Should salt be included in a Zero Carb diet?
The subject of salt is a bit complex.
On the one hand, Owsley “The Bear” Stanley – who ate a Zero Carb diet for over 50 years – felt that salt should be avoided. Here are some of his comments regarding salt that he posted on a now-defunct low carbhydrate internet forum he participated in during 2006:
“I don’t use salt.”
“Salt is not good for a fat burner.”
“Salt is not good in your food, it is a chemical and will damage your skin and your kidneys over time. It also interferes with fat metabolism.”
“When I was a dancer, I used no salt in anything. I drank huge amounts of plain water during class and never had a bit of problem, whereas the other dancers scarfed salt tablets like candy and still had problems.”
“I sometimes sweat so proficiently that I need to drink 3 or four liters of water in less than an hour. I have no effects of low salt, and my sweat is never salty. I used to watch the other kids in ballet class scarfing slat tabs, while I just drank water. My shirt was very wet, but dried out normal, while theirs were rimed with a heavy white salt crust – indicating that the massive excess of alt was simply being dumped. If they did not eat the salt tabs when drinking water, they fainted.”
“Adding salt to food is not good. If you eat nothing but steaks you will never have any deficiencies.”
“It only takes about one ounce of any meat/day to supply all the sodium your body requires for normal saline balance.”
“Salt is an addiction. It is culturally induced by the need to add some salt for flavor in vegetables.”
“When I gave up salt, the only food that I ate which seemed to need salt was eggs, but after a few years this passed. Unsalted butter made the difference – without that added fat eggs are definitely very bland.”
“Take care to only buy and use unsalted butter. Salt in butter is there as a preservative, thus the level is very high. Unsalted butter is a bit more expensive because only very fresh cream can be used to make it, whereas soured cream – neutralized with soda – is used to make regular butter that is then preserved with salt.”
“Taking in more salt than you body needs is very, very bad for you. If your sweat tastes salty, you have too much intake. Both the skin and the kidneys dump salt, but cannot ‘change gears’ quickly. Both organs are affected by passing salt. The salt content of sweat and urine can go down to a few parts per million, to conserve the saline balance of the bodies tissues.”
“If addicted to salt – just like with any other addiction – when you stop using, you will experience side effects, such as everything suddenly seeming tasteless and bland. If you persist, salt becomes vile-tasting, and food without salt very tasty. It takes several days for your body to stop dumping salt through the skin and kidneys and begin conserving it, so when quitting, be aware of your salt balance. You may experience light headedness and the other classic signs of low sodium, if necessary take a tiny pinch, but try to stop all salt as quickly as you can tolerate it. I consider it a chemical poison.”
“Human commerce in salt began with the use of vegetation as a major item of human food. Only herbivorous animals will seek out and consume salt – because sodium is lacking in all terrestrial plant tissues. Carnivores do not need any salt. Your taste for salt on meat is learned behavior only.”
“Chemical salt should always be avoided, it interferes with fat metabolism when the body carries an excess. If you are getting too much, your sweat will taste salty. It takes about a week for the body to stop spilling salt in the urine and sweat.”
It should be observed, however, that in spite of Mr. Owsley’s strong anti-salt stance, he did eat a few ounces of salt-containing cheese almost every day (based on the comments he made in the above mentioned forum). Therefore, it is questionable whether his own personal experience can actually be taken as an example of practicing a Zero Carb diet with Zero Salt.
Nevertheless, many of the long-time practitioners of Zero Carb eating -whom I have met through the Facebook group Zeroing in on Health – have stated that they also do not consume any salt. This is not universally true, but it is the case for a significant percentage of them. The health and well-being of those who do not add salt to their food does not seem to be negatively affected by the absence of salt in their diet. Likewise, the health and well-being of those who have continued to include salt in their Zero Carb diet also does not seem to have been negatively affected. Some have even stated that they can take it or leave it with out ill effect.
On the other hand, Dr. Stephen Phinney and Dr. Jeff Volek have argued that eating a low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet increases an individual’s need for sodium. Here are two excerpts from their seminal books which explain the science supporting their recommendations:
“Whole books have been written about the history of salt. Wars were fought over access to salt. Roman soldiers were often paid with a measure of salt, hence the origin of the English word ‘salary’. Hunters and their prey, herders and their cattle, all shaped their actions and habits around access to salt. The reason, of course, is that salt (sodium) is necessary for life.”
“Humans did not need to know chemistry to understand the value of salt. Salt deprivation leads to lightheadedness, fatigue, headache, and malaise. Aboriginal cultures could figure out that if they drank from one spring, they began to feel lousy, but if they drank from that other one, they’d feel OK. The Inuit knew which ice to melt for water to boil their meat. Sea ice loses its salt content with age. Fresh ice had too much salt, fresh snow had none, whereas older sea ice was just right.”
“Inland hunters followed their prey to salt licks and salt springs. These waters were prized for cooking, and some cultures learned to dry these waters to make dry salt. But the universal dependable source of salt for inland hunters and herders alike was blood. Blood was collected from freshly killed animals using the emptied stomach as a container, whether from a bison on the Great Plains or from caribou or muskox on the tundra. A liter of whole blood contains about 2 grams of sodium, so 500 ml per day would ward off acute symptoms of salt depletion.”
“Among the Masai living in hot inland Kenya, the consumption of blood was a staple of their culture (along with meat and milk). Even in the 1920’s, long after British trade had provided them access to dry salt, the Masai still bled their cattle to provide each hunter with a token 50 ml of blood per day. Given another century of perspective, perhaps the pejorative phrase misrepresenting many aboriginal cultures as ‘bloodthirsty savages’ might better be replaced by the phrase ‘bloodthirsty savants’.”
“The amount of carbohydrate in our diet changes our need for salt. High carbohydrate diets make the kidneys retain salt, whereas a low carbohydrate intake increases sodium excretion by the kidney (called ‘the natriuresis of fasting’). Hunting cultures seemed to understand this, and thus their highly evolved practices of finding sodium and consuming enough of it to maintain health and well-being…”
“…all carbohydrate-restricted diets, even ones providing 50-60 grams of carbohydrate like Dr. Hoffer’s mixed diet, are natriuretic – they make the kidneys dump sodium. Now, if you are bloated, edematous, or hypertensive, ‘dumping sodium’ is a good thing. But if you do not (or no longer) have these fluid-excess symptoms, then over-excretion of sodium results in the above list of symptoms.”
“And more worrisome, it can have negative health effects as well. Sodium is the positively charged ion that the body uses in its circulating fluid (serum and extracellular fluid) to balance the concentration of positive charges from potassium that is concentrated inside cells. The membrane enzyme sodium-potassium ATPase is the ion pump that keeps both of these cations separated and in the right place”.
“For nerves, muscles, and other cellular functions to work right, neither of these ion concentrations can deviate much from that of the other. With severe sodium restriction (like 1.3 grams per day, combined with the natriuretic effects of carbohydrate restriction), the body responds first by mobilizing any excess extracellular fluid (which is why bloating disappears) and then by contracting its circulating volume. It is this contracted circulating volume that causes dizziness, headache, and ease of fatigue.”
