Let’s be clear about one thing from the get-go: few of us are in danger of coming up short when it comes to our salt (sodium) intake.
“Most people consume adequate amounts of sodium - if not greater amounts than the current recommendation of 2,400 milligrams per day,” says Dr Joy Dubost, a food scientist and registered dietician.
Many people's diets are loaded with salt. So if you eat anything resembling the typical three-squares-plus-a-snack programme most Westerners adhere to, you likely have little to worry about when it comes to your sodium levels.
There are exceptions, which we’ll get to in a minute.
But before we do, Dubost says that if any of the scenarios on this list apply to you - or if you’re thinking about upping your salt consumption for some other reason - first take a week or two to carefully track your sodium intake.
She says apps like MyFitnessPal can help you with that. Also keep a close eye on your serving sizes and nutrition labels, and most importantly check with your doctor before getting busy with the salt shaker.
Those caveats aside, when might MORE salt be appropriate? Here are six times:
1/ You’re training for - or running - a marathon or other long distance race
Athletes who engage in intense exercise for prolonged periods of time - an hour or more - may at times need a sodium boost, Dubost says. “Hyponatremia can occur, which is a drop of sodium in the blood resulting in dizziness, confusion, weakness, and even death,” she explains. While it’s not common, hyponatremia can occur when people are sweating hard and pounding lots of water to rehydrate, but aren’t replacing the sodium their bodies shed while perspiring. If you’ve just wrapped up a gruelling, shirt-soaking workout - or if, during an endurance event, you’re experiencing any of the symptoms Dubost mentioned - eating some salty foods can help your body recover.
2/ You're in a hot, muggy climate
“Once again, excessive sweating can result in a drop in sodium,” Dubost says. As with heavy exercise, excessive sweating could in some cases lead to hyponatremia, she explains. If the weather conditions are making you sweat hard and you’re experiencing headaches, light-headedness or extreme thirst, sprinkle some salt onto whatever you’re eating. It may relieve your symptoms.
3/ You have this medical condition
Salt-losing nephropathy is a form of kidney disease that makes it difficult for your body to maintain adequate sodium levels, says Dr Lawrence Appel, an American Heart Association spokesperson and a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University Medical Institutions. “People with this condition lose excess sodium in their urine, and need to make a conscious effort to keep their [sodium] levels up,” he says. If they don’t, the result could once again be hyponatremia, which could produce symptoms like dizziness, headaches, weakness, or fatigue. Call your doctor and let them know what’s up.
(Related: How much salt do runners really need?)
4/ You’re taking diuretic medications
Several medications - diuretics, in particular - can lead to mineral imbalances in your body by increasing your urine output, Dubost says. While it’s true that diuretics are often prescribed for those with hypertension, and it’s also true that eating too much salt can be risky for those with elevated blood pressure, there may still be times when someone taking diuretics needs to consume some extra sodium to help balance things out.
5/ You’re an older adult, and your thinking is muddled
Older people - especially those aged over 80 - may experience a brain boost by upping their salt intake, according to a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging. The study team found that, compared to older adults on low-sodium diets, those who consumed moderate amounts of sodium performed better on some tests of brain functioning. It’s important to point out that this study is preliminary. So while it’s possible some extra sodium may benefit your brain, don’t go nuts with the salt shaker until you’ve cleared it with your doctor.
6/ You’re suffering from this rare syndrome
A cluster of conditions known collectively as Bartter syndrome can affect your kidneys’ ability to process the salt you consume. Basically, too much sodium ends up in your urine, and not enough is absorbed into your body, Appel says. The condition is rare, and it springs from genetic abnormalities. Symptoms of the syndrome include everything from vomiting and excessive thirst to intense salt cravings. Again, you need to speak with your doctor before upping your salt consumption.