Good Salt, Bad Salt

More and more people are realizing that the world cannot sustain itself with the current food system. With all these “convenience” foods available today, it is by no mistake that the majority of the “Western” civilization is morbidly sick. “Disease” is increasingly problematic. We can’t sit back and ignore it anymore because it is starring us right in the face. Even our government institutions are forced to tune-in to this unfortunate reality. There is a growing understanding that the world will not be able to sustain itself if we keep following this regrettable trend. In order to turn the tide, we have to take a look at some of the most fundamental things that are driving this tendency. To gain a better perspective, we first have to reflect on our eating habits.

In this never-ending list of food-like products on the market, “salt” (sodium) is in almost anything and everything that is pre-packaged. Given what is available in most of our grocery stores today, it is extremely hard to avoid, unless of course we are well versed in the subject matter. We will try our best to give you the necessary information in order to help you make more informed choices when buying salt.

   What is Salt (Sodium)?

Salt as many refer to it as, is commonly known as table salt or rock salt. On the other hand, sodium is understood more so in scientific circles; it is a metallic element with a symbol Na and atomic number 11. It is a soft, silvery-white, highly reactive metal and is a member of alkali metals within “group 1” (Wikipedia). For the purposes of this article, we will focus most of our discussions on the former – salt; however, both definitions should not be treated as mutually exclusive.

   The Problem with Salt in Our Diet Today

With regard to food consumption, the issue of quantity is becoming much more problematic. Salt is being consumed in large portions today, due to the fact that much of it is hidden in many of the “foods” we eat on a daily basis.

The recommended daily intake of salt is currently set at 1500 mg/day with an upper level of 2300 mg/day. The problem is most people who live in “Western society” consume much more salt than the recommended levels prescribed by our governments. In some cases, people are consuming double or even triple the upper limit (2300 mg/day). Can you believe that? If this is not a strong enough signal that our food system is heavily broken, I don’t know what is.

On top of the amount of salt being consumed, there is also the issue of the kind of salt that is being consumed. As discussed above, most people understand salt as table salt or rock salt (purchased at the local supermarket). The problem with these particular salts is that they are by no means good for you! The reason is because “table salt”, as we understand it, consists mainly of sodium chloride – a substance by which has very little benefit to us on its own. Much of the over consumption of salt is also attributed to hypertension (high blood pressure) and thus heightens our risk of stroke and/or heart attack. Further to this, much of the salt consumed is present (often times in large quantities) in much of the ready-to-eat foods on the shelf. Isolated salts such as Monosodium glutamate and the like dominate many of the isles in a grocery store. The sad part is that most people don’t have a clue what these ingredients are; fortunately there is a growing awareness thanks to all those who are passionate about nutrition and health.

   The Importance of Salt

With all the bad press on salt these days, it is important not to discount all forms of salt altogether. The majority of salt that is out on the market today it highly processed, however, there are healthier options we can use.

Who says we have to eliminate salt from our diet completely? This is a foolish notion. We can still enjoy the taste, but we have to ensure that we are cognizant both of the quantity and kind being consumed. Salt plays an important role in many bodily functions. In its whole, unadulterated form, salt provides the body with many key micronutrients (minerals). In some circles, people may refer to salt as electrolytes. Salt helps us restore the minerals we lose through perspiration and physical activity. In this regard, full spectrum salt such as Celtic sea salt, deep sea Hawaiian sea salt or Himalayan salt are suitable salts to be consuming; however, we must also be cognizant of the amount we consume; after all, they contain sodium to.

   “Good” vs. “Bad” Salt

As we have described above, all salts are not created equally. In an effort to help you differentiate between “good and bad” salt, we have listed below some examples of both varieties.