“At some point, when confronted with this low sodium intake plus carbohydrate restriction, most people’s defense mechanisms can’t maintain normal mineral balances. So the body’s next level of defense is for the adrenal gland to secrete the hormone aldosterone, which makes kidney tubular cells excrete potassium in order to conserve sodium. That is, the body wastes some of its intracellular potassium in order to cling to whatever sodium it can. However unless there is copious potassium coming in from the diet, this excess urinary potassium comes from the body’s potassium pool inside cells.”
“Two things then happen. First, nerve and muscle cells don’t work well, leading to cardiac dysrhythmias and muscle cramps. Second, because potassium is an obligate component of lean tissue, the body starts losing muscle even if there’s plenty of protein in the diet. Clearly none of these effects of sodium restriction are desirable, particularly when one is trying to lose body fat while retaining as much lean tissue as possible. Luckily, if in the context of a low carbohydrate diet you give the subject/patient a total of 5 grams of sodium per day (for example 2-3 grams on their food and 2 grams as broth/bouillon), none of these bad things happen.”
From: The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living
“Most athletes sweat, and sweat contains salt. Both sweat and blood taste ‘salty’, because both contain an appreciable amount sodium. The only place inside your body where you find much sodium is in the blood, so if you run short of it, there’s not much ‘on reserve’ elsewhere in the body. Thus, if you don’t have enough sodium, your circulation (aka circulating blood volume) has to shrink. Sweat too much and your body runs short of sodium, and this forces it to shrink your blood volume to keep serum sodium concentration in the normal range. Shrink your circulating volume too much and you pass out.”
“Thus salt is a critically important nutrient for athletes, and this is especially true on a low carbohydrate diet. When carbohydrates are restricted the body changes from retaining both water and salt to discarding them. Because of this fundamental shift in mineral management, it’s not uncommon for people to lose 4-5 pounds of water weight during the first week of a low carbohydrate diet. Typically, only half of that first week’s weight loss is from fat and the other half is due to salt loss along with its associated water. If some of that salt is not replaced, however, blood flow may be impaired and the body over-reacts in its quest for salt. This primarily happens in the kidneys, which try to compensate by wasting potassium (i.e., kidney cells give up potassium in exchange for retaining sodium), leading to a negative potassium balance.”
“When carbohydrates are restricted, the body changes from retaining both water and salt to discarding them. Because of this fundamental shift in mineral management, it’s not uncommon for people to lose 4-5 pounds of water weight during the first week of a low carbohydrate diet. Typically, only half of that first week’s weight loss is from fat and the other half is due to salt loss along with its associated water. If some of that salt is not replaced, however, blood flow may be impaired and the body over-reacts in its quest for salt. This primarily happens in the kidneys, which try to compensate by wasting potassium (i.e., kidney cells give up potassium in exchange for retaining sodium), leading to a negative potassium balance.”
“What does all this mean? The loss of water and salt can reduce plasma volume and make you feel sluggish and compromise your ability to perform outdoors in the heat or in the weight room. As a result, some people get headaches and feel faint. This state of salt depletion causes a compensatory loss of potassium, which has a negative impact on muscle mass since potassium is a necessary co-factor in building and maintaining skeletal muscle. The easy solution is to routinely take 1-2 grams of sodium per day in the form of 2 bouillon cubes (or home-made broth).”
From: The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance
When a person first begins a low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet the body dumps a lot of sodium which can make the transition from a carbohydrate-based diet to a fat-based diet very unpleasant (sometimes referred to as the “keto-flu”) if you do not consume enough salt during this process. It can take a few weeks to enter a state of Nutritional Ketosis and become an efficient fat-burner. This is also known as being Keto-Adapted or Fat-Adapted. This adaption period can take several weeks. Once it is complete, however, it it possible that extra salt is not necessary. This learn more about this process please read my article on Adaptation.
Interestingly, there is a case history in The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance of David Dreyfuss – a long-distance runner – who does not consume any extra salt during cold-weather runs and has not experienced any problems with his athletic performance as a result. He says,
“In hot weather I did take some salt, but I do not even use salt in cold weather… Dr. Phinney believes that increased sodium intake may be necessary during a low carb diet. My own experience has been that I can pretty much ignore the issue. I grew up in a low-salt household and still use added salt very sparingly. Outside of exercise and in cool weather, I use no electrolyte supplements. In very hot weather, I have a simple trick which seems to reduce my need for salt replacement: about half the water I use is dumped directly on my clothes. It’s a lot more efficient to use it directly for evaporative cooling than to consume it and then sweat it out again. I follow the usual guidelines of drinking to thirst. I also generally keep track of urine output (i.e., that there is some every few hours) to double check that I’m not dehydrating excessively. Surprisingly, I’ve generally found that my total water consumption (again, anecdotally and not quantitatively) is significantly less now than it used to be. Just training? Nutrition? I don’t know. I have no cramping and no stomach issues. As long as my muscles have adequate reserves, I just don’t experience any problems.”
However, the long term effects on muscle maintenance may become an issue for him as Phinney and Volek have described above. The jury on this still seems to be out and is definitely a worthy area for further research in my opinion.
I personally went for years without eating salt. But after reading Dr. Batmanghelidj’s fascinating book Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, I decided to reintroduce it. Dr. B argues that the body’s cells need sodium in order to maintain proper hydration. In one of his other books, he gives a number of case histories of individuals who had been consuming plenty of water, yet were still dehydrated because they were following a salt-free diet. After adding salt back into their diets, these individuals experienced dramatic health improvements. Therefore, Dr. B recommend adding about 1/8 of a tsp. of sea salt to every quart of water.
I decided tofollow Dr. B’s recommendation and discovered that I also felt better once I started consuming salt again. This may be due to the fact that I have severe Histamine Intolerance. Excess histamines cause low blood pressure, and salt helps to raise blood pressure. At the time I reintroduced salt into my diet, I did not know that I was Histamine Intolerant, so I was still consuming a a lot of high-histamine foods. It is certainly possible that if I can maintain a low-histamine diet for a while, I may reach a point where I do not feel the need for added salt in my diet. It is something I may experiment with in the future.
I personal prefer Celtic sea salt over Himalayan rock salt because it tastes better to me. I never use commercial iodized salt because – not only does it taste terrible – but the type of iodine it contains is not the best form of this mineral. Iodine is very important for over all health, so if you feel you may be deficient it would be better to use a product like Lugol’s solution (and read Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas for more information about iodine and proper thyroid function).
It is highly probably that humans have been seeking out sodium rich foods and salt deposits for as long as we have been human. Many anthropologist feel that humans evolved along coastal areas where sea salt, seaweed, and seafood would have been regularly consumed. There are lots of convincing reasons in support of this perspective and it is the one that I personally find most compelling. If you are interested in exploring this subject further, I recommend the book Nutrition and Evolution by Michael Crawford and David Marsh. This perspective also supports the idea that higher omega 3 fatty acids – EPA and DHA – in the diet where one of the factors that lead to our large brains.
