Step 7: Watch Your
Sodium/Potassium Balance.

Overdoing Salt Damages
The Body's Electrical Generators

Salt plays a central role in human history. Salt (sodium chloride) is critical to the health of all organisms. Our bodies are designed to crave salt. Before humans started using fire about a quarter of a million years ago, we were able to obtain most of the salt we needed by eating raw meat. Once we started cooking our food, we needed to find salt. Onshore breezes and fog carry some salt inland from the shore and leave trace levels of salt in vegetation that's enough to support life. Seafood is salty. But when our ancestors ventured farther than a few miles from the ocean they had to seek salt out - and they had to be metabolically motivated if they were to make the effort. Salt had to taste good.

In every cell of our bodies there's a "sodium-potassium pump" which functions as a miniature electrical generator. It moves more sodium out of the cell than potassium in, and since both these ions carry an electrical charge this generates a current. Cells use this electrical current to power numerous other critical processes. Without enough sodium in the diet animals can't outrun their predators, they don't have the energy to hunt or forage for food, there's not enough energy to reproduce.

For most of human history salt was difficult to produce and thus an expensive luxury. We still earn "salaries" and speak of people who are "worth their salt." It's only been in the last hundred and twenty years or so that industrialization of the food supply has progressed to the point where plentiful salt is now cheap enough for everyone.

Estimates are that our ancestors ate on average 7,000 mg potassium/day and 3,000 mg sodium/day. Typical modern diets provide 7,000 mg sodium/day and 700 mg of potassium. This complete reversal of the traditional sodium/potassium ratio plays havoc with the sodium potassium pump and a number of critical cellular processes. One of the first things that happens is that too much sodium can make us very tired.

It's relatively easy to see this effect oneself. Some restaurants load up their food with plenty of salt to make it more delicious. A little experimentation and attention to detail will find you the ones that do - you'll taste it in the food. Take yourself out some afternoon to one of these restaurants. Enjoy your lunch ... but afterwards watch what happens to your energy level. The next day steam yourself a hearty portion of vegetables; dark green leafy ones like collard or chard are excellent. Take note of how much energy you feel after that meal.

Less sodium/potassium pump electricity means more acidity inside the cells. Less sodium/potassium electricity means more calcium inside the cells. This causes muscle cells to contract, leading to uncomfortable muscular tension and constricted arteries (every artery in the body is coated in muscle tissue; this helps the body send blood where it's needed.) More calcium in cells can make them divide inappropriately and may also increase the production of tissue-stiffening collagen.

More specifically from the point of view of mental health, too much salt in the diet pulling too many calcium ions into the cells can create insulin resistance. This is bad for the brain. A growing body of evidence suggests that this can lead to a syndrome called cerebral diabetes. This "brain diabetes" can contribute to a wide range of psychopathologies, all of which involve poor glucose utilization by brain cells.

The solution: increase potassium and reduce sodium. Read labels and consume less processed foods. High-potassium foods are better than potassium supplements, concentrated potassium can be dangerous for the heart. Here's a list of high-potassium foods:

High-Potassium Foods

Fruits Vegetables Other Foods
Apricot Artichokes Bran/Bran products
Avocado Beans, dried Coffee
Banana Broccoli Chocolate
Cantaloupe Brussels Sprouts Coconut
Casaba Celery Granola
Dates Escarole Grapefruit Juice
Dried Fruit Greens (chard, collard,
   dandelion, mustard, beet)
Ice Cream
Figs Kale Nuts
Honeydew Kohlrabi Salt Substitutes ("NuSalt")
Mango Lentils Seeds
Nectarine Lima Beans Tea
Papaya Mushrooms
Plums Potatos (french fries,
   baked, sweet)
Prunes Parsnips
Raisins Rhubarb
Salt-free vegetable juice

"NuSalt", potassium chloride, is available in many health food stores. Its taste is very similar to ordinary salt. Using NuSalt in cooking makes food savory while increasing potassium.

A good goal for reducing sodium: 3,000 mg/day. Diets below that level tend to be unpalatable to western tastes.