What Salt Should I Eat on a Keto Diet?

At Konscious Keto, we realize that too many of us have been trained to fear salt—just as much as we have been trained to fear fat.

We all know by now that fat is not the problem. So, could the same be said for salt?

Those who face a high risk of cardiovascular disease are often recommended by their doctors to drastically lower the sodium in their diet.

The American Heart Association (AHA) concurs with that recommendation, but for the whole population. They say you should only be consuming 2,300 mg, which is a little over half a teaspoon of salt per day.

Think about rationing out your salt to just half a teaspoon between seasoning your morning’s scrambled eggs to your evening’s grass-fed steak. It sure doesn’t give you much wiggle room, does it?

Then again, the AHA also strongly recommends a low-fat diet (especially one with very few saturated fats, so you can already guess how they feel about coconut). So, maybe we shouldn’t be basing all of our eating habits on what they say.

Instead, we prefer to look to more updated research on salt, especially as it pertains to the keto diet and our overall health.

What we’ve found is that salt is not our enemy. Sodium is an essential mineral that’s crucial for many different functions in the body. It’s an electrolyte that regulates water levels, balances blood pressure, and helps cells transmit nerve signals.

This leaves us asking, are you getting enough salt on your keto diet?

Let's dig into the significant role of salt in our bodies, why you might not be getting enough of it, and how to get the right portion of salt to get your body into top form.

Why Should You Eat Salt on a Keto Diet?

Staying hydrated with plenty of water is one of the most important things to remember when following a keto diet.

But many of us forget how crucial salt is to that hydration. It is an electrolyte, after all.

So, here’s the deal. Once you begin cutting carbs, your body will react nearly immediately. It will start to produce a lower amount of insulin and as a result, use its water and minerals differently.

The point of the keto diet is to reduce your carbs enough to deplete your body’s glycogen stores. From there, your insulin levels drop and ketosis will start to kick in. With less insulin, your kidneys are triggered to excrete any excess water your body was using for carbohydrates.

At this point, you’ll be expelling more water than usual, as well as the minerals it holds—a major one being sodium.

This is why you may notice a drop in bloating when you first start to cut those carbs. It’s also why you’ll see a drop on the scale, too. Just remember that this is mostly water weight you’re losing (the fat loss will come soon enough, though!).

But you need to replenish all that water loss, as well as the sodium, or you’ll end up dehydrated. Dehydration comes with a wealth of unpleasant side effects, including fatigue and headaches.

Over time, chronic dehydration can severely impact your health. It’s been linked to kidney stones, hypertension (high blood pressure), and other urinary and kidney infections.

In fact, dehydration could be the reason you’ve struggled with a low-carb or keto diet before. Not replacing your electrolytes, especially sodium, is one of the biggest mistakes keto dieters make. And it’s such a simple thing to correct.

Drink more water and up your salt intake, too. This one tip will help you go far on your keto diet.

Signs You Are Low on Salts

Hyponatremia means low sodium in the blood, and it can be easier to get to this level than you think.

For one, it can be caused by drinking too much water. Any water you’re drinking also needs to be balanced by a proper amount of salts.

Fortunately, your body is pretty good at giving you some noticeable signs that you may be low in salts, including:

  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Weakness
  • Restlessness
  • Feeling shaky or dizzy
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps or spasms
  • Irritability

For those just starting a keto diet, low salt intake can contribute to the infamous “keto flu,” which can kick in even just a few days into the diet.

You can also easily check your hydration levels by simply checking your urine color. Ideally, it should be pale yellow, not clear. Clear urine is a sign that you’ve had too much water and are low on sodium.

Also, if you’re an athlete or live in an especially hot environment, you have to be extra careful that you aren’t losing too much sodium through your sweat.

The Downsides to a Low-Salt Diet

Many healthcare professionals will refer to one of the many studies that show that eating less sodium can help lower blood pressure in those who have high blood pressure.

But these results mostly show modest effects. They also ignore several other studies that highlight low-salt diets actually offer no benefits, and may even increase your risk of heart disease.