Finally, it has be shown that wild animals – including other primates – seek out food and water sources that are naturally high in sodium. For example, Decaying Wood is a Sodium Source for Mountain Gorillas:
“Like several other non-human primates, mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda consume decaying wood, an interesting but puzzling behaviour. This wood has little obvious nutritional value; it is low in protein and sugar, and high in lignin compared to other foods. We collected pieces of wood eaten and avoided by gorillas, and other foods consumed by gorillas, and measured their sodium content. Wood was substantially higher in sodium than other dietary items, and wood pieces from stumps eaten contained more sodium than those that were avoided. Wood represented only 3.9% of the wet weight food intake of gorillas, but contributed over 95% of dietary sodium, leading us to conclude that decaying wood is an important sodium source for Bwindi gorillas. Because sodium has been leached from the weathered soils characteristic of the subhumid and humid tropics, and because terrestrial plants generally do not require sodium, tropical herbivores, including gorillas, often encounter problems locating the sodium essential for their well-being. Decaying wood is an unexpected sodium source.”
As I stated at the beginning of this article, the issue of sodium is a bit complex. I have tried to examine it from a variety of directions, so that you will have a more complete understanding from which to make a decision. Knowledge is power. The best approach would be to simply experiment for yourself, as the only thing that really matters – after all is said and done – is how YOU personally feel.
very interesting again Esmee, thanks!!!
This makes a lot of sense to me and explains some of my reactions to zero carb. I have been having very small dizzy spells when standing up from my desk in mid afternoon. I have been drinking water like a fiend – about 4 quarts a day- and I still have a dry mouth all the time. I have been craving salt and eating a lot of it, but my fingers are not puffy like I would expect. I wake in the morning with a bit of a headache, which usually goes away after an hour or so, but today it is sticking around. I don’t sleep well, and leg spasms (not exactly a cramp, more like the urge to wiggle) keep me awake.
That said, I also have a lot of energy. I do not have cravings and I feel “sunny,” if that makes sense.
Esmee, would you have any advice?
Kate, it takes about 1 month for the body to become adapted to a low-to-no carbohydrate diet. How long has it been since you reduced/removed carbohydrates from your diet?
Only about 2 weeks.
I would just keep doing what your doing, drink water when thirsty, consume up to a tsp. of sea salt each day, and give it a few more weeks, then reassess.
Have you tried Real Salt? I also used to use Celtic Sea Salt until Real Salt’s comparison (and the lower price of Real Salt) convinced me to switch. I also find it just as tasty. You may also find the comparison interesting: http://www.realsalt.com/sea-salt/comparing-real-salt-to-himalayan-celtic/
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I think any natural mineral salt with all the co-minerals is a good choice.
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I have read directions for making a brine that you add to your water everyday and it is supposed to help hydrate your cells. You add 1 tsp of sea salt to about a qt of water and shake it up and let it sit for 12 hours or more. Then you pour the brine into a clean jar and leave the sediment in the other jar. You can use the sediment for killing unwanted plants. Then you add 1 tablespoon of the brine water to every qt of water that you drink.
For some strange reason I cannot explain salt has never ever in my life been an issue for me. I mean I have followed just about every dietary advice you can find but I never applied it to salt. I seem to have a very well functioning “salt-meter”: sometimes I want it, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I salt my eggs and my meat, sometimes I don’t. It happens that I get up from my desk just to get myself a few grains of coarse sea salt, and then for days and weeks I don’t. I have absolutely no clue on what it depends. I don’t practice any sport, I go for walks with my dogs every day, but usually rather leasure walks, my way of salt intake does not depend on seasons, it’s the same in winter and in summer.
Last but not least, I have been eating salt in the above described way since childhood.
Is there a high iron overload in the carnivore diet because I am worried about meat?
No, definitely not. Iron overload is usually a consequence of familial hemochromatosis.
Is there a study or research on that?
I have never iron overload from an all meat diet during the 5 years I’ve been involved in on-line carnivore communities via Facebook.
Salt is sodium chloride chemically. When eating an all meat diet, I would think you need quite a bit of chlorine to make hydrochloric acid in the stomach to digest the meat eaten. So we also need to consume salt for the chlorine it contains, not just for the sodium.
Hmm. Jeff Volek seems like the smartest guy talking about low carb diets, and yet his approach to salt in that matter seems to be focused on the adapation period – as if one’s body as seen in the adaption period, is what is to be expected permanently. That it won’t adapt in regards to salt and potassium. I’d like to see him produce some data showing the progression in regards to salt retention in people over the period of a entire month or so, as people try a low carb diet. And not just the period immediately following the dietary change.
I agree. That would be a good study.
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Great article, as usual Esmee! I love how you show both sides of the argument as it proves once again that what works for one, will not work for the other. Here is my experience with salt. After 3 years on ketogenic diet, I still have to supplement with 5 grams of sodium per day, if I don`t, I start to get into trouble. Light headed, feel weak, cannot perform on bike as well. I never use any processed, store bought salt. If I eat out at a restaurant, I always bring my own salt.
Thanks for your comment jcyr. I believe that salt is addictive in the sense that when we consume it, our bodies get used to having a lot of extra around and the kidneys eliminate most of it. When we suddenly stop eating salt, the kidneys are still upregulated to eliminate a lot of it. This means they eliminate too much for a few weeks until they get reoriented to the new low salt paradigm. The result is that we experience a variety of unpleasant or negative symptoms like dizziness and fatigue until the kidneys slow down their elimination process. In other words, I believe that stopping salt can be almost as unpleasant as stopping carbohydrates and one must be prepared for their body to go through an adaptation period of feeling suboptimal. And if one does chose to consume salt on a Zero Carb diet, I feel that supplementing with potassium is extremely important, as too much extra sodium will upset the sodium-potassium balance. This is not as critical on a Low Carb diet that includes some plant foods like leafy green which are provide more potassium than a meat-only diet.
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yet another fascinating piece….I have wondered about salt for so long and you answered it. Whenever I would add salt to my food, my stomach would hurt, nose would start running and sneezing the next couple hours. I feel like my heart rate would go up, I would get irritated. I have read that salt eats away/removes the mucus lining of your intestines, which is good mucus too, which isn’t a good thing. Thank you for sharing this, I won’t be every touching salt again, as long as its not being stuffed down my throat :).
this article is great. I read it over and over, some very good information. The one on Owsley The Bear, thats a good one too. I found salt to be a culprit to many of my digestive issues, mental and neurological. I cut the salt out awhile back. Cut the dairy too, which is unfortunate, because lots of dairy has added salt as preservative. I haven’t been able to find any cheese without salt, otherwise I would try it. But if I do dairy, I do unsalted for sure, but that is once in a blue moon.
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Awesome article! I was starting to reconsider my salt consumption after reading the interview with “Owsley the Bear,” but I am glad that I found/read this article as it help me put salt in perspective for me. My preferred read meat is Lamb because it is has the right fat to protein ratio for me and the meat is loaded with minerals. I like to bake my meat on low heat in the oven until light brown and juicy as it releases the myoglobin, which turns from red to a brownish color. It just so happens, that I had cut out salt for a few days after reading “The Bears,” interview and I found myself licking the myoglobin right off the plate after finishing my meat because it was salty. I could a drank a liter of it, that is how bad I wanted it. I too recently found and followed doctor Batman’s advise to increase salt and water intake. Sodium and Potassium have been my main two issues, since I became really ill 5 years ago. I could not figure out how to keep the body chemistry balanced until now and I have paid for it dearly, but I am still here, so there is always hope and the last year of my journey has been the most amazing as it has all just finally come together for me. I have been plagued by one illness or another pretty much since birth, so seeking perfect health has been my lifelong desire/dream. At the 32 when I found myself declining in health and then at 37 I found my self severely ill to the point of almost dying. That was the game changer that made me change everything and start my search to better health. I would like to add that magnesium supplementation in the form of the original Zechstein crystals is a god send as well. I a tiny crystal in each glass of water with my salt and it just cools and lubricates the body in a way, that is hard to describe. The stomach functions better as well with more Mag, but the only form I trust is from the original Zechstein sea bed. Anyway, live and learn! Life goes on…. I guess this explains why Gerson had to give so much potassium salts, since he completely restricted as he believed it fed cancer cells, even though the diet was all veg. To be honest, even when I did the Gerson therapy for over a year, I never thought any of those people on the diet for life or who did the therapy looked too healthy to me.
