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Sodium Science: The importance of salt and its effects on the body

Sodium Science

The importance of salt and its effects on the body

by Andrew Carruthers – Editor-In-Chief

If you’re wondering why I’m writing an article on salt, then you’re obviously not aware of its importance in the human body and, more importantly, its importance in bodybuilding. It still amazes me every year to hear how many athletes cut out salt when they start their pre-contest diet prep. What’s even more absurd is that the instruction to completely cut salt at the beginning of pre-contest prep comes from some of the so called “gurus” and “coaches”.

People actually spend their hard-earned cash with these people to guide them through the gruelling pre-contest prep process, yet the information they are given is often misleading. Even if you’re not interested in pre-contest prep or getting on stage, this article will explain and demonstrate the importance of salt intake to you. It will also explain exactly what its role is when embarking on a physique building or transformation mission.

The salty facts

Salt has been around since the beginning of time. Man has used many techniques over the centuries to extract salt, mainly from water, including evaporation, which was a popular manner of extraction early on. Entire civilisations would also establish themselves in arid areas simply to have access to some of the most salt-rich areas on the planet. This is because humans need salt to survive, in addition to a whole host of other important reasons for its use.

What is salt?

Also known as sodium chloride, salt is a chemical compound that occurs naturally in many areas of the world. More importantly though, and for the sake of bodybuilding, salt is an essential nutrient. The human body requires both sodium and chloride simply because it cannot manufacture these elements on its own. In terms of taste, the human body has even evolved to a point where we have our own gustatory receptor (taste bud), which allows salt to form one of the primary and most basic components of taste. Salt is also an electrolyte. Throughout ancient history, and even in some areas of the world today, people used salt to preserve food. This process makes it tough for the microorganisms that contaminate food to live and prosper, which would otherwise turn food bad and make it inedible.

What does salt do in our body?

Salt plays a vital roll in regulating blood pressure and blood volume. Many studies have shown that increasing or decreasing salt intake can have a direct influence on blood pressure. Once inside your body salt also controls water balance. The sodium/potassium pump associated with salt intake is a prime example of how important electrolytes are to critical human health. To maintain cell health two potassium molecules are pulled into a cell and three sodium molecules are pumped out. It is through this vital cycle that our bodies function.

“Salt plays a vital roll in regulating blood pressure and blood volume. Many studies have shown that increasing or decreasing salt intake can have a direct influence on blood pressure.”

Controversy has always existed with respect to how much salt is optimal in the human diet. The misleading part of these outcomes is due to the fact that many of these studies merely focused on the salt content of foods, without taking into account other electrolytes. Biologically and physiologically, sodium intake alone does not regulate the sodium/potassium pump – potassium intake is important as well. What’s more important though is the ratio of sodium to potassium in the diet. Most food labels around the world are required to clearly report sodium content on products, but they are not required to report the potassium content. This alone makes analysing potassium intake very tricky.

With that said, the ratio between sodium and potassium is absolutely critical. While many “specialists” around the world propose that hypertension is related to the high sodium content in modern diets, it would appear that the problem doesn’t lie with sodium alone, but rather an inappropriate ratio of sodium-to-potassium. When we take a closer look at the eating patterns that cause conditions like hypertension we notice that they are characterised by severe increase in processed foods, which are high in sodium, and massive decreases in the intake of fruits and vegetables, which are high is potassium. It should comes as no surprise then that we have such an imbalance between these two important micronutrients.

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