Salt – What’s the Deal?

Salt is not part of the Paleo Diet.  

Or is it?

Let’s get to the bottom of this.

On a very basic level, the reason there is technically no added salt as part of the Paleo diet, is that, generally speaking, the typical modern day’s diet is far too high in processed foods, which are, by default, very high in sodium and very low in potassium.  The chloride in salt creates, per Dr. Cordain in The Paleo Diet, a net acid load to the kidneys, post digestion.  

Remember, we don’t want our bodies to be acidic; we want them alkaline, which they naturally become when we supply them with an abundance of fresh veggies and fruit (very alkaline in nature) balanced with some protein (yes, meat is more acidic than veggies and fruit, but at the end of a day of balanced Paleo eating, the net result is an alkaline pH).

We’ve all heard about the negative outcome of an excessively salty diet; hypertension, increased risk of stroke, osteoporosis and some cancers.

Thus, the rationale for the suggestion to not add salt to one’s food on the Paleo diet is quite clear.  Paleolithic man did not have added salt; his diet was naturally high in potassium and low in sodium.

However, there are other factors to consider, namely the diet of a Paleo endurance athlete.

If you’re out there sweating profusely for long periods of time, to not add electrolytes would not only be to your detriment, it could potentially be lethal.  If an athlete drinks only water while losing a tremendous amount of salts, they run the risk of hyponatremia, also referred to as water intoxication, a lower-than-normal level of sodium in the blood.

Sodium is essential for many body functions including the maintenance of fluid balance, regulation of blood pressure, and normal function of the nervous system.

There are a couple of ways to address this:

  1. Athletes may need to supplement with an electrolyte tablet.  I use one that has a balanced profile with calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium.
  2. We need to add salt to our food.

Not tons and tons, but some, sometimes.  If you’re feeling like you’re craving salt, that could very well be your body telling you something very important.  Listen to it!

So, what about Paleo followers who are not endurance athletes, but still live active lives.  Must salt be avoided like the plague?

Granted, there are varying opinions on this.

Here’s mine:

If you’re a healthy, moderately to very active person, who doesn’t have health issues, a pinch of salt here and there or using it on occasion in cooking, say for example to brine a free range turkey breast, would be acceptable.  If you’re taking hypertension meds, or any meds for that matter, this may not apply to you, incidentally.

The added bonus of being Paleo is that you’ll need far less than any recipe calls for as your palate has already likely become very nicely reconditioned to recognize other flavors, aside from just salt, so you’ll only end up needing a tiny bit.

As with everything- tune in and see how your body reacts.  If you swell  up or have any odd symptoms that you do not normally experience- guess what? It may be the case that adding salt on occasion does not suit you.

That’s my two cents on the matter!

Now… off for a lovely dinner of a rare steak seared with.. you guessed it- some kosher salt!  Two six hour days of training back to back certainly warrant that!