I have recently increased my salt consumption to 2 tsp per day and I personally feel much better at this level. Another book worth checking out is Salt Your Way to Health by Dr. Brownstein. I have not read it yet, but it looks good.
Ater decades of very litle salt, none added, ever and mostly no processed foods, my own borne broths and mayonnaise etc NO SALT with complaints of swollen ankles and always cold legs and feet, I added salt to my diet three days ago. A LOT! I thought while I was doing it this can’t be right, but…. I heard Phinney talking about salt. Not quite in this way but it somehow piqued me to wonder. Three days of adding Kosher salt to everything, even my own bone broth.
I now have ankles again. Almost boney. My legs and feet are still a bit cold at night, but not freezing to the point of pain.
Could it be connected?
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How do the zero carbers, particularly those eating “meat and water only diet” get their iodine, if they avoid salt? Is iodine irrelevant on zero carb or meat and water only diet?
Even the Zero Carbers who do eat salt generally eat a natural sea salt or Himalayan salt, neither of which have Iodine, and iodized salt is not adequate anyways. The subject of Iodine is an important one, and should be explored. You may want to read The Iodine Crisis by Lynne Farrow for a comprehensive overview of this issue.
I’ve been on a low carb keto diet for ~ 2 months and am having a hard time figuring out my optimal sodium levels. I’ve been regularly having calf and foot cramps during the night so assumed i needed more sodium. But everything i’m reading says that the first symptoms of too low sodium are headache and dizziness, and i have none of that. I’ve been adding 1/2 tsp. salt per day to my food and have been considering upping it with a bouillon cube each day, but now i’m wondering if the problem is inadequate WATER. (I’ve been drinking ~ 64 oz per day.) Do some people get the cramping from low sodium WITHOUT the headache/dizziness symptoms? Any suggestions? (Thanks!)
Phinney and Volek recommend between 2-3 tsp of salt per day on a low carb diet. That is too much for me personally, but you may need more than the 1/2 tsp you are currently taking. Try to increase it by 1/2 tsp and see if that helps.
9. Muscle Cramps: Unnatural Complications of a Highly Refined Diet
A distressing number of otherwise healthy people have frequent muscle cramps, and in the worst case, a muscle cramp of the heart equals sudden death. Physicians don’t like to deal with muscle cramps because the only effective medication we had to stop them was banned in 1992 due to unacceptable side effects.
Muscle cramps are the end result of many contributing factors, including overuse, dehydration, and mineral inadequacies. Low serum potassium is not uncommon in people with frequent cramps, so physicians often try potassium supplements. However there is a daisy-chain leading back from muscle cramps to low blood potassium to intracellular magnesium depletion. Low carbohydrate diets don’t cause muscle cramps per se (meat and leafy greens are good sources of magnesium), but neither do they miraculously get better on low carb regimens unless the underlying problem is dealt with. This is just one more reason why leafy greens and home-made broths (good sources of magnesium) are desirable components of a healthy low carb diet.
So here’s the shortcut to ending most nocturnal or post-exercise muscle cramps. Take 3 slow-release magnesium tablets daily for 20 days. The proprietary brand-name product is ‘Slow-Mag’®, but there are a number of equally effective generics at a fraction of the brand-name price (e.g., Mag-64® or Mag-Delay®). Most people’s cramps cease within 2 weeks of starting ‘Slow-Mag®’, but you should continue to take the full 20-day course (60 tabs per bottle at 3 per day lasts 20 days). If the cramps return, do it again, and then continue taking one tab per day. If the cramps return, take 2 tabs per day. Most people can be titrated to remain crampfree by this method. Why use a more expensive slow-release magnesium preparation like Slow-Mag®? Because magnesium oxide preparations like ‘milk of magnesia’ cause diarrhea, passing through the small bowel before they can be effectively absorbed.
WARNING: The only contraindication to oral magnesium supplements is severe renal failure (e.g., a GFR < 30). If you have any history of kidney problems or known loss of kidney function check with your doctor before taking Slow-Mag® or its generic equivalents.
Phinney, Stephen; Volek, Jeff. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-Saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable (Kindle Locations 4221-4238). Beyond Obesity LLC. Kindle Edition.
Thanks for taking the time to post this. Magnesium is a possibility, but I would try a bit more salt first. Oddly enough, magnesium GIVES me muscle cramps.
Yikes — no wonder i’m so confused! I’ve been using Magnesium Glycinate 3 chewables a day. Esmee — do you know why magnesium gives you muscle cramps? And Shaun — is slow release so different that it could account for my cramping? (I’m also eating spinach & avocado daily, and salmon and meat during the week.)
No, but I don’t think I absorb it very well. I have had trouble with magnesium for 20 years. I likely need it by IV.
Thanks for taking the time to respond! And i was very moved by your story and am glad you figured out how/what to eat!
I think there is a lot of research still to be done on magnesium and absorption. Some claim the oxalate in spinach keeps you from absorbing much of the magnesium. Some will point out that, in the US, our soil has become so depleted of magnesium that a lot of farmed spinach and avocados don’t have as much magnesium as nutrition info claims in the first place. Some claim that having a magnesium deficiency causes a decrease in magnesium absorption (so those who have long been deficient have a hard time getting back to a healthy baseline, which is necessary for the body to better absorb it.) Some claim that transdermal magnesium (magnesium oil) is the most bioavailable way to absorb it. Magnesium glycinate is typically considered to be among the most bioavailable of the different types of magnesium you can supplement, so you’ve got that going for you.
I personally used to have a lot of heart palpitations, high blood pressure, and often got headaches, even on a ketogenic diet. I was even put on a halter monitor for 24-hours by my cardiologist to monitor the palpitations. I began taking magnesium and, over time, all of these problems subsided. I now take one Doctor’s Best High Absorption (per the label, one dose is two pills, but I only take one), three NOW brand ZMA capsules (the recommended dose for men), and a “dose” of transdermal magnesium oil every day. I no longer have palpitations, my blood pressure has normalized, and I no longer get headaches.
Because I think the general research is a little lacking on magnesium, I don’t feel confident in directly answering your question to me. What I do know is a lot of low carb resources list magnesium deficiency as the most common cause of cramping in low carbers. Maybe the info here will help you begin to think about what you might want to try next. Sorry I couldn’t answer more directly, but I hope this helps!
Thanks, Shaun, for taking the time to give me so much good information! I’ll definitely pursue this further; thanks!