   Good Salt

As previously described, full spectrum salts such as Himalayan saltCeltic sea salt, or deep sea Hawaiian sea salt, are certainly healthier options if you want to season your food because they contain nearly all minerals your body is composed of. For this reason, these forms of salt have not been processed in anyway, leaving them close to their original state. Conventional table salts on the other hand have been heavily processed (heated) which eradicates the minerals that were previously present within them – thus the reason why iodine was re-added to table salt because it longer existed after processing.

If you are someone that cannot consume any form of salt altogether there are other options you can take advantage of. Salt can be found in many foods such as celery, chard, or sea vegetables. We always encourage you to first seek out your need to satisfy your body’s cry for minerals through food before other alternative forms of salt are considered. This is not to say that you can’t still enjoy salt; we all just have to make sure we are aware of how much we are consuming.

On top of the over consumption of salt, people who suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure) tend to have an improper balance of salt/potassium ratio. By this reason, those who are trying to bring down their blood pressure, consuming less salt as a first step is certainly beneficial; however, if you want to maximize the healing process, it is wise to infuse your diet with more potassium rich foods such as prunes, apricots, bananas, avocados and the like. It is recognized in certain circles that if one has too much salt in their diet they will have large bags under their eyes. On the other side of the spectrum however, if one has too much potassium, they will develop dark circles under their eyes. In assessing your situation, make sure to always observe your body.

   Bad Salt

“Bad salt”, as previously noted, can wreck havoc on one’s body. Salt in any isolated form such as the conventional table salt or rock salt which has been heavily processed / treated, has been stripped of all its vital nutrients. As a result, our body’s cannot find any relief in satisfying the demand for nutrients and thus we continue to over consume salty foods that have been processed – resulting in a rather vicious cycle.

                               Himalayan salt

This being said, it is wise to resist the temptation of prepackaged foods as much as we can while seeking out healthier options. If this isn’t feasible, we should always strive to look at the food labels and avoid any products which have sodium or sodium isolates such as MSG listed in them.

People are becoming aware of Monosodium glutamate (MSG), and, as a result, industry has scrambled to find ways around this bad representation. Consequently, many foods still have MSG in them even though it is not listed in the ingredient list. Click here  to find a list of ingredients that disguise themselves under a completely different name altogether.

It is appalling to see the amount of salt being consumed today and it is equally sad to see what it is doing to the population. Incidences of hypertension and other related illnesses are skyrocketing around the globe. Once we have all agreed to come to the realization that the majority of these cases are tied to our diets, only then can we truly “cure” this unfortunate trend through prevention by following a proper diet. When in doubt, listen to your body – as you know yourself better than anyone. Let us not be jaded by conclusions or theories from the objective world. Always look to yourself for the answers; they are always there.

Print Page

Night Eating Syndrome

   By Cathy Leman, MA, RD, LD

If you’re unfamiliar with night eating syndrome (NES), you may question whether it even exists. I know I did. A solid sleeper, I couldn’t imagine heading for the kitchen during the night, let alone actually ingesting food. But I started to hear more about night eating, and then clients striving to lose weight began to share details of their own struggles—only they didn’t call it NES. A bit ashamedly, they shared that they routinely got up to eat during the night, often didn’t remember eating, and had to eat in order to get back to sleep. This called for further investigation. I wanted to find out more about this phenomenon and what, if anything, I could do to help.

   Definition, Prevalence, and Characteristics

NES is characterized by a lack of appetite in the morning, overeating at night, and waking to eat throughout the night.1 Seen as a delay in the circadian rhythm of food intake while retaining a normal sleep-wake cycle, it is defined by two core criteria: the ingestion of at least 25% of daily calories after supper and/or awakening to eat at least three times per week.2 First identified some 50 years ago, yet only recently familiar to healthcare professionals and the public, NES can disrupt lives and damage health.

