Pass the Salt Please: Debunking the Sodium Misconception
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Word on the street is sodium chloride, better known as salt, is tied with sugar for public healths #1 enemy. Associated with health risks such as high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, and more - anti salt media campaigns are everywhere. However sodium is not a toxin, it’s an essential nutrient for hydration, performance, and energy. When consumed in moderation, it can offer several health benefits, playing a crucial role in maintaining bodily functions. Below we will explore why there is such a misunderstanding about sodium, and the lesser-known positive aspects of consuming salt in appropriate quantities. We will also bring awareness to LMNT, a zero-sugar, keto-paleo friendly, salt based electrolyte drink that may be exactly what your body needs.
WHO global report on sodium intake reduction
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently re-provoked the war on salt. In a 99-page report, they claim that too much sodium is responsible for nearly 2 million deaths per year. They’ve concluded that capping sodium intake at 2 grams per day reduces blood pressure, improves heart health, and could save 7 million lives around the world by 2030. However, after Robb Wolf, LMNT co-founder and former biochemist researcher analyzed this report, they found four distinct problems:
- The central claims are not supported by peer reviewed sources
- The model is skewed towards those with high blood pressure
- Sodium intake dates are unreliable
- The report excludes data that does not support its purpose
The WHO’s claims, supporting data, and broad-sweeping recommendations are irresponsible—dangerous even. A blanket restriction on an essential mineral is a bad idea, and their limit on sodium is way too low, especially for active people. 2 grams of sodium per day would spell headaches, muscle cramps, and brain fog for just about anybody following a moderate workout regimen—far be it from promoting a healthy heart, brain, or bones. When you restrict dietary sodium, your body enters a sodium-retention mode whereby hormones—aldosterone, renin, and angiotensin—spike to help your kidneys retain sodium. The problem? The hormones also raise your blood pressure. The biological sweet spot for sodium is at least double what the WHO recommends.
Sodium restriction appears to be—not just inconsequential—but dangerous for heart health. Here are two reputable studies that back that up:
- A 2011 JAMA study found that people limiting sodium to 3 grams per day had MORE heart attacks and strokes than those consuming 4–6 grams per day.
- A 2014 meta-analysis tells a similar story: Mortality and cardiovascular events were HIGHER in folks consuming less than 2.6 grams of sodium per day vs. intakes between 2.6–5 grams per day.
Where did this hate for salt come from?
This anti-salt movement originated from Lewis Dahl’s research in the 1960s. Dahl showed that salt sensitivity was a genetic trait by breeding salt-sensitive rats. Big surprise, injecting megadoses of sodium into rats with a salt-sensitive lineage significantly increased their blood pressure. This says nothing about how reasonable sodium intake affects human blood pressure, but nobody seemed to care. Fast forward two decades, and the 1980 US Dietary Guidelines officially admonished the public to avoid salt.
The bulk of the scientific data suggests otherwise. Consider the following:
- The INTERSALT Study (1988) found ZERO correlation between salt consumption and high blood pressure in 10,000 people across 48 global populations.
- A meta-analysis (2014) shows that sodium intakes fewer than 2.6 grams per day were associated with increased cardiovascular disease events and all-cause mortality, compared to intakes of 2.6–5 grams (PMID: 24651634).
- The Framingham Offspring Study (2017) found that folks without hypertension had HIGHER blood pressure on low sodium diets (under 2.5 grams per day) than those exceeding that amount.
- A Cochrane Collaboration Review (2020) found that low-salt diets correlated with a measly 0.4 mmHg reduction in mean arterial pressure in white populations, with scant evidence that other ethnicities fare better. Hypertensive white people, however, showed an average drop of about 4 mmHg after salt restriction. This drop is in line with another source from earlier and my stance on salt sensitivity. But here’s the take-home point: The authors of the Cochrane review concluded that the numerous adverse side effects of salt restriction were “more consistent” than the effects on blood pressure.
Salt is not the problem - it’s the modern diet
Another reason why salt gets a bad reputation is because people who eat an ultra-processed diet full of packaged foods and refined sugar, also tend to consume the most sodium. It’s no secret that overeating refined foods leads to insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and many other health issues that increase cardiovascular mortality.
If we want to save lives, we should spare the energy spent scraping together a 99-page compendium against an essential nutrient that most healthy people need more of, not less. That effort, teamwork, and money would be much more wisely spent on a campaign against the sugary modern diet. The solution is simple: celebrate nutritious whole foods, make them accessible, and promote a healthy weight and metabolism.
So how much sodium should we be taking, and what are the benefits?
A growing body of research reveals that optimal health outcomes occur at salt levels 2-3x higher than government recommendations. Around 4–6 grams of sodium (2–3 teaspoons of salt) per day is the sweet spot for heart health.
Some of the health benefits include:
- Electrolyte Balance - Electrolytes are essential for various bodily functions, including nerve signaling, muscle contractions, and maintaining proper hydration levels.