I too tend to low blood pressure, and find that using a lot of Himalania Pink Salt + SaltStick Electrolytes Caps helps a lot!!! 🙂
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Very interesting Esmee, thanks. I only started to add salt after I went Keto as it was reccommened due to the water and electrolyte loss. I will stop after my water fast and see how I feel.
It took my body a full month to adapt to no salt. I was hypotensive, had racing heart, low energy, and was very very dry. But then i adapted and felt much better over all without any salt.
how much sodium and potassium do you think you get each day without added salt ? i’ve been meaning to try no salt but coming from keto have electrolyte fears.
You can look this up here…
so i have been salting all my foods, three meals a day with about maybe half a teaspoon per meal so that’s about 1.5 teaspoons a day. I’ve been told that you must consume at least 3 teaspoons a day but I’m a little skeptical on doing that because my blood pressure is usually higher than normal (between 125-133/70ish). I also take 400mg magnessium glycinate a day as well and I get all my potassium from beef. I guess what I’m trying to ask is should I up my sodium intake to 3 teaspoons a day, even though my bp is a little higher than normal?
No, definitely not. You want to be getting 4 to 1 Potassium to Sodium. Meat naturally has this ratio. Meat does not have that much total potassium, so taking a bunch of extra sodium from sallt will upset this balance. But stopping salt suddenly will make you feel bad. Reduce it slowly. Obce I eliminated salt completely, it took my body a full month to adapt. Long term zero carber take no salt orvother supplements.
Okay thanks. Would it be a big deal if I used pink salt to sprinkle a tiny bit on my food just for the taste? Like just a pinch not excessive amount just so the meal taste better
No, probably not. But you may want to consider a potassium supplement. I like “Ionic Potassium” by Trace Minerals Research. Its a balanced electrolyte formula.
Broth made from a whoke chicken or turkey parts will give extra natural potassium as well.
How much meat would I have to consume so I don’t have to supplement with potassium at all?
If you don’t eat salt, or too much preserved meat or cheese, then you probably don’t need to take potassium. Each pound of beef has about 1,200 mg of potassium. The RDA is 5,000 mg a day. But I done think you need to worry about the total amount so much much as the balance between potassium and sodium.
If I use celtic salt, doesn’t that contain Potassium in it?
Salt is the only mineral supplement I take. I’m early in my ZC journey (2 weeks)
Could my Sodium: Potassium ratio be off-balance from only using salt?
Neither Celtic nor Himilayan salt have any appreciable amount of sodium in them, in spite of the advertising hoopla. They only have a few milligrams and we need several thousand milligrams. How much meat are you eating per day and how much salt are you using?
1lb+, up to 1.5 lbs.
I salt every food and on extra 1-1.5 tsp sea salt dissolved in water
I’m eating a lot of dairy, that’s why the lo meat content.
That’s too much salt for the amount of meat you are eating. 1 lb of meat has about 1200 mg of potassium. You don’t want to consume more sodium than potassium. You always want to consume more potassium than sodium, the way it is found in food. Hunter-gatherers ate a ratio of about 12 parts potassium to 1 part sodium. They did not add salt to increase sodium in their diet. They consumed plants which are higher in potassium. Meat naturally has 4 parts potassium to 1 part sodium. The long term zero carbers I know do not eat any salt. If you want to eat salt, i personally would not exceed a 1:1 ratio. And when you reduce salt/sodium intake, it takes a few weeks for the body to adjust, so reduce it slowly if you eant few symptoms. When I eliminated salt completely, it took my body a full month to adapt. My mouth was very dry, I was tired, hypotensive, and had tachycardia. You can also experience muscle cramps temporarily. But these symptoms went away after about 4 weeks and I felt totally fine.
Also, dairy is really not ideal on this diet. What kind of dairy and why? If you are eating cheese, that will add more sodium. Dairy is very addictive for most people too. It’s best to eat only meat for a month or two or three and see how you feel before experimenting with dairy.
So let’s say I enjoy generously salting my foods for taste, I eat cheese sometimes, and most of my meat is ground beef, I would just have to up my potassium to balance it out? I’m thinking about still continuing to salt my foods but just take a potassium supplement to counteract
Yes, that’s what i would do.
Will eating a handful of nuts kill my progress or stall adaptation even tho it’s high fat low carbs?
Any plant food can interfere with adaptation. We suggest eating only neat for 30-90 days before testing other foods to see how they affect you.
What are ways I can up my potassium? Should I just force myself to eat more beef since 1 pound contains 1500 mg’s or could I use an electrolyte powder drink. I know we’re suppose to have 4x as much potassium than sodium and rn I’m I taking too much sodium that’s unbalancing the ratio. I don’t want to cut down on salt because we need it for its electrolyte functions and I’m an athlete so my only option is to get more potassium
Not sure where you got the 4:1 Potassium/Sodium ratio; Mercola recommends 2:1. Avocados are a decent source of Potassium (688 mg) and i supplement food with Potassium Gluconate; 1 tsp. = 350 mg and i add that to food or a bouillion drink 2 or 3 times per day. Hope that’s helpful!
Modernday hunter-gatherss consume a ratio of 12:1 potassium to sodium. Avocados are not Zero Carb. They are a plant food, and not something I would recommend. Potassium Citrate is the prefered form for supplements. Meaty bone broth from whole chicken or turkey parts is a good natural Zero Carb source of extra potassium. I still need to know how much salt Matt is eating before I can comment further.
Oops — sorry — i didn’t remember that this is a zero carb forum!
I’m only eating 2-3 times a day with a light sprinkle of sea salt on the meals. Currently dealing with water retention as well
Also having excessive water thirst but I feel like I’m barely salting my foods
It doesn’t sound like you are overdoing the salt. How much meat are you eating, and what kind?
Mostly ground beef. Someone told me it’s because I’m not drinking enough water as well. How much water should I drink for the amount of salt I use, let’s say a teaspoon?
What i am trying to determine is how much protein you eat per day on average. Too much protein can also cause excessive thirst.
200 grams of protein per day atleast
But also what’s the water to salt ratio? I guess what I’m trying to ask is how much water I need to drink for the amount of salt I eat
I consume 2 quarts per day and I eat no salt. I am 5′ 6″ abd 115 lbs. If you are thirsty, you should drink water, but if you ate excessively thirsty then you may be eating too much salt or too much protein and the only way to know is to experiment.
Try eating less protein and more fat.
Read these articles in order:
Optimal Protein & Fat on Zero Carb
Okay thank. Also one more question, right now I’m taking an electrolyte powder that has 1,000 mg’s of potassium citrate per serving. I’m gonna run out soon and I was wondering if it’s safe to take ten 99 mg’s of potassium citrate pills instead? Cause that’s basically the same thing just in pill form
It would be better to get a bulk powder from Amazon and take it that way. It would have no fillers and be less expensive.
Do you think that the extent to which you cook beef would impact how much salt you need? I find raw/rare steak to be much better in terms of hydration.
Excellent question! I personally eat only raw beef and I do not eat any salt. It took my body a month to adapt to kniw sakt, but then i felt better than when I was eating it. I always drink about 2 quarts of water per day.
really 2 quarts water per day, that seems like a lot! do you drink to thirst? have you tried consuming less? on a raw meat diet with moderate protein i rarely exceed 16oz of additional water. i am 110lb male don’t do much exercise. however I tend to think lack of hunger / thirst is a sign of metabolic efficiency. meaning i never target a certain amount of food / water to consume on the day. does that seem reasonable? also I do personally use some salt usually a pinch in coffee because I like that on occasion.
to be precise i drink san pellegrino mineral water, i like the taste, after i shake the bottle to release some of the carbonation.