Experts estimate that 1.1% to 1.5% of the general population, 6% to 16% of patients in weight-reduction programs, and 8% to 42% of bariatric surgery candidates experience NES. The prevalence of NES appears to be similar across genders or is slightly more prevalent in men.3

One of my male clients has an unhealthy lipid profile, including triglycerides in the 800s and a body mass index of 35. At least five nights per week, he falls asleep easily, only to wake one hour later and head to the kitchen for something to eat, unable to get back to sleep until he does so. As the stress in his life has escalated in recent months, so have his NES behaviors.

Alicia* is a young woman in recovery due to an eating disorder. Initially she experienced behaviors that paralleled those of my other NES clients, but she progressed from eating only in the kitchen to keeping food in her room and then ultimately to stashing food next to her on her twin bed. When she woke up, she would eat in an almost dreamlike state until she fell back to sleep.

   Possible Causes

Single photon emission computed tomography has shown significant elevation of serotonin transporters in the midbrain of night eaters. Elevations in serotonin transporter levels lead to decreased postsynaptic serotonin transmission and should impair circadian rhythms and satiety.3 While elevated serotonin transporters contribute to the brain chemistry component, depression, anxiety, hostility, and stress are strongly implicated in NES. These negative emotions, merged with the guilt and embarrassment associated with such unconventional eating patterns, form a perfect psychological storm that exacerbates the problem.

Which comes first: psychological issues that trigger this disordered eating pattern or disordered eating patterns that trigger depression and anxiety? According to Overcoming Night Eating Syndrome: A Step-by-Step Guide to Breaking the Cycle, many people report that their night eating began during a period of stress. Though Alicia was never “officially diagnosed” with NES, through eating disorder counseling, she learned that her night eating behaviors were linked to her high anxiety and the comfort she received from eating.

For others, the cause may not be clear. Research suggests that heredity may offer a clue, so recommending that clients delve into their family history may afford surprising insights. Additionally, an imbalance in the hormonal relationship that regulates sleep and stress levels may also affect patterns of eating and sleeping.2

   Identification and Recognition

NES is not always recognized by health professionals, is still relatively new to healthcare providers within all disciplines, and is often overlooked. The May/June 2009 issue of the European Eating Disorders Review highlights a study in which patients reported low recognition and high levels of dismissal of NES by their doctors. Frequently, the signs and symptoms may be mistaken for other conditions or identified simply as bad habits.

The 14-item Night Eating Questionnaire is a reliable method for identifying NES. Remember that not every night eater has all of the signs of NES. For clients whom you suspect may be experiencing the syndrome, the questionnaire can help them initiate a discussion with a physician or therapist and serves as validation of their concerns. Additionally, a study published in the January 2008 issue of Eating Behaviors found the Night Eating Questionnaire to be an efficient, valid measure of NES severity.


Just as night eating is recognizable, it is also treatable.4 Alicia’s RD/therapist team first worked to get the food out of her room and then to decrease the number of calories she consumed when she did experience a night eating episode. Alicia no longer struggles with NES. “Now, whenever I wake up in the middle of the night, I never even think about eating,” she says.

But not every individual with NES is as fortunate. The European Eating Disorders Review study also reports that most patients (61% of the 103 polled) were “not at all satisfied” with their doctor’s treatment of NES.

Once NES has been identified, there are a variety of treatment methodologies available. Encouraging the client to increase physical activity and follow a consistent exercise program, maintain a food diary, and keep records of bedtimes, awakening times, and thoughts about night eating is a good first step. A sleep study can also help identify other disruptive sleep conditions, such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, snoring, or night terrors. Counseling or psychotherapy that employs therapeutic approaches such as cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, or psychodynamic therapy may be critical for clients with high levels of stress, depression, or anxiety.1,5

Research on the benefit of medications for NES is in its early stages; however, encouraging studies support the use of sertraline (Zoloft), a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, as a well-tolerated drug that offers effective treatment.6

   Providing Affirmation, Guidance, and Help

Nutrition professionals routinely screen for nighttime snacking but may not consider overnight eating. For clients who are struggling but embarrassed to mention the behavior, your identification and affirmation of NES can be liberating. For bewildered clients who awaken to remnants of food and empty containers, the discussion can provide relief; they’ll appreciate your insight and helpful suggestions.

