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This blog started as a way for me to share my recipes + culinary adventures, tips for vibrant health + happiness, thoughts on the latest developments in nutritional medicine + the low down on the Sydney wholefoods scene and beyond...

Drink! ...salt?

mystaranise

One of my close friends recently reminded me of the importance of hydration as one of the key foundations of health. Yes, I've known for an age that what we drink is important and directly affects our health and I know that we should add unrefined salt to our drinking (preferably filtered) water, but what I didn't fully appreciate is that it can actually be dangerous to drink Unsalted water. Here's why: The human body requires that the salt concentration of the blood be kept constant. If you drink unsalted water, the body tries to restore the proper salt concentration balance by excreting water (eg via sweating, urinating etc) which leads to dehydration. It is not possible to quench your thirst by drinking more and more unsalted water as the body will continue to excrete water to restore the proper concentration of salt in the blood. The body also tries to restore the vital salt concentration balance by drawing salt out of vital organs (eg kidneys) and bones (which hence weakens them) and transporting the salt into the blood stream. In severe cases of drinking large amounts of unsalted water resulting in dangerously low blood sodium levels, called “hyponatremia”, common in marathon runners, the result is a gradual desiccation of the body and finally death- you literally die of thirst. Scary stuff hey. When I told my other half about the importance of adding salt to our water he quickly retorted back with "are you telling me that our hunter gatherer ancestors added salt to their water?" Ok, good point. So I diligently went off to do further research on this point and found that "The hunter gatherer obtains the salt he needs from the blood of animals (and sometimes the urine), which concentrate salt from the plants that they eat" (MR Block, The Social Influence of Salt, July 1963, reprinted in Scientific American, 1978). Now I dont know about you, but no matter how 'primal' I feel I think I'll draw the line at drinking blood and urine, so pass me that bottle of salted water please! There is actually a formula for the amount of salt to add to water: its 1/4 teaspoon per 1 litre. This is more than just a "pinch". At first it will taste unpleasantly salty but you do get used to it and will begin to love the taste of it (think of the taste of licked skin straight out of the surf....sorry if that sounds a bit kinky...). Back to the importance of salt (and of course I'm talking about unrefined salt here like sea salt and not table salt which is heavily refined and toxic)....Like saturated fat from natural sources, salt is absolutely essential to our survival, which is why we are literally hard wired to like the taste of it. Salt provides the minerals chloride, sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Salt plays a key role in numerous body functions including enzyme function, energy production, hormone production, protein transport, nerve conduction, assimilation of nutrients into the cells, maintenance of blood pressure and volume, muscular activity, digestion of food, brain development and metabolism. Salt allows you to absorb and retain more fluids (which is especially critical for athletic recovery).

Numerous studies have shown that when the salt concentration of the blood is reduced to low levels it can result in a loss of smell and taste, weight loss, headaches, nausea, nightmares, muscle cramps, lethargy, speaking difficulties, dulled mental capacity, reduced co-ordination, depression and/or insulin resistance (the precursor to type 2 diabetes)- do any of these symptoms ring true for you??  In these studies, all subjects returned to normal health and vigor after resuming salt intake. So don't be shy about adding unrefined salt to your foods and water especially in these warmer summer months when we sweat more and excrete more salt.

As to how much water to drink, there's a formula for that too (your body weight in kgs x 0.033, plus extra if you're exercising) but I think this grossly under-represents our hydration requirements. I weigh 52-53kg and easily drink around 5+ litres a day no problem if my water bottle is in easy reach which is 3 litres more than the recommended 1.7 litres for my weight. Don't wait until you're thirsty- by then your cells are already massively dehydrated. The best indication I think as to whether you're sufficiently hydrated is the colour of your urine- it should be clear not yellow.

Ok I'll get off my saltbox (bad joke, I know, but rather cute, no?) but if you want more information check out http://www.watercure.com/faq.html or “Salt of the Earth” by Sally Fallon Morell, Wise Traditions, Summer 2011, p29.