Consuming too little salt can also trigger some other health problems too, including:

  • Hormonal Dysregulation: Low sodium levels can cause hormonal imbalances and vice versa. Research has shown that a low-salt diet can have a strong effect on the hormones associated with metabolism and cardiovascular function. Hormonal imbalances can come with a wealth of other problems, including weight gain, fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain, depression, and more.
  • Adrenal Fatigue: Salt also plays an important role in the function of your adrenal glands. If you keep reducing your sodium intake, it will only put more stress on your adrenals. Those with adrenal fatigue often crave salt for this reason.
  • Insulin Resistance: Some studies have found that a low-salt diet can actually increase insulin resistance by upwards of 20%. Insulin resistance is one of the major contributors to type 2 diabetes. While a well-balanced keto diet can combat insulin resistance, it may not be as effective if you’re not getting enough salt.

With all this in mind, simply lowering your salt intake probably won’t be all that beneficial to your health, especially when you’re already following a keto diet.

If anything, you’ll want to add more salt which, thankfully, can help give your meals a whole lot more flavor.

How Much Salt Should You Eat?

So, salt may not be as bad as we all initially thought, but is there still a limit to how much you should consume?

Short answer: yes. But this isn’t as clear as doctors would have you believe. Both too little and too much sodium can be harmful.

From the research currently available, the AHA’s maximum level of 2,300 mg per day seems too restrictive, especially if you’re following a keto diet and regularly exercising.

A more optimal range may be around 3,000 - 5,000 mg per day, which falls into the amount most Americans already get. This is about 1.5 - 2.5 teaspoons of sea salt or 1.75 - 3 teaspoons of pink Himalayan salt, both which have less sodium than regular table salt.

If you’re following a keto diet that focuses on high-quality whole foods (we recommend the keto diet with a paleo outlook), you’re likely already consuming way less sodium than the average American. To make sure you’re getting enough, simply start salting your food to taste with a high-quality salt (see our recommendations for the best types below).

If you’re showing any signs of dehydration or experience any adrenal issues, you may want to add ½ - 1 teaspoon of sea salt to a glass of water.

Also try a glass of zero-carb sparkling water, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and a dash of natural sea salt.

Along with adding more sea salt to your water and keto snacks and meals, you can also up your sodium intake with bone broths and salty snacks like pickles and salted nuts.

The Quality of Your Salt Matters

Of course, the higher quality your keto diet is, the better you’ll feel. And this goes all the way down to the salt you flavor your meals with.

Toss out the refined table salt. It is highly processed (which eliminates some of the salt’s valuable minerals) and often contains anti-caking agents like sodium aluminosilicate or magnesium carbonate.

Instead, choose natural sea salts and pink salts that are rich in several minerals. These can easily be found at most major grocery chains, health-food stores, or online.

Pink Himalayan Salt

We recommend having a high-quality pink Himalayan salt always on hand. This pastel-hued rock salt is carefully hand-mined from the Punjab region of Pakistan, near the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains.

Pink Himalayan salt is mainly sodium chloride. The pink tint is due to the other 80 or so trace minerals it holds, including potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc.

While there’s a rather small amount of these trace minerals (only about 2%), they can still give you a slight boost of extra nutrients. They also give the salt a nice, well-bodied taste that can really take your favorite keto meal to the next level.

Natural Sea Salts

There are several other high-quality salts available as well, including Celtic Sea Salt, Hawaiian Sea Salt, and Italian Sea Salt (from the Mediterranean).

All of these pack in extra trace minerals, too, and each will add a slightly different flavor to whatever you salt.

If you’re concerned with using a salt that’s more sustainable and eco-friendly, consider searching for sea salts that are more locally harvested. The Himalayas are pretty far away for most of us, after all.

Your Sodium Levels Also Impact Your Potassium Levels

Just like everything else in our bodies, when you change one thing, something else will surely be affected.

When your keto diet starts to deplete your salts, not only does your sodium level go down, but so does your potassium.

Sodium and potassium work together in an interesting way. In fact, potassium may actually be more important than sodium when it comes to keeping your blood pressure down.

Doctors have long advocated for decreasing your sodium to lower your blood pressure. But recent research shows that increasing your potassium intake may actually be far more effective.

This is something to take note because it’s estimated that about 98% of Americans don’t get enough potassium—and there’s a good chance you could be one of them!

Potassium deficiency (otherwise known as hypokalemia) will lead to symptoms including:

  • Weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Constipation
  • Irritability
  • Skin problems

Serious potassium deficiency can even affect the heart.

