Apr 28, 2015

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,

  1. Miller JZ, Weinberger MH, Daugherty SA, Fineberg NS, Christian JC, Grim CE. Heterogeneity of blood pressure response to dietary sodium restriction in normotensive adults. J Chronic Dis. 1987;40:245-250. CrossRefMedline
  2. Weinberger MH, Miller JZ, Luft FC, Grim CE, Fineberg NS. Definitions and characteristics of sodium sensitivity and blood pressure resistance. Hypertension. 1986;8(suppl II):II-127-II-134.
  3. Sullivan JM, Ratts TE, Taylor JC, Kraus DH, Barton BR, Patrick DR, Reed SW. Hemodynamic effects of dietary sodium in man: a preliminary report. Hypertension. 1980;2:506-514. FREE Full Text
  4. Campese VM, Romoff MS, Levitan J, Saglikes Y, Fredier R, Massry SG. Abnormal relationship between sodium intake and sympathetic nervous system activity in salt-sensitive patients with essential hypertension. Kidney Int. 1982;21:371-378.
  5. Koolen MI, Bussemaker-Verduyn E, den Boer E, van Brummelen P. Clinical, biochemical and haemodynamic correlates of sodium sensitivity in essential hypertension. J Hypertens. 1983;1(suppl 2):21-23.
  6. Skrabal F, Herholz H, Newmayr M, Hanberger L, Ledochowski M, Sporer R, Hortnagl H, Schwarz S, Schonitzer D. Salt sensitivity in humans is linked to enhanced sympathetic responsiveness and enhanced tubular reabsorption. Hypertension. 1984;6:152-158. Medline
  7. Dustan HP, Kirk KA. Relationship of sodium balance to arterial pressure in black hypertensive patients. Am J Med Sci. 1988;295:378-383. Medline
  8. Sowers JR, Zemel MB, Zemel P, Beck FWJ, Walsh MF, Zawada ET. Salt sensitivity in blacks: salt intake and natriuretic substances. Hypertension. 1988;12:485-490.
  9. Sullivan JM, Prewitt RL, Ratts TE. Sodium sensitivity in normotensive and borderline hypertensive humans. Am J Med Sci. 1988;295:370-377. CrossRefMedline
  10. Rocchini AP, Key J, Bondie D, Chico R, Moorehead C, Katch V, Martin M. The effect of weight loss on the sensitivity of blood pressure to sodium in obese adolescents. N Engl J Med. 1989;321:580-585. CrossRefMedline
  11. Sharma AM, Schattenfroh S, Kribben A, Distler A. Reliability of salt sensitivity testing in normotensive subjects. Klin Wochenschr. 1989;67:632-634. CrossRefMedline
  12. Hollenberg NK, Williams GH. Sodium-sensitive hypertension: implications of pathogenesis for therapy. Am J Hypertens. 1989;2:809-815.
  13. Falkner B, Hulman S, Kushner H. Hyperinsulinemia and blood pressure sensitivity to sodium in young blacks. J Am Soc Nephrol. 1992;3:940-946.
  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
  15. Overlack A, Ruppert M, Kolloch R, Gobel B, Kraft K, Diehl J, Schmitt W, Stumpe KO. Divergent hemodynamic and hormonal responses to varying salt intake in normotensive subjects. Hypertension. 1993;22:331-338. Abstract
  16. Sullivan JM. Salt sensitivity: definition, conception, methodology, and long-term issues. Hypertension. 1991;17(suppl I):I-61-I-68.

14 responses to “Are You Salt Sensitive?”

  1. I made a stir fry last night that included soy sauce and this morning my BP was 161/81. I take my BP every morning because I'm 'pre-hypertensive' and gave up added salt back in the 80's. Thus far I've avoided medication by changing my diet. I'm shifting my diet to whole foods/plant based but still slip up with prepackaged foods. My downfall is salt!!! I love potato chips and popcorn but refrain from buying and eating them.

    Reading your story helps commit me to a better diet! thank you

  2. Helen – you are not alone! Salt is my weakness too. I'm successfully reducing my intake by sticking to a hard and fast rule of not cooking with salt or other sodium-laced product. I still have a small bowl of pink sea salt on the table. Over time, I find myself desiring less and less of that. Now, a small sprinkle (6-10 grains) is all it takes to satisfy the craving. Hopefully in the future, I will find that I don't even want that!

  3. Helyn says:

    Linda, sounds like you are on the right path!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

  4. Helyn says:

    Carry, 6-10 grains is really almost nothing! Good job! I'm afraid to even do that with my taste for it… trying to go cold turkey. xo

  5. moonwatcher says:

    Great post, Helyn! Thanks for all the good info. I've never had high blood pressure (which might be an ironic benefit of the MS diagnosis), but I certainly have experienced how salt (and sugar) "strong arm" the flavors and make you want more of them. It seems the other tastes get masked or don't show off to their true advantage. So I find, as you suggest, that I actually like eating salt (and sugar) free because the complexity of tastes in the fruits, veggies, legumes and starches become more profound and noticable without both of them. And I rarely want more, more more, like can happen when the taste buds chase after the salt (and the sugar). over all, it's a much more enjoyable and healthful eating experience to leave it by the wayside. Thanks for encouraging others to do that!

  6. Helyn says:

    Thanks for your input, Maria! I am definitely enjoying more taste sensations without the salt, too! :))

  7. Anonymous says:

    Wow! My BP has been really good, just had it measured at the doctor's a month ago: 95/64. I'm also WFPB, but love my popcorn, and made some yesterday. No butter or oil, but plenty of salt. No problem, right? After reading this, I took my BP. A whopping 132/88!!!
    I'm stunned and will obviously cut out the salt.

    Thank you so much for this post. I had no idea I was salt sensitive, but the numbers don't lie.

    Thanks… JC

  8. Helyn says:

    Wow is right! Yes, it can be very insipid, that salt!

  9. Anonymous says:

    At my most recent appointment with my Naturopath, I was instructed to include more sodium in my diet because I am low in sodium. I have consistently had a healthy lower blood pressure for years. I also know there's a difference with iodized salt which I don't use. For me, the skull and bones wouldn't be appropriate as a label. Everyone is different.

  10. Helyn says:

    I understand! Thanks for your feedback.

  11. Lisa Bentz says:

    I learned the same thing about my body. It's been true for me for many years but I didn't know how sensitive I am until I began watching my sodium intake carefully, as Dr. Fuhrman suggests. Now that I have realized how much better I feel without all that excess sodium, I keep it around 1000 mg/day or less 99% of the time. It's good to know there are others like me.

  12. Helyn says:

    Great, Lisa! I appreciate your comment. 🙂

  13. Anonymous says:

    Just to confirm that my results would mirror yours, I checked my BP again this morning. 105 / 70. Not as low as usual, but definitely headed in the right direction.

    It may also be time to rethink that cup of morning Joe…

    Thanks again, Helyn.


  14. Helyn says:

    So glad to hear it, JC! Yes, coffee… I know all about it. I used to drink so much that at one point I was able to drink a cup of strong espresso before bed and fall right asleep. Now, I can't touch a drop or I get heart palpitations and restless nights. It's a journey, that's for sure! 🙂

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