It’s been very cold in my condo the past week, and I’ve noticed my intense craving for salt and salty food. From an Ayurvedic perspective, this makes perfect sense. After all, we are now in the Vata season, which lasts from fall through early winter. Yes, even here in Southern California where we’re experiencing a dreadful cold freeze in the 60s. Oh my! 😉
The Vata season is typically cold, dry and windy. The three tastes that are most balancing for Vata are sweet, sour and (you guessed it!) salty. Salt is moisturizing, grounding, energizing and heating. Emotionally, it provides courage. All of these qualities offset the cold, dry and windy Vata conditions. Likewise, winter is traditionally the season when people naturally increase their salt intake as they consume food preserved with salt or seafood. Seafood contains sea salt and was one of the few food sources available in many places during the cold season.
Is Salt Really So Bad?
Ayurveda teaches that salt is essential for growth, maintaining water electrolyte balance, and proper digestion, absorption and elimination of wastes. It creates flexibility in the joints, stimulates the appetite and helps digest natural toxins, clearing the subtle channels of the body. It has a calming effect on the nerves and emotions, replenishing and energizing the entire body. Salt balances Vata and can imbalance Pitta and Kapha when used excessively, causing premature wrinkles, thirst, skin problems and weakness.
Like the rest of my family, I have always tended to have low blood pressure. Sometimes, when I feel worn down I find that eating a little salt really gives me a pick-me-up, energizing me and giving me the fortitude to confront whatever task I am facing. As mentioned above, it builds electricity in the body and courage in the mind.
Mainstream media, however, warns us to reduce salt intake in order to protect our hearts. Much research has been conducted on the matter, and the results don’t always support conventional wisdom. In fact, a meta-analysis of over 6000 subjects published in 2011 in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that lowering the intake of salt reduced the risk of heart attacks, stroke or death in folks with or without high blood pressure.1
In 2014, a review published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, noted that the LESS sodium subjects excreted in their urine as a result of a salt-restrictive diet, THE GREATER THEIR RISK was of dying of heart disease. This was the opposite of what researchers expected to see I am sure. Other findings in the same report did indicate a very modest reduction in blood pressure in those consuming less salt, although the article mentioned that the results could be impacted by individual salt sensitivity.2 Ayurveda agrees with this statement 100%, which is why practitioners recommend Vatas consume more salt than other doshas and why people in general should consume more salt during Vata seasons!
The Intersalt Study, which measured salt intake in 52 centers internationally, found NO relationship between salt consumption and high blood pressure. In fact, the population that ate the most salt had lower average blood pressure than those who ate the least amount of salt.3 All told, there is little conclusive evidence to prove that excess salt consumption is bad for the heart. And that’s even considering the fact that the studies cited all used table salt, an inferior and often toxic salt from the Ayurvedic perspective.
Which Salt is Best?
LifeSpa’s Dr. John Doulliard notes that “UNREFINED mineral salts, such as Celtic Sea Salt, Utah’s Redmond Salt and Pink Himalayan Salt provide the body with 84 essential and trace minerals. REFINED white table salt is devoid of these essential minerals and provides only sodium to the body, which can disturb the body’s electrolyte balance.4 The Charaka Samhita, an ancient Ayurvedic text, listed eight different kinds of salt. Rock or Soma salts were the most revered and subsequently used in many medicinal Ayurvedic formulas.
Himalayan pink salt, one of my favorite rock salts, not only has 84 minerals, but the minerals exist in a colloidal form, making them tiny enough for our cells to absorb easily. Rock salt is also considered tridoshic because it is less heating than other variations. Reference its qualities below.
Qualities of Rock Salt (Saindhava Lavana)5:
Taste– Salty, slightly sweet taste,
Qualities – Light, Unctuous,
Effect on Tridosha – We have learned that salty taste usually increases Pitta, but Saindhava Lavana, being cold in potency helps to balance Pitta. Because of its Salty taste, it balances Vata. It helps to relieve chest congestion due to sputum accumulation because it also relieves Kapha. Hence it is one of the rare Ayurvedic substances that balances all three Doshas.
Table salt, on the other hand, does not contain as many natural minerals, which can imbalance your body’s mineral portfolio. In addition, it is often laced with unhealthy anti-caking agents and other substances, which could even include sugar as it is sometimes used to help stabilize the iodine.6 What!?
Americans tend to eat a lot of processed foods. Processed foods are very high in refined table salt. This explains why many Americans suffer from electrolyte imbalances that can contribute to thyroid issues7 and numerous other symptoms. Ayurveda advocates clean, home cooking whenever possible to ensure good quality ingredients like unrefined salt that provides well-balanced minerals and electrolytes.
Electrolytes are minerals that can conduct electrical impulses in the body. Potassium, calcium, magnesium and sodium chloride (salt) are just a few. Electrolytes control the fluid balance of the body and are important in muscle contraction, energy generation, and almost every major biochemical reaction in the body.8
From an Ayurvedic perspective, what is the best way to consume salt?
1) Avoid refined salt and processed foods laden with refined salt. When refined salts are ingested, sodium levels rise as potassium, magnesium and calcium fall. The excess sodium on the outside of the cell osmotically pulls fluid (water) along with potassium, calcium and magnesium out of the cell. This can cause a severe state of cellular dehydration that cannot be remedied by drinking water.4 Instead, use a form of rock salt like Pink Himalayan Salt, Celtic Sea Salt or even Indian Black Salt or Soma Salt with your water.9
2) Use salt in your diet; it is necessary. Just use it in moderation. A good rule of thumb is ¼ teaspoon for every 64 ounces of water you drink. Vatas may take in a little more, particularly during the Vata season. If you have concerns about blood pressure, purchase a blood pressure cuff and monitor your BP as you increase your salt consumption. Personally, I have always tended to eat a lot of salt, and I have never had an issue with blood pressure. In fact, in Ayurveda, we treat certain forms of hypertension with salt because salt can soften hardened arteries and other tissues in the body. Please consult a professional as you increase salt levels if you have hypertension.
3) If you need to reduce your salt intake, start first by decreasing your consumption of processed foods, junk foods and canned foods, all of which have very high levels of salt, particularly refined salt. Fresh food has about 10% of the salt of any of these options.
4) Have your zinc levels checked if you are always craving salt. A mineral supplement or an unrefined rock salt may actually help resume the balance without other supplements.
5) Find other sources for iodine if you have thyroid challenges. Rather than using refined table salt with iodine added, switch to seaweed or kelp and have your doctor monitor your iodine and T3 and T4 thyroid levels to ensure they are not too high10; you only need a small amount of iodine since it is a trace element. Foods like dried seaweed, fish, potato peel, milk, shrimp, turkey, navy beans, and eggs are also natural, more bioavailable sources of iodine.9
6) Salt, when taken properly, offers a lot of medicinal benefits. Try some of the following remedies:
- Digestive Aid: Before a meal, have a little rock salt with a slice of ginger and a squeeze of lime to get the salivary and digestive juices flowing. Another option is to create a digestive lassi11, which includes a pinch of salt. Lassi is a drink made with watered down yogurt or buttermilk.
- Salt Water Solé (pronounced as solay)12: cleanses the entire stomach and intestines, which encourages effective digestion and metabolism.
Use the “salt of the earth” to help ground you, but as with everything in Ayurveda, use moderation and trust your body’s unique needs and intuition. Namaste.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have an acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or email Karen Callahan at firstname.lastname@example.org.