So, along with focusing on getting enough sodium, you also want to make sure you’re getting enough potassium. The recommended minimum adequate intake is 4,700 mg per day. Eating plenty of plant-based foods is your best bet for reaching that goal.

To get some perspective on that number, that would be the equivalent of about 10 medium bananas. Of course, bananas are not quite keto-friendly. Fortunately, there are many other ways to get your day’s worth of potassium.

Certain types of sea salts contain some potassium, and there are also specific potassium salt substitutes.

But if you prefer to get your minerals mostly from foods, these are some of your best high-potassium options (hint: load up on your leafy greens!):

  • Beet greens (1 cup cooked = 1,309 mg)
  • Wild salmon (6 oz = 1,067 mg)
  • Avocado (1 avocado = 975 mg)
  • Swiss chard (1 cup cooked = 961 mg)
  • Spinach (1 cup cooked = 839 mg)
  • Pork chops (6 oz = 728 mg)
  • Bok choy (1 cup cooked = 631 mg)
  • Coconut water (you’ll need to watch the carbs here, but 1 cup (or 240 ml) = 600 mg)
  • White button mushrooms (1 cup cooked = 555 mg)
  • Hemp seeds (1 oz = 341 mg)
  • Pistachios (1 oz = 286 mg)

Overall, a well-rounded, greens-filled, slightly-salted diet will likely get you to the levels of both sodium and potassium that are best for you.

Biggest Takeaway: Don’t Fear Salt When You’re on a Keto Diet

Even if you feel you’re doing everything right on your keto diet, you could be forgetting a small but very significant ingredient: salt.

As your body kicks into ketosis, your kidneys are going to expel much more water and salt than usual. You need to replenish both to avoid symptoms like fatigue, weakness, headaches, muscle cramps, and the keto flu.

As for now, the verdict on how much salt is the ideal amount is still up for debate, but don’t stress over it too much.

If your keto diet is rich in high-quality whole foods—especially high-potassium vegetables—and you stay plenty hydrated, you likely have nothing to worry about when it comes to your sodium levels.

In fact, feel free to use salt the way it’s meant to be used—as the perfect keto-friendly flavor enhancer.

Studies

Clark, L., J., Rech, Leslie, Jyoti, Taylor, . . . Michel. (2014, December 16). Possible deleterious hormonal changes associated with low-sodium diets. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article-abstract/73/1/22/1806140?redirectedFrom=PDF

Dehydration. (2018, February 15). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/symptoms-causes/syc-20354086

Garg, R., Williams, G. H., Hurwitz, S., Brown, N. J., Hopkins, P. N., & Adler, G. K. (2011). Low-salt diet increases insulin resistance in healthy subjects. Metabolism,60(7), 965-968. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2010.09.005. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3036792/

Graudal, N. A., Hubeck-Graudal, T., & Jurgens, G. (2017, April 09). Effects of low sodium diet versus high sodium diet on blood pressure, renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterol, and triglyceride. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28391629

Hilliard, L. M., Colafella, K. M., Bulmer, L. L., Puelles, V. G., Singh, R. R., Ow, C. P., Denton, K. M. (2016, September 22). Chronic recurrent dehydration associated with periodic water intake exacerbates hypertension and promotes renal damage in male spontaneously hypertensive rats. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/srep33855

Houston, M. C. (2011). The Importance of Potassium in Managing Hypertension. Current Hypertension Reports,13(4), 309-317. doi:10.1007/s11906-011-0197-8. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21403995

Hurley, S. W., & Johnson, A. K. (2015). The biopsychology of salt hunger and sodium deficiency. Pflügers Archiv - European Journal of Physiology,467(3), 445-456. doi:10.1007/s00424-014-1676-y. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4433288/

O’Donnell, M., Mente, A., & Yusuf, S. (2015). Sodium Intake and Cardiovascular Health. Circulation Research,116(6), 1046-1057. doi:10.1161/circresaha.116.303771. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25767289

Recommended Dietary Pattern to Achieve Adherence to the American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology (AHA/ACC) Guidelines: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000462

Taylor, R. S., Ashton, K. E., Moxham, T., Hooper, L., & Ebrahim, S. (2011, August). Reduced dietary salt for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (Cochrane review). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21731062

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