most health organizations recommend a limit of 1500 mg. for most people. They also admit that our true requirements are even lower. The body does not need sodium chloride (NaCl) or salt. We simply need an adequate amount of sodium as per our body requirement and we get all of that from consuming enough vegetables every day. Of course, there may be exceptions of people who need more or less sodium than what most healthy humans would require on average. We can safely say that almost everybody is getting too much and very rarely not enough. If that sounds questionable, I’d like to see proof to the contrary.

  13. Fred, I too committed to salt elimination from my diet. In doing so, I discovered the Lime. The once lowly subordinate to the mighty lemon rose to complete dominance over the lemon, but never to replace it. I discovered the joy of adding fresh (always fresh) limes. I am never out of limes in my house and recently planted a lime tree in my backyard. Lime juice makes all leafy green vegetables absolutely delicious with not even a hint of salt. And quick steamed Broccoli, OMG!!! Superb!!! I don’t see how anyone can desecrate their quick steamed broccoli with cheese. The lemon is for the raw salads. Straight, No chaser, that is, lemon without oil is the desired dressing for my salads. And, often I will use lime instead of lemon. It appears the Mexicans and all Latinos knew something when they have lime with their Tequila. Lime in the morning, lime in the evening, and lime at supper time, etc. Vive le lemon and lime!

  14. Bob Mathews says:

    Good article Frederic, even though I don’t agree with all of it. About 12 years ago I gave up salt, probably close to 100%, using Garlic Powder instead. I ate meat and vegetables cooked from scratch with no table salt (99% sodium chloride) using just herbs and spices (no prepared mixes) instead. No processed foods, unless you consider pasta and rice processed, but then only occasionally. However in the last 3 or 4 years I have started adding back quality unprocessed salt (about 75% sodium chloride), more for all the other nutrients it contains (25%). I believe this is a much healthier approach to consuming salt. It is the sodium chloride in processed foods and table salt that are the problem, not proper natural salt (eg. Himalayan)

  15. St says:

    Yes, I need to eliminate salt otherwise
    Blood pressure stays very high.
    And tried to cut out salt and pressure comes down.
    But kicking the salt habit is not that easy
    for me.
    Well I have to decide, go on the meds or cut out the salt.

    • Find things that you like eating without salt! And seasonings that work for you. I’ll write some more on this in the future. Garlic, onion, Ms. Dash, Salt-free seasonings, fresh herbs, the best spices you can find, lime and lemon, nutritional yeast, balsamic vinegar, balsamic glaze, avocado!, chipotle powder, and many more options!

  16. Kelly says:

    I do fine with salt. I eat healthy salt (Celtic or Hawaiian deep ocean) daily. I occasionally take Quinton, which is a deep sea mineral salt in a liquid form.) I salt my food when cooking. I eat basically paleo, with a small amount of dairy on occasion. I do not use salt at restaurants. I don’t eat chips or crackers. I have low blood pressure. I NEED salt! I would probably not be able to stand up without falling down if I didn’t eat salt! It just illustrates the “Principle of Uniqueness.” We are all different and have to find out for ourselves what works best for us at any given time in our lives.

  17. Richard says:

    Salt is required by our stomach to make HCL which it needs for digestion. Livestock require salt. Store salt is not good because it is a chemical with no trace minerals. I wonder about sea salt since there is so much pollution. We use Real Salt that has been stored long before the pollution we have today.

  18. Raina says:

    That is PROCESSED salt. If you get raw and unrefined salt like Himalayan, Celtic or Real Salt, you will likely have just the opposite and it could lower your blood pressure due to the electrolytes in it that present a balanced profile of alklaline minerals. Studies have shown that consuming several stalks of celery a day can lead to lowering blood pressure for the same reason.

  19. Liz River says:

    Great article, confirms what I was thinking about salt. Does anyone know if fermented foods made with salt, i.e. sauerkraut, should be avoided? Or does the salt content transform somehow during the fermentation process?
    I always get a lot out of your articles Fred, thanks, Liz

    • Yes, avoid fermented foods made with salt! Good thing is that fermented food tastes great without salt if you use the right recipe. A US-based company called Rejuvenative Foods has been making delicious, salt-free fermented products for years.

    • Mindy says:

      Hi Liz

      I make my own salt-free sauerkraut and have a video on my youtube channel, explaining the whole process from A to Z. Hope this helps and you try it yourself, as is fairly simple to make and so delicious.

      MYO (Make Your Own) Salt-Free Sauerkraut Part 1: Preparation
      https://youtu.be/UsGZR-FHaIg

      MYO (Make Your Own) Salt-Free Sauerkraut Part 2: Results
      https://youtu.be/P8b9MaZsbW8

      • I will definitely watch them, thank you! can you also use same techniques for kim chi which seems to absolutely require salt for preservation.

  20. Ed Momeni says:

    In my case large amounts of salt affects my respiratory system blocking my breathing.

