Are You Salt Sensitive?

Howdy, friends. I have a confession to make to all of you and, in particular, to my SOS-free readers. An admission, if you will…


I can pass on the sugar and oil, but there is something about salt that has been very hard for me to omit from my diet. I've been plant-based for about three years now and "everything has been going fine" with my health. At least I thought it was.

After I did Dr. Fuhrman's 6-Week Plan, as laid out in his book Eat to Live, I saw dramatic, literally miraculous, changes in my health. See My Nutritarian Journey for the full story. Anyway, the recipes I've been creating and sharing with you sometimes use a little soy sauce or miso here and there. No big deal, right? NOT if you're "salt sensitive." More on this subject in a bit…

Over the course of the past several months, I've actually been sneaking in a little added salt to my foods here and there. Not a lot, mind you. I'm talking a pinch. I would even sometimes add a pinch to the oatmeal I cook in the morning as well as in the brown rice I cook. Then a few grains on top of the dish. Shhhh…. don't tell my body! Well, as Dr. Michael Klaper says in his fantastic video, Salt, Sugar and Oil—The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, "YOUR BODY IS NEVER NOT LOOKING!" I highly, highly recommend that video. It's full of well-presented, documented facts on the subject.

Well, I decided to measure my blood pressure this past Friday. I hadn't in so long. I knew that after doing the 6-Week Plan, which of course does not allow for any added salt, that my blood pressure had dropped substantially to relatively healthy levels. I assumed it would just continue to fall and I would be in the clear of ever having a heart attack or stroke. Apparently all those "pinches" added up.  I can't tell you how absolutely STUNNED, horrified and actually frightened I was when I saw the numbers. It was as though I had never done anything to support my cardiovascular health. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here you go:

Needless to say, I did not sleep very well Friday night. I thought about what I had been eating… lots of veggies, greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, fruits and some nuts and seeds and whole grains. AND SALT. Really? Could that little bit of salt have done THIS to me with all of those other healthy foods I eat? But wait a minute… my man eats the same things I eat. Exactly. And his pressure always measures very low. How could my body respond so differently? I've since been researching the subject of "salt sensitivity" exhaustively. Whats is it, exactly? As the term suggests, it's when your body is sensitive to salt, creating high blood pressure. There are a million factors that come into play with regard to how salt affects one person rather than another. Genetic background, age, race, gender and medical history all play a role. There are some individuals who are supposedly "salt resistant," whose bodies don't create a dangerous hypertensive state when excess sodium is consumed. Obviously, younger bodies tend to have a lower blood pressure, no matter the level of salt in the diet, until it catches up to them later in life. This is apparently what had happened to me. Wait. Really?

Is age really a factor in high blood pressure? Can you eat salt to your heart's discontent and be "safe" until you're older? Not according to this study of 16 young men with normal blood pressure. Each was given increasingly salt-loaded foods for a 7-day period. The results here speak for themselves:

I think that we are all "salt sensitive" to a greater or lesser degree. Just how sensitive you are and when the result of a high sodium diet rears its ugly head is the only varying factor in my opinion. Yes, the body does need sodium to perform vital chemical reactions. But ALL OF THE SODIUM YOU NEED IS FOUND NATURALLY IN THE FOOD YOU EAT. Especially if you are eating a plant-based diet.

But what about "sea salt" and "Himalayan pink salt" you ask? Aren't those supposed to be healthy? The relationship between dietary salt intake and the development of hypertension has been the subject of passionate and continuing debate for decades. And despite abundant epidemiological, experimental, and interventional observations demonstrating a link between salt and blood pressure, skepticism remains. However, there are a myriad of reported results of studies in normotensive (normal blood pressure) and hypertensive subjects using increases in dietary sodium content and classifying the subsequent elevated blood pressure responses 1-16.

I decided to omit ALL added salt after I saw that horrific blood pressure reading. I held my breath, crossed my fingers and measured again on Monday morning. Just three days without any added salt to my diet and here is the result:

Staggering, no? This is such a fantastic example of how utterly powerful our food choices are. 

So, for me, it is now and forevermore ZERO added salt. You know what's really cool about not eating any added salt? There really is no prepared food on the market that does not contain added salt. This means that many processed, so-called "health foods" that are not really the best for your health (chips, crackers, etc.) are no longer consumed. What to eat instead of munching on those gluten-free crackers you just bought at the health food store? How about some sugar snap peas or baby carrots? Or a bowl of fresh fruit? Not eating added salt makes it so much easier to eat only whole-foods, foods as grown... nature's food in nature's packaging.

Healthy salt-free trails,

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  14. Ferri C, Bellini C, Carlomagno A, Perrone A, Santucci A. Urinary kallikrein and salt sensitivity in essential hypertensive males. Kidney Int. 1994;46:780-788. Medline
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