I have consumed about 2 quarts per day my entire life. That seems to be what my body wants and feels best on.
do you prefer a particular brand of water? also do you still practice dry fasting regularly? I found that post of yours to be especially interesting.
I recently did a 40-day water-only fast that include two separate dry fasts within it, one for 4 days and another for 7 days.
The two waters I do best with are Icelandic Glacial and 1907 New Zealand. I react negatively to most all waters I have tried, but do good with both of these.
I’m curious about raw meat…do you buy a certain type from a certain place? I had a friend who worked at a grocery store and they told me that they put ammonia in the meat to keep it ‘red’ looking for the customer. Even if that were not true, I feel hesitant to eat raw meat from a grocery store and can’t really afford to buy farm fresh grass fed local etc. Any tips on the type or ANY kind of prep? thank you!
Only buy beef ground at the store itself, not at some central meat packing place. Ask the butchers if they add anything to it. I have never heard of ammonia being added to beef at a market. I cannot eat grassfed beef because it’s too high in histamines due to the way they age it. I buy regular beef that arrives cryovac’d and is ground at the store fresh that day.
thank you! if I cannot find a local place to grind for me is it okay to buy ground beef and eat raw do you think? *I take full responsibility for my health and decisions by the way and realize you cannot know/tell me what to do. Just want to see if you think it is a bad idea as out stores just sell prepackaged meat and I cannot go an hour of town all the time to get it ground. thank you. Just joined facebook and LOVING this site!
Please join us in our Facebook group Principia Carnivora.
Do you know where and when the beef is being ground? How is it packaged?
I do not know. It comes in a styrofoam plate thing covered in plastic wrap.
What store are you buying it from?
Have you asked the meat department?
H.E.B. grocery store in Texas. I have not asked, I will. Maybe it would help me to understand exactly what the meat should and/or should not have about it that makes it safe or unsafe. I”ve been trying to understand this and a bit overwhelmed.
that’s pretty intense Esmee. I have never gone more than 3 days with no food and never waterless for a full day. how productive were you during the fast? would you do it again?
I always rest during fasts. If I did a really long fast like this again, i would do it a a place like TrueNorth Health Center. They monitor your electrolytes and make sure all is well. The fast itself was easy because i was never hungry, not even by day 40. But breaking the fast was much more difficult than when I did my 26 day fast about 6 years ago. Even though 40 days is only 14 more days than 26, I was a lot weaker after the 40 day fast and I had a lot more troubke with food andvthe refeeding process. Each day on a fast is exponential. I had never done one that long and didn’t understand this.
I had a quick question, I started ZC 5 days ago (used to be keto for a year and then completed a 5 day water fast, from there to ZC), and all going well, however I have been putting a lot of salt on my meat (which I have never done before) and my bowels are not happy, tummy has been getting swollen! I appreciate the info you have presented above and am thinking, if i were never really a salt user (as in i have never added it to food throughout my life) I don’t really need to cover my meat with it now – and this may be why my stomach is so reactive? Never had this issue with just steak on its own! Thank you for your time.
All of the long term zero carbers I onow do not use any salt, myself included. Your body has to go through adaptation to no salt, you can experience fatigue, hypotension, dryness, muscle cramps, etc for a full month after completely discontinuing it, but you will get to the other side and feel totally fine.
Thank you for your reply, my stomach settled once I took out salt, its been 2 days and no problems. Now just have to get used to portion sizes as was too full this morning from yesterday and overate this evening which left me very full. I gather i don’t need as much as expected! I am used to being a morning eater, however I feel later in the day feels better!? Thank you for your time and all the effort you have put into this website – its fantastic.
Quick question, ff I stop using salt should I still supplement with potassium, or is that unnecessary?
It’s unnecessary. Just keep in mind that it will take your body about a month to adapt to no salt. When I stopped it, my mouth was extremely dry, I had low blood pressure and tachycardia upon standing or exerting myself, I was fatigued. You may experience muscle cramps. All of these symptoms resolved practically overnight once I was adapted. It takes the kidneys a few weeks to readjust to your new lower sodium intake and to start conserving sodium rather than dumping it. Be patient.
great, thank you so much for the quick response!! I will be patient and trust my body 🙂
I read youra earlier comments regarding the 2 tsp of daily salt and feeling much better on it, what made you give up salt again?
Ive been carnivore for 4months but along the way i got my fat and protein ratios wrong and later even became hypokalemic. Atm im supplementing with magnesium citrate, potassium gluconate and calcium and about less than 1/2 tsp of salt. My mouth is very dry, Im consantly constipated and my stomachs bloated and my throat gets sore in the mornings.
Do you think I ought to increase my salt intake?
I consume extra fat hoping it’ll help with the constipation but it hasnt.
I eventually decided to stop all salt and potassium. I never took magnesium because it affects me horribly. The reason I decided to stop the salt and potassium was because I was reacting to both of those as well. They were causing severe abdominal bloating and chronic migraine headaches among other symptoms. I had already reduced the salt down to about half a tsp. and stopped the potassium completely. I then eliminated the salt. It took my body a full month to adapt to no salt. My mouth and lips were incredibly dry, I was hypotensive, I experienced tachycardia upon standing or when exerting myself, I was fatigued most of the time. I did not experience muscle cramps, but it’s another common symptom when either increasing or decreasing any of the electrolytes. Once I was off both salt and potassium, my migraines vanished after only a few days. I was really stunned. After I made it through that first month, all the symptoms mentioned above basically went away overnight, and I felt better than when I been taking salt and potassium regularly. That was a year and a half ago and I’ve never looked back.
Thanks for the reply Esmee. Ive got one more question its regarding ground beef. I usually cook my meat well done and ive been bloated and constipated so I tried raw meet and I quite liked it and the constipation subsided. Is it ok if i blend the raw meet in my own blender in the beginning? Cause i cant seem to take in the proper amount of meat while eating raw. Is it only store bought ground beef thats harmful for digestion or even beef thats ground/blended at home ( without any additives)? Thanks
There is nothing harmful about ground beef from a market, as long as it’s made at the store itself. The problem with ground beef is that it’s high in histamines, depending on age of svraps used and when it was ground. It can becquite variable unfortunately. For those of us with histamine intolerance, it’s better buy whole pieces of meat and either just cut into bite sized pieces or grind just prior to eating. This, of course, assumes the whole piece you bought is fresh to begin with. Some people do use a food processor, but I personally don’t like the texture. A lot of cuts are surprisingly tender raw and can easily be eaten without grinding if sliced thin.
Thanks Esmee. Sorry to keep the questions going but in regards to the palpiatations, someone on Mikhaila Petersons forum replied to my post about it saying that the high fat could be causing my blood to thicken and the heart to work harder. Ive also been experiencing slight chest pains which I cant make out if its an internal thing or muscular. But I have upped my fat intake due to the constipation. Do you have any thoughts on this theory? If it is the fat would that mean I cant run my body on a carnivore diet?