  21. Mindy says:

    Thank you, Frederic for always sharing a truthful and unbaised perspective with the public on important health topics and giving your own personal experiences, as well, that most of us can relate to. It is refreshing, educational and inspirational.

    Many blessing to you for good health and vitality!
    ?

  22. annemarie says:

    Hi Fred,
    I believe this is so true, congratulations for making the change. I’m curious though, what kind of salt are you referring to? I have also read a lot about the importance of a little high quality sea salt in the diet for a variety of optimal functions.

    • All salt, including refined table salt, sea salt, Celtic salt, Himalayan salt, “Real” salt, etc. There is no known requirement for salt in the human diet. Humans lived perfectly without salt until quite recently in our history. What we need is some sodium (500-800 mg. a day for most people) and chlorine — those are two components of salt, but are also found in food in the amounts that we need.

  23. Bob says:

    On the whole I think i agree with you. I understand non processed salt has 20% less sodium than processed salt but still that may still be a problem. I would like to say that hypertension can be caused by things other than salt for eg. over production of cortisol from adrenals, anxiety, allergies, over weight etc. So the trick would be to determine what is the cause of your increased blood pressure and fixing that rather than to assume salt as the main cause although it will be in most cases. I personally don’t trust the use of too much salt because when mixed with sugar in the right amounts it lights up the addiction centers in the brain. I have personally seen Himalayan salt added in soup dishes cause blood pressure in an elderly going from 120 to 170 systolic if they continue to drink soup for3 days and then requiring a diuretic to bring it back down to normal so it definitely can increase blood pressure to dangerous levels quite quickly in the elderly and if they have atrial fibrillation a recipe for disaster. Many alternatives have written only positive things about unprocessed salt so I am glad you have written this to show it is not as it seems.

  24. Angela Littlewood says:

    Hi Frédéric, I’m 65, BP is 110/60, I weigh 53kgs. I don’t eat any processed food, cook al? my food from scratch. I combine Celtic salt 1/2 & 1/2 with kelp to add to my food. I don’t eat much seafood so need the kelp for iodine & trace minerals I feel. What is your opinion on this as you don’t mention kelp anywhere?

  25. Mariana says:

    Interesting link: http://www.naturalnews.com/2017-05-01-shock-study-reveals-lowering-sodium-intake-does-not-reduce-blood-pressure.html

    Interesting subject that merits further study. I was recently viewing the Gerson tapes and I know they teach people to cut back on salt and increase potassium. My adrenals are low and I love pouring on the salt, but it’s hard to know which path to take given so many different perspectives on the topic…

    Thanks for your article.

    • Yes, the media and conspiracy websites like Natural News just LOVE these kinds of studies. But they are extremely flawed, and in this case funded by the Dairy Institute to promote calcium from dairy. The bulk of the evidence, including double-blind studies, the gold standard in science, shows otherwise.

  26. What about sea salt? Doesn’t it contain a lot of healthy trace minerals?

  27. Yes I hear all kinds of current health gurus touting and even selling special sea salts. I use an excessive amount and noticed the same with my bp recently slightly elevated so I am going to commit to do what you did at least for a few weeks. I don’t crave sweet or gluten either, but overdo the salt. I feel it really makes the flavor “pop”. Thanks for the booster suggestion.

  28. DR JOHN BERGMAN SAYS THAT EATING THE RIGHT SALT IN 5-6GRMS A DAY IS GREAT. SEAL SALT CONTAINS 72 TRACE ELEMENTS THAT ARE NEEDED FOR THE NERVOUS SYSTEM TO BE AT ITS PEAK. PLUS THE CHLORIDE IN SALT PRODUCES THE HYDROCHLORIC ACID FOR THE STOMACH TO DIGEST FOODS EFFECTIVELY. LOW SALT LEADS TO POOR INTAKE OF NUTRIENTS THAT LEADS TO ANTACIDS BEING USED THAT DESTROY YOUR LIVER. WE CANT LIVE WITHOUT OUR LIVER. TABLE SALT IS NOT RECOMMENDED AS IT IS CAUSTIC TO THE ARTERIES AND PITS THEM. THINK WHAT IT DOES TO THE BRAIN. SALT IS A NECESSARY NUTRIENT. TRY THE MANY SEA SALTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD. HIMALAYAN IS THE BEST DO TO HIGH MINERAL CONTENT THAT LEADS TO AN EFFECTIVE NERVOUS SYSTEM. BY THE WAY I HAVE BEEN A HEALTH RESEACHER FOR 29 YEARS AND HAVE CURED MYSELF OF CANCER FOUR TIMES, ONE MULTIPLE MYELOMA. MY STRESS TEST LAST YEARS SAID HEART OF A 30 SOMETHING AT 61. REAL FOODS NOT MAN MADE FOODS ARE YOUR LIFEBOAT TO ABUNDANT HEALTH. HERB UP ALL YOUR DISHES AS OF 1174 TESTED 1/3 MODULATED OUR DNA POSITIVELY. I USE 7-10 PER DISH.

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