Carb Wars; Sugar is the New…SALT!

For years, we’ve been told that too much salt causes high blood pressure, a condition affecting roughly one-third of Americans. The government is even talking about requiring food manufacturers and restaurants to cut down on salt in their products. Many companies are doing so voluntarily and will no doubt be trumpeting the low-sodium message to customers in their advertising campaigns.

One of the benefits of a low-carb diet is that it effectively reduces blood pressure for most people, making salt reduction unnecessary. In fact, some low-carb experts warn that it is possible for individuals to experience adverse reactions if sodium levels fall too low and that some people will actually need supplemental salt when eating 50 grams of carbohydrate or less per day.

Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades say that if you feel light-headed or dizzy after starting a low-carb regimen, you may need more salt. They suggest adding more salt to your food or eating half a dill pickle twice a day. (Dr. Eades drinks dill pickle juice in order to supplement his salt intake. There is a picture of him drinking from his dedicated pickle jar on his blog at:

Dr. Mary C. Vernon tells her patients that if they experience dizziness or feel ill before they are fully adapted to a low-carb diet, they should add ½ teaspoonful of salt daily. She explained to me that typical high-carb diets cause water retention, but when the body switches from burning sugar to burning fat, stored sugar is released and retained water and minerals are lost with it, which can result in ion imbalances. In The New Atkins for a New You the authors say that this imbalance is also the reason most people feel terrible during the two-week induction phase on Atkins, a side effect often called the “Atkins flu”. (I wish I had known back in 2000 that all I needed was an extra ½ teaspoon of salt!)

Of course, if you try to tell the average Joe that it is excess carbohydrate that causes hypertension, you can expect to be dismissed with the usual eye roll. At last, here is a study that we can point to that offers evidence that it is sugar, not salt, that is to blame. Granted, it is an epidemiological study, the kind that shows a correlation rather than proving causation, but it is convincing.

The researchers analyzed data collected from 4,528 Americans who were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2003 to 2006, who had no history of hypertension. They reported that those who consumed 74 grams or more of added sugar a day were 77% more likely to have a blood pressure reading of 160/100, the level at which doctors generally prescribe medication. Seventy-four grams of sugar is equal to 18.5 teaspoons, the amount in 2½ sodas.

Note that the study tallied only “added” sugar and didn’t count the sugar in fruit and other foods or the correlation would have been much more dramatic. (Why would it make a difference whether the sugar comes from fruit or from corn?) The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. The current USDA guidelines recommend 300 grams of total carbohydrate daily, which equals 75 teaspoons of sugar or 1.56 cups. The national average comes closer to 500 grams, that’s 125 teaspoons or 2.6 cups of sugar. This study focused on fructose and soft drinks as the culprit, which doesn’t tell the whole story, but it’s a start.

The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health. You can find it here:

(C) 2010, Judy Barnes Baker,
Carb Wars; Sugar is the New Fat

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Judy Barnes Baker

The working title for my first book was, “You’ll Never Know What You Are Missing.” It summed up my goal: to make eating for health synonymous with eating for pleasure. Once you discover the secret, you will find that the very best food for weight management, longevity, the treatment and prevention of disease, and over-all health and happiness is also the most sumptuous, satisfying, and indulgent way of eating the world has to offer. You are invited to the feast. Enjoy!
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13 years ago

Interesting stuff. I already understood that only around 1/3 of hypertensives were sodium sensitive and the rest did better by increasing potassium.

This may explain why my BP dropped like a stone on low carb, I assumed it was the reduced level of insulin and larger reduction on insulin resistance.

Now it's sneaking up again five years later, maybe I should try dropping the potassium and upping the sodium.

Ed Terry
13 years ago

I've been restricting sodium intake for over 13 years. However, after moving to a low carb diet, I developed a sodium deficiency. It was in July, where I typcially spend 6 to 7 hours per week walking my dogs.

I was weighing myself every day and all of a sudden I started to gain one pound every day for 5 days. In addition, I experienced palpitations. I went to my pharmacology textbook and found that when the body experiences severe sodium depletion, it starts to secret antidiruetic hormone in an attempt to stop the loss of any more sodium. However, it causes fluid accumulation in the interstitial spaces in the body which causes the body to swell.

The cure was simply adding sea salt to my food. I list the 5 pounds of water in 5 days.

I now have to remind myself to add salt to my food in hot weather. This is one downside to eating whole foods in the summer if you're active.

13 years ago

That is very interesting. Thanks!