Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with low bone density or osteoporosis? If so, you’ve possibly been told by your doctor to follow a low salt diet. And, if you’ve tried to make your food choices by how much salt they contain, you know how frustrating it can be. For example, which is the healthier food – a can of V8® vegetable juice or a large order of McDonald’s® French fries? If you go by salt content, then the French fries are healthier! A regular 11.5 ounce can of V8® juice contains about 600 mg of sodium while a large order of French fries contains about 350 mg of sodium. Could the French fries really be better for you? The truth is: there is more to “being healthy” than a low salt diet.
The Facts About Starting a Low Salt Diet
People who follow a low-sodium diet in an effort to prevent bone loss are typically restricted to 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Why? Research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published in 1995 showed a link between a high sodium intake and a reduction of bone density which can lead to osteoporosis. In fact, the research revealed that as much as 900 mg of calcium per day can be lost as a result of eating high-sodium foods. Since getting enough calcium is essential if you want to avert osteoporosis and build bone mass, sodium (in the form of sodium chloride or salt) depletes calcium and causes weakening bones.
But there’s more to the osteoporosis-sodium connection. In June 2006, another study revealed, “At calcium intakes at or above currently recommended levels, there appear to be no deleterious effects of prevailing salt intakes on bone or the calcium economy.” This means that as long as you provide your body with an adequate supply of calcium every day, salt (or sodium chloride) does not dramatically impact bone loss. This is critically important research to understand. The study affirms that in order to protect bones, a person can choose to increase their consumption of calcium or choose to follow a low-sodium diet, but both are not necessary simultaneously to conserve calcium supply in the bones.
Healthy Eating With Osteoporosis
If you’re serious about preventing or reversing bone loss you have one of two choices:*
Option One: If you do not want to eat foods high in calcium or take calcium supplements daily, it is critical you follow a low salt diet. Limit sodium intake to less than 2.3 grams per day. Be especially careful to monitor the sodium levels of processed foods, canned foods, fast foods and baked products.
Option Two: While you should still be mindful of the type and amount of sodium you’re consuming (after all, sodium does deplete calcium in the body), it is far more important to make sure you are getting an adequate daily intake of trace minerals including calcium, magnesium and potassium. And, you need to be sure that you are consuming the right kind of salt:
- Eat foods high in calcium or take calcium supplements. The recommended calcium intake is 1300 mg/day for children and teens ages 9-18, 1000 mg/day for adults ages 19-50 and 1200 mg/day for people over 50 years. Foods high in calcium include yogurt, salmon, collard greens, spinach, almonds, broccoli and okra.
- Eat foods that are high in potassium because potassium helps decrease the loss of calcium. Potassium-rich foods include bananas, tomatoes, strawberries, apricots and spinach.
- Eat foods rich in magnesium including almonds, cashews, kelp, pumpkin seeds, avocados and green vegetables such as spinach.
- Replace table salt with sea salt. Table salt is about 99% sodium chloride that has been extracted from underground deposits by miners, heat-blasted and chemically treated. It is stripped of all its minerals except for sodium and chloride (NaCl), and subjected to anti-caking agents like aluminum. According to David Brownstein, M.D., author of Salt – Your Way To Health, this salt is highly refined—not for your benefit but for that of the manufacturer. In its refined state—having all of its life-sustaining properties removed, including minerals and vitamins – it now has nothing in it that can go rancid. It can sit on the shelf seemingly forever without an expiration date. Unrefined sea salt, on the other hand, is harvested from the evaporated water from the seas and oceans and contains more than 80 trace minerals which are necessary for your body to work properly. In particular, sea salt contains the bone-building trace minerals of iron, sulfur, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Furthermore, the sodium in sea salt combined with the other electrolyte minerals work to support healthy function of muscle tissues. (Healthy muscles equal healthy bones!) So ditch the table salt altogether and start using sea salt along with drinking plenty of filtered water each day.
To learn more about preventing and reversing bone loss, download our Bone & Joint Conditions free guide, which spells out all the advice you’ll need on diet, exercise and bone-building supplementation, including the specific amounts of potassium, magnesium and other nutrients you should be getting on a daily basis.
*Consult your doctor or an integrative physician before changing your diet or beginning a new diet program.
This post originally appeared in 2012 and has been updated.
 Salt – Your Way To Health, David Brownstein, M.D., Medical Alternative Press; 2nd edition (2006).