I’m a lucky guy. I was born in Tuscany, and when I was a kid skipping school meant walking around the streets of Florence or hanging on the Ponte Vecchio, admiring the lazy Arno river and having some merenda at one of the many local delis.
Now, you should know that Tuscany if famous for two things (food wise, I’m not talking about art and culture here!): bread without salt and smallgoods made with very liberal amount of salt.
OK Marco, stop reminiscing and go straight to the point: is salt important on a keto diet? no, it isn’t just important, it’s paramount!
And yet, many people – especially in countries where the main language is English – are used to decades of scary articles about the dangers of salt, how salt makes us fat, sick and weak.
Well, if the salt we are talking about is the one on a huge bag of chips fried in oils that are best suited to lubricate industrial machines than be eaten by human beings, I’d agree. But the fact is that all those advices from doctors, magazines and TV worked, and especially here in Australia many people don’t use salt anymore. At all. Still, the amount of obese kids and adults I see around me every day is growing, and so is heart disease or kidney failures. Apparently not eating salt doesn’t work…
But let’s dig deeper, and see why on a low carb diet we do need more salt and not less.
One of the reasons why people turn to a ketogenic diet, is because they are diabetic or developed insulin resistance. Insulin is a powerful hormone, and not necessarily negative, but in addition to regulating blood sugar, it also make your body retain more sodium.
We know that on a ketogenic diet our body produces much less insulin (no sugar peaks to control in our bloodstream), so we expel much more sodium through our kidneys and thus we need to add more of it either salting generously our food or taking some supplements.
As many keto athletes quickly learned, a few grams of sodium before and during a competition can dramatically improve energy levels and mental clarity, and most newbies to this way of life discover at their expenses that not enough salt can cause the dreaded “keto flu”, with muscle aches, brain fog and very low energy levels.
Going back to my Tuscan roots, the generous amounts of prosciutto that I eat can certainly suffice in terms of sodium in my diet, and since I eat plenty of beef (very rich in potassium) it’s important to maintain the correct ratio between these two electrolytes.
It’s important to notice that on a keto diet, it’s almost impossible to retain excessive amounts of sodium if we drinks enough water, since we do store less glycogen in our muscles and each gram of glycogen can bind approximately 3 grams of water. Less water means more sodium excreted through the urine.
A final note (especially for women): if you experience constipation, the cause could most likely be a sodium deficiency, and adding fibers to your diet can worsen the situation instead of improving it. Trying adding some salt to your food and see how it goes.