The Official Newsletter of
updated January 29, 2010


How Salt Affects Your Body

by Ron Brown, author of The Body Fat Guide 

"Ron Brown is a certified fitness trainer who doesn't have an inch of flab on his body. He'll tell you what you can do to become fit and trim too." 
Washington DC


YOU'VE FOLLOWED your diet, and your waist is down an inch. Using The Body Fat Guide, you calculate that you've lost 4 pounds of body fat, or approximately one pound for each quarter-inch your waist reduced in size. Congratulations! You feel like you deserve a treat, so you break away from your diet composed largely of unprocessed natural foods and indulge in a feast of conventional food. 

Within a day or two of loading up on a conventional diet you are shocked to discover your waist has increased by more than half an inch, indicating you regained two pounds of body fat! But, you think, although you ate heavier, there's no way you overate enough to account for a gain of two pounds of body fat. Since a pound of body fat contains 3,500 calories, that would mean you took in 7,000 extra calories above your maintenance caloric intake level in only one day or two. But, when you add up your actual caloric intake over that time it doesn't come anywhere close to that amount, adding up to much less. What's going on? Where did that extra weight come from?

Aside from carrying extra food in your belly (gastrointestinal contents) the usual explanation for such a sudden increase in weight and waist size following a proper diet is bloating from increased salt intake. 

Common table salt is the term used for the sodium chloride we add to our food. The amount of salt we shake onto our food, however, is not usually our main source of salt intake. We receive about 80% of our salt intake from sodium chloride which is added to most of the processed food we eat. And it seems we are eating more processed food today than ever. Our bodies only require about 500 mg of sodium a day, and this should be obtained from within natural foods, not added to food in the form of sodium chloride. However, we typically get as much as 6,000-8,000 mg of sodium a day! Salt is practically everywhere, and its harmful effect on our bodies is also rampant among us, causing health problems ranging from cardiovascular disease to cataract formation!

The reason salt causes bloating is that your body retains water to dilute it in order to protect your tissues from salt's harmful irritating effect. Getting a bit of salt in your eye is a good demonstration of this irritating effect. If you can imagine that irritation occurring throughout your body, you'll begin to see why salt causes so many health problems.

Salt and Vision Problems

Speaking of salt and your eyes, there is much evidence to implicate salt in causing vision problems. The eyes, after all, are part of your body, and they can be affected by the bloating resulting from salt intake as much as other tissues. When this bloating from salt (edema) occurs in the eye, the alignment of the eye's internal components may be thrown off resulting in errors of refraction. Although surgeon's can correct some of these alignment problems by cutting and flattening the cornea, this does not address the cause of the cornea's swelling (corneal edema), which may result from salt water bloating within the eye. Researchers have induced edema in the cornea of laboratory animals by soaking the removed cornea in a salt solution. Research also showed that cataract formation, a clouding of the lens, was positively associated with salt intake (Cumming, 2000).

China, Japan, and other Asian countries have the highest consumption of dietary salt in the world, and these countries also have the highest prevalence of nearsightedness, or myopia. Primitive populations within Africa, Brazil, and other areas with low salt intake do not have high reported rates of myopia. Studies of the traditional hunter/gatherer diet of Eskimos showed that myopia increased in younger generations of Eskimos who began to eat a Western diet, which included more salt. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported back in 1947 that vision improved in patients who followed a low-salt Rice Diet developed by Kempner. 

The body contains sodium-potassium pumps within most of the cell membranes that help to eliminate excessive amounts of sodium. However, these pumps can only achieve their objective of maintaining the proper concentration of intracellular sodium when they are not overloaded with a continual heavy intake of salt.

Salt and Vascular Problems

Although scientists have long suspected a link between salt intake and cardiovascular disease, a recent study by Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School (Cook et al, 2007) confirms that people who reduced their salt intake by 25-30% had an equal reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease of 25%.

Dr. Norm Campbell of Blood Pressure Canada, who is leading the development of a National Sodium Policy in Canada, states, "If we discovered that a food additive was causing 30 percent of all cancers, something would be done right away. The same action is needed with sodium to prevent stroke, heart disease and other vascular illnesses."

In the U.S., the American Medical Association is urging the federal government's Food and Drug Administration to immediately place mandatory regulations on the amount of salt added to processed foods.

How to Monitor and Eliminate Salt Water Bloat

The Body Fat Guide can help you monitor the effect of salt water bloat on your body. Simply take the overall change in your bodyweight and subtract any change that you calculate is due to a positive calorie balance (when your caloric intake is higher than your calorie expenditures). Since there are no calories in water, the amount of any weight left over will usually equal the amount of water you are retaining, most likely from salt in your diet. This may easily add up to several pounds or more! With the ability to monitor salt water retention in this manner, you can more easily take effective action to eliminate processed foods in your diet, reduce your salt intake, reduce bloating from water retention, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, and improve your health!


Cook, N. R., Cutler, J. A., Obarzanek, E., Buring, J. E., Rexrode, K.M., Kumanyika, S.K., Appel, L.J., & Whelton, P. K. (2007). Long term effects of dietary sodium reduction on cardiovascular disease outcomes: observational follow-up of the trials of hypertension prevention. BMJ 2007; 0: bmj.39147

Cumming, R.G. (2000). Dietary sodium intake and cataract: the Blue Mountains Eye Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2000, Volume 151, pp 624-6.

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