- Hydration - Contrary to popular belief, salt is vital for proper hydration. Sodium helps the body retain water, preventing dehydration. Balanced electrolytes, including sodium, ensure that the body retains and distributes fluids effectively.
- Nutrient Absorption - Salt plays a role in the absorption of certain nutrients, including chloride and potassium. These nutrients are essential for muscle function, digestion, and maintaining proper pH levels in the body.
- Stabilizing Blood Pressure - While excessive salt intake can contribute to high blood pressure in some individuals, moderate consumption may help stabilize blood pressure. Sodium is necessary for regulating blood volume and ensuring proper blood flow throughout the body.
LMNT Electrolyte ratio explained
LMNT contains 1000 mg sodium, 200 mg potassium, 60 mg magnesium, and zero sugar in each packet.
Each stick pack of LMNT contains 1,000 mg of sodium. Sodium is an essential mineral—the stuff of life—and most folks need more than they think. There are several reasons for this:
- To replace heavy sodium losses through sweat. Athletes lose up to 7 grams of sodium per day in hot climates. We’ve talked to trainers of professional athletes and they often log up to a 10-gram sodium loss in a hard practice or game.
- To increase sodium intake on diets lacking in—or which cause the rapid loss of—sodium. This includes:
- Low-carb and ketogenic diets: A low-carb diet keeps insulin low, which consequently makes your kidneys excrete sodium at an increased rate.
- Paleo and whole foods diets: Processed foods contribute ~70% of sodium intake for people in the US.
- Fasting: Just like low-carb diets, fasting minimizes insulin (increasing sodium excretion) and decreases sodium intake via food (during the fasting period).
- To help people reach a baseline of 4–6 grams of daily sodium for optimal health.
Athletes and folks on low-carb diets may need more sodium, but isn’t salt bad for your heart? The truth is, that’s not nearly as cut and dry as it’s been made out to be. Our 4–6 gram target comes from a 2011 JAMA study which found that 4–6 grams of sodium per day was the sweet spot for minimizing heart attack and stroke risk. To be clear, that’s a starting point. Folks with any of the aforementioned diet and lifestyle factors often need more.
Each stick pack of LMNT contains 200 mg of potassium, which is ⅕ of LMNT’s sodium content (1 gram). This 5:1 sodium-to-potassium ratio is important – let’s geek out on why now.
The sodium-potassium pump is a life-sustaining protein pump in our neurons’ cell membranes. For every 3 sodium ions it releases, it takes in 2 potassium ions—a process which enables everything from muscle contraction to neuronal firing. To help our pump function optimally, our total sodium and potassium intake should reflect this 3:2 ratio.
Because athletes, low-carbers, and intermittent fasters alike incur greater sodium losses, and because minimally processed foods are naturally low in sodium, sodium tends to be the bigger issue. To account for this, LMNT was intentionally formulated with a 5:1 sodium-to-potassium ratio. It puts us in a better position to hit the 3:2 sodium-potassium pump ratio.
While we could have put more potassium in LMNT, we find it’s ideal to consume potassium mostly through diet. Yes, diets low in carbs are often low in potassium-rich foods like fruit and potatoes, and more potassium is lost through urine on keto. But eating plenty of foods like meat, avocados, spinach, etc. should get even ketogenic dieters most of the way to the sodium-potassium pump ratio (3:2).
Potassium is also an issue for people eating a plant-poor Standard American Diet (SAD). The SAD is why only 3% of Americans reach the Institute of Medicine’s target of 4.7 grams of potassium per day. This target was set in 2005 based on evidence that potassium can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of kidney stones. The evidence is strong, especially for potassium reducing blood pressure.
4.7 grams is a great target to shoot for, but it’s a difficult target for low-carb folks to achieve. We recommend getting between 3.5–5 grams of potassium per day based on the published evidence. When establishing your personal goal, keep in mind factors like your size, sodium intake, activity level, and whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. These and other diet & lifestyle factors all affect your potassium needs.
Each stick pack of LMNT contains 60 mg magnesium.
Magnesium is a crucial mineral. It aids in energy production, DNA repair, muscle synthesis, restful sleep, and many other things we care about, yet up to 30% of the population may be deficient in magnesium. This is likely why we see positive effects from magnesium supplementation on sleep, strength, anxiety, and depression.
Anthropological evidence suggests that our ancestors consumed about 600 mg of magnesium per day. Between 400–600 mg seems to be a reasonable target for optimal health, and there’s no downside to shooting for the upper end of that range. Try to get there with magnesium-rich whole foods first, then supplement your shortfall.
LMNT uses traditionally-mined salt from non-blast operations as well as tests for safe levels of heavy metals at every point in the production process.
You can learn more about LMNT electrolytes, the benefits of salt, and what to look out for with various salt types at https://science.drinklmnt.com/?
Thanks for reading and be sure to check back next week for another blog.
Stay salty! Xx