If the Night Eating Questionnaire results suggest the presence of NES, discuss the previously described methodologies with your client. Consult Nutrition professionals routinely screen for nighttime snacking but may not consider overnight eating. For clients who are struggling but embarrassed to mention the behavior, your identification and affirmation of NES can be liberating. For bewildered clients who awaken to remnants of food and empty containers, the discussion can provide relief; they’ll appreciate your insight and helpful suggestions.

If the Night Eating Questionnaire results suggest the presence of NES, discuss the previously described methodologies with your client. Consult Overcoming Night Eating Syndrome for journaling exercises and guidance in working with therapists, as well as engaging the help of roommates and family members.

— Cathy Leman, MA, RD, LD, is a nutrition therapist, freelance writer, speaker, and nutrition consultant. She is the author of two booklets, Nutrition at Work and Eat Healthy, Live Healthy, and her passion is teaching people how to balance food and fitness for life.

Name changed to protect identity


1. Allison KC, Stunkard AJ, Thier SL. Overcoming Night Eating Syndrome: A Step-By-Step Guide to Breaking the CycleOakland, Calif.: New Harbinger Publications; 2004.

2. Goel N, Stunkard AJ, Rogers NL, et al. Circadian rhythm profiles in women with night eating syndrome. J Biol Rhythms. 2009;24(1):85-94.

3. Stunkard AJ, Allison KC, Lundgren J. Issues for DSM-V: Night eating syndrome. Am J Psychiatry. 2008;165(4):424.

4. Allison KC, Stunkard AJ. Treatment of night eating syndrome. In: CM Grilo, JE Mitchell, eds. Treatment of Eating Disorders. New York: Guilford; in press.

5. Allison KC, Stunkard AJ. Self-help for night eating syndrome. In: Latner JD, Wilson GT, eds. Self-Help Approaches for Obesity and Eating Disorders: Research and Practice. New York: Guilford Press; 2007: 310-324.

6. O'Reardon JP, Allison KC, Martino NS, et al. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of sertraline in the treatment of night eating syndrome. Am J Psychiatry. Am J Psychiatry

Print Page

Fish Oil - Miracle Cure

Fish oil has been touted as the latest breakthrough supplement that contributes to latitude of health benefits. It has gained popularity among cardiologists, athletes and the everyday person. There are varying degrees of evidence to back up the many claims made about fish oil and while the jury is still out on some of the claims, there are many benefits to supplementing with fish oil.

It is important to understand how fish oil produces its effects. The main benefit is the high omega-3 content derived from the fish oil. More specifically, Docosa Hexanoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosa Pentanoic Acid (EPA) are two key omega-3 fatty acids that produce anti-inflammatory effects in our bodies, while omega 6 fatty acids produce pro-inflammatory effects. The reason omega-3 supplementation may be effective is the high content of omega-6 in the Standard North American Diet (19). The ideal ratio is approximately 1:1 and 1:3 of omega 3-to omega-6, whilst the average North American has a ratio closer to 1:21! (19). One mistake many people make is supplementing with flaxseeds. Flaxseeds have a high content of omega 3 fatty acids; unfortunately only about 5% of the omega 3 fatty acids in flaxseeds get converted to the usable form of DHA and EPA.

Inflammation has recently been suspected to be a culprit in the current rise of chronic diseases and dysfunctions such as CVD, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and obesity. Reducing inflammation to appropriate levels is essential to maintain optimal health; the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil may be a key factor in reducing inflammation.

Some of the health benefits include:

   Heart Health

Because there is a strong correlation between omega-3 and decreased risk of CVD, it is being considered as a diagnostic test. Inflammation is a major factor in CVD, and omega-3 fatty acids are believed to change the environment in the endothelium (artery walls) to decrease the inflammation.