Please read this article:
Please read the second, third, and fourth book on this list:
Here is the resource list I compiled a few years ago:
The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Phinney and Volek is excellent, as are and audio or video presentations they have given.
For some of the latest thinking on salt, I read the relatively new book The Salt Fix by Dr James DiNicolantonio.
okay I just called them and they said it is 100% ground beef ground every day. so…its okay?
is there other meat you recommend to try raw…maybe how much how often. I”m looking to improve digestion, been on ZC for just 2 weeks but keto all year. got sick for 3 days when first started meat only 2 weeks ago (102 temp with bile coming out of my gut every hour or so). i’m still having eggs and cheese, want to do beef only in 2 more weeks fro 30 or more days. a lifetime of chronic constipation and i have a sliding stomach (just got this year hiatal hernia but no acid/reflux just sliding stomach when I lift too much). so it isnt so comfortable to eat large amounts of meat/digest it…thinking raw might be gentler if i can mix that into my diet as well. THANK YOU!
That sounds like it should be okay. just check the date and make sure it was ground that day.
First, your blog is fantastic. It was what convinced me almost two years ago that it was ok to give up plants and go ZC.
Second, I’ve decided to give up salt after almost two years and would like advice. I thought it would be easy and two days ago I went without salt the entire day. The food tasted slightly bland, but not that bad when I consider how much salt I was regularly using. That night I woke up with cramps in the calves of both legs. I’ve never experienced that before so I got worried and re-read your entry about salt. You said that it took you a month to adapt and that cramps are a normal part of the adaptation. Do you think it would be better to wean off it? In the two days since I only salted two of my meals each day, and only lightly. Not sure if I should go cold turkey and get it over with, or ease off it.
I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on it. I read through the other comments and didn’t really see anything that addressed it directly. And I’m not on Facebook so can’t check Zeroing in on Health(?). Thank you.
It takes about a month for the body to fully adapt to no added salt. When i removed all salt, i felt very dry (especially my lips), experienced tachycardia, felt fatigued, etc. Then one day all these symptoms totally fanished and I felt better than when I had been including salt. The reason it takes a few weeks is because the kidneys have to downregulate the elimination of sodium from your body. When we eat salt, the kidneys upregulate sodium elimination. I suspect that different enzyme systems are required for each process and it takes time to stop the one and start the other. If yiu gradually reduce your salt intake each week until you are jo longer adding any, your symptoms will be less dramatic.
Good info. Salt is one of the biggest issues. Most people think of it as bad because of mainstream advice for high-carb diets. But it seems that we can’t assume any mainstream advice is correct when not on a high-carb diet. Vitamin C being another example. Different diets change biological functioning and alter the requirements of various nutrients. Unfortunately, there has been too little research on this.
Holy cow that is a lot of potassium! I have read that 4:1 potassium: sodium ratio before in this thread and elsewhere in your excellent site. But I never really worked out the math. For some reason I considered supplementing with potassium more during the adaptation phase as an attempt to eliminate or reduce symptoms of adaptation.
The whole electrolyte thing (potassium, sodium, magnesium) is probably the most complex part of a ZC diet. Which is kind of funny because among the many great things of a ZC diet is its simplicity but of course something has to be “the most complex aspect”. I can list a lot of reasons of why it is complex, and I may have listed a few of those reasons in one of my other posts, but just to name a few: the electrolytes can relate to one another obviously, how much water do you consume, how active/athletic are you, do you consume caffeine or not, do you take any medicines or other supplements that affect them or not, how much do you sweat, how much water loss happens from your climate conditions, etc.
I often read about the fact that almost all long-term ZCrs do not supplement with salt nor any other supplements. Today I just did the math on Excel to determine how I should be achieving a 4:1 potassium: sodium ratio. I did this for two reasons:
1- surprisingly, I can still suffer from muscle cramps long after what you would think would be past the adaptation phase. So I have been supplementing with potassium during meal times; doing so keeps the cramps away or at least tolerable. I would love to be able to just bear through it all and have the cramps go away in a month or so with no supplementing but for my career that really is not an option because I cannot have cramps during work, so I figure I’ll just supplement and slowly and gradually reduce.
2- I have been salting my food and I like the salt, and I am fairly active, and I have read all kinds of good reasons for salt ( but as mentioned elsewhere on this site most conventional wisdom rarely applies to a ZC diet, and conventional salt promotions should be no different). So because I use salt, and I occasionally have cheese, I decided that I needed a measure how much salt I am consuming from non-meat sources and supplementing with potassium 4x that amount. The determined amounts are nowhere near the amount of potassium I have been taking, and most likely is the reason that I continue to experience muscle cramps
So I did the math, holy cow that is a lot of potassium!
I wonder how many long-term ZCarbers did something similar and just figured it is way less complicated just to (abruptly or gradually) get off the salt completely
I read somewhere, maybe on the site, about some ZCrs fiddling with supplementing for 1 to 1.5 years and coming to the conclusion that it was really hindering everything, and I totally understand that and believe it, because there are just so many moving parts affecting these 4 items alone (water, sodium, potassium, magnesium); even if one does get it perfect for a few days or a few weeks, conditions can change and make it less-than-perfect.
Can anyone give me their opinions or what has been reported to you about people who gave up salt insofar as the taste of the food? I have read all of threads on this site and Esmee has reported her experiences many times so I know Esmee’s, but I don’t recall her ever mentioning things about the taste of food going from salted to salt-less food. Obviously long-term ZCs never mention it and so don’t complain about it. Your taste must change I assume? You don’t miss it or crave it?
Rather than continuing to salt my food and supplementing with 4x the amount of sodium from non-meat sources, I am just going to try to slowly reduce my salt and at the same time slowly increase my potassium to approach a 4:1 potassium: sodium ratio and whenever I hit that just continue reducing my salt intake until I am salt free.
It’s my opinion that salt is addictive to a certain extent and you will miss it when you first eliminate it. It takes time for the taste buds to re-adapt to no salt. But personally, I like meat better without salt. It also takes time (3-4 weeks on average) for the kidneys to stop over eliminating sodium from your body and to begin conserving sodium based on your new normal intake.
You need to be extremely careful when supplementing potassium. Too much can actually stop the heart. So please educate yourself and be cautious if you choose to supplement with it.
My experience is that any changes in the electrolyte minerals, increasing OR decreasing dosages, can cause muscle cramps. These cramps can be painful and annoying, but once you eliminate all supplements and allow your body to adapt to what is naturally in the meat, the cramps should go away. For some people this process may take longer than for other people, but it really should work itself out.
I’ve been low-carb, mostly keto, for about a year and I recently went carnivore for a couple of months. I salt my food liberally to taste and will put a pinch of salt in water. I haven’t had any problems nor ever experienced keto flu. On the rare times I get a leg cramp in the morning, I’ll take some extra electrolytes and make sure to get plenty of salt that day. But I don’t bother worrying too much about supplementing.
I recently watched a video with Dr. James DiNicolantonio. He is the author of the recent book The Salt Fix. If you want to know about the science of salt, he explains it in detail. His simplest advice, though, is to salt to taste since your body (presumably under normal conditions) should know how much salt it needs. He argues that salt isn’t addictive like sugar. So, according to this view, salt cravings can be safely treated as a genuine need for salt.