   Hypertension and Ischemic stroke

Australian research states that omega-3 supplementation may reduce blood pressure. DHA was reported to be the biggest contributor to this effect. The study showed that the risk of ischemic stroke was reduced, which may be attributed to the decrease in hypertension as well as the improved elasticity of the arterial membrane.

   Healthy Lipid Profile

In research studies, sufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids showed an improved blood lipid profile in test subjects, decreased triglyceride levels, increased HDL and decreased LDL. It has been suggested the omega-3′s speed up the rate at which your body clears the “bad” lipids and improves the ratio of LDL to HDL in a favourable manner.

   Brain Function

Omega-3′s may increase brain development in childhood as well as contribute to brain function in adulthood. The deficiency of DHA and EPA may also be a factor in cognitive impairment. Omega-3′s may also play a significant role in preventing and treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson Disease.


   Autoimmune and Arthritis

Omega-3 rich fish oil was found to be highly effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis while simultaneously reducing the need for arthritis medication. Other studies also reveal promising results for other autoimmune-related disease treatments using fish oil.

   Weight loss

In a study involving overweight women, it was found that omega-3′s may be beneficial as a weight loss aid by increasing post-prandial satiety. The subjects reported feeling full with a lower food intake compared to the control group. Another study found improved body composition in young males supplementing with fish oil.

   Ok I get it, so how much should I take?

The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends getting fish oil through the consumption of fish. In theory, this is a great idea; in practical terms it is’ not always possible. Salmonids (salmon, rainbow trout, etc.) and other cold-water fish (cod, sardines, etc.) do have a high yield of EPA/DHA, but are also very commonly farmed and usually fed a diet high in soy as well as genetically modified corn (both high in omega-6 as well as containing other toxins). This nullifies the beneficial effects of fish oil through consumption of fish. Using high quality fish oil from a reputable company helps circumvent this potential problem.

The recommended dose of omega-3 intake is set at 0.7g daily for healthy individuals and 1g daily for individuals at risk of CVD. This translates to 2-3 grams per day of a high quality fish oil supplement. These dosages are considered acceptable, but may be far from optimal. Robb Wolf, author of “Paleo Solution” recommends 2-4 grams of EPA/DHA per day or 6-12 grams of a fish oil supplement per day. However, it isn’t recommended to begin taking 12 grams of fish oil capsules immediately. Fish oil tends to cause fishy belches as well as diarrhea when taken in high doses. However, beginning with a lower dose with meals and slowly increasing the dosage should decrease these side effects. More importantly, do not forget that it is the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 that most important, not the total fish oil intake. If your diet consists of foods with low quality fats that are filled with omega 6 fatty acids, you will most likely require more fish oil. However, if your diet is devoid of omega 6 fatty acids, you will most likely require less. It is best to consult your physician for testing to determine your dosage.

   What are some trusted sources? What about mercury?

Reputable brands are generally better quality and the EPA and DHA content should be sufficient. Brands such as Carlson, Natrasea, and Progressive are considered reliable sources. However, it is best to avoid low quality products because they often use inferior oils as well as residual products left behind by the manufacturing process.

A 2006 ConsumerLab evaluation of 42 commercially available fish oil supplements found that all were free of mercury, PCBs and dioxins.

   Who shouldn’t take fish oil?

Fish oil is contraindicated for individuals suffering from haemophilia or who take blood thinners. Consuming more than recommended dosages of Omega-3 fish oil may lead to symptoms such as gastrointestinal problems, aching joints, and bleeding gums.

   Personal experience

Though fish oil has not prevented a major medical illness in my life, I do find it to be very beneficial when I am under a lot of physical stress. Fish oil and Vitamin D (with K2) are the two supplements that I always travel with. Unless you live in Alaska and eat fresh fish daily, there is a good chance that you can benefit greatly from supplementing with fish oil in your diet.

Print Page
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...