That is his theory, anyway. You can read his book and decide for yourself. I personally don’t have a strong opinion on the matter. I haven’t read that book and I can’t claim to be familiar with the research. I’ve so far trusted my body’s need and desire for salt. It seems to have worked out for me so far. I tend toward an attitude of self-experimentation to see what works.
Thanks for sharing your experience Benjamin.
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Thank you both. I did read Dr DiNicolantonio’s book. Like Benjamin, I personally never had a strong opinion on salt and I salt my food liberally to taste and will put a pinch of salt in water occasionally, self-experimentation to see what works. Dr DiNicolantonio makes a good case for listening to your body but of course he is not in the ZC realm . I just couldn’t believe how long my cramps were continuing to hang around after months of ZC so I said to heck with it & added potassium & it was a dramatic & immediate improvement. A week or 2 later I added some Mg & again very obvious improvement . My original supplementing when I first went ZC I got to the point (like Esmee experienced, so that made me feel less weird) that Mg was actually causing cramps; and shortly thereafter I gradually ditched the potassium ,until recently resuming. The supplementing is almost more a PITA than the cramps, just something I want out of my life. Excellent advise to go slow when upping or lowering my potassium, and when I get to my 4:1 I’ll stay there a few weeks then reduce both salt & potassium simultaneously & slowly, but I’ll see how I feel, and may indeed elect to keep salting my food & if so start slowly.
Benjamin: ” On the rare times I get a leg cramp in the morning, I’ll take some extra electrolytes and make sure to get plenty of salt that day.” What electrolytes do you take when this happens? And you just salt your food more or take a 1/2 teaspoon or whatever straight?
“What electrolytes do you take when this happens? And you just salt your food more or take a 1/2 teaspoon or whatever straight?”
It was maybe a month or two ago that I specifically picked up a bottle of liquid electrolytes to add to water. It is from Trace Minerals Research. I bought the Endure formulation that has magnesium, chloride, sodium, potassium, and sulfate. They also have another formulation called 40,000 Volts with the same ingredients but one more added, boron (I don’t know anything about boron).
I have these electrolytes because, besides being low-carb and often ketogenic, I also drink caffeine and exercise quite bit. I figure it was a good supplement to keep around. I don’t think I necessarily need them all the time. I use Redmond’s Real Salt and that supposedly has a good balance. I just put salt on food and in water, but that is it. The only time I’ve taken some salt straight was when I recently did a dry fast.
Other than that, all I had been using was magnesium that I got earlier in the year because it supposedly is a common deficiency, but I wasn’t taking it all the time. That was what seemed to help with the occasional muscle cramps. I’ll every now and then take it just for good measure, though not every day. Maybe I don’t really need it.
I didn’t notice anything for the first half of a year on low-carb. Over that period, I increasingly emphasized ketosis as a target. I can’t say I ever had cramps much or anything else. I don’t think I was using a ton of salt either at the time, not that I was limiting it either. I wasn’t systematic about it because it wasn’t a concern on my mind. I’m not sure how different my response was before and after taking magnesium and other electrolytes. Simply using a good quality salt is probably enough.
“Dr DiNicolantonio makes a good case for listening to your body but of course he is not in the ZC realm.”
I have no idea what he thinks about zero-carb. But he did co-write the book Superfuel. That book I have a copy of and have read parts of it. Besides adequate salt, he also focuses on the balance of fats, no matter the ratio of macronutrients. From the book:
“We’ve looked at populations in very different geographic locations—the Arctic, the Mediterranean, Asia, and the southwestern Pacific—and determined that a unifying factor in their diets, whether they were high-carb or low-carb, mostly plant-based or more animal-based, was a very low intake of omega-6 and a high intake of omega-3.”
That advice would apply to zero-carb, whatever it might mean for salt intake. Salt is discussed in Superfuel, though. He states that salt, besides maintaining healthy blood pressure, helps maintain insulin sensitivity. Also, salt goes back to the fat issue — more from the book:
“Diets very low in sodium (salt) increase adrenaline and aldosterone, and these hormones reduce activity of D6D and D5D. For this reason, low-salt diets increase the need for EPA and DHA due to the reduced desaturase enzyme activities. Another extremely common hormonal issue these days, one that interferes with conversion of the parent omega-6 and omega-3 fats into their derivatives, is hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormone is required for proper activity of D6D and D5D, so individuals with suboptimal thyroid hormone levels may benefit from consuming more EPA and DHA or taking good-quality supplements.”
I don’t understand the science of that explanation in the slightest. It’s just more info to consider, one perspective among many others. At the moment, I’m in the middle of watching another video with him:
He’s definitely correct about the Omega 3:6 balance. Too much omega 6 is very bad for us and the increase in seed oils in the western diet is primarily responsible for totally messing us up in this regard. However, a person on zero carb can also ingested quite a bit of omega 6 from poultry or pork that has been fed grains high in omega 6. That’s not true of beef no matter what the diet of the animal is because ruminants do not transfer the omega 6 from the grains into their fatty tissue like birds and pigs do.
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Again Thanks to you both. I went hear to get the gist of the book : https://www.fatforfuel.org/superfuel.aspx . All about fats & the proper ratio, which can be achieved in a variety of diets, and to me it seems ZC is the easiest/ most no-thinking/no-brainer diet. I actually studied fats quite a bit through Udo Erasmus who was into fats earlier than just about everyone. (He is a biochemist and one of the few vegetarians I’ve heard of who is healthy so it can be done but to me it looks like only with tremendous difficulty; I’ve never been vegetarian for a single day & have had no significant health issues prior to ZC).
Stephanson says quite a bit about salt: that it was absent in the arctic diet, and in traditional pemmican of the North American explorers & Indians, and in most of pre-Columbian Americas (pre-Christopher Columbus of 1490s) salt was unknown, or the taste of it disliked and the use of it avoided, and that carnivorous Eskimos probably dislike salt more intensely than those Indians who were partly herbivorous, and in the early 20th century there are areas in the Amazon where natives still abhor salt.. Stephanson also tells the story that After three months he acquired most of the Eskimo food tastes but still longed for salt with his meals. Then one day he finally acquired salt so sprinkled some on his boiled fish & enjoyed it tremendously “and wrote in my diary that it was the best meal I had had all winter. But at the next meal I had almost finished eating before I remembered the salt. So obviously my longing for it had been imaginary. I finished that meal without salt” ( i.e. he could have salted his fish but when he realized the desire for it was more in his head than on his tongue or a genuine physiologic craving, he didn’t even bother to salt it). He continues: “I tried my salt once or twice during the next few days, and thereafter left it untouched. When we moved camp the salt remained behind. After the return of the sun, I made a journey of several hundred miles to a whaling ship so for a few days I enjoyed the steward’s New England (with salt) cooking, but when I left I returned without reluctance to the Eskimo meals of fish & warm fish broth or cold water to drink.”
It’s fascinating that most long term ZCarbers today eventually stop salting their food. I’m sure it’s not “to be cool”. Esmee’s interviews (https://zerocarbzen.com/testimonials/) always have a question re salt, I just wonder what the experience was, did they taper off or cold turkey, and what the thinking was ( was it intentional effort or a natural progression) and could they tell a difference that they felt better without salt, and if cold turkey did they suffer any symptoms?
Esmee: “However, a person on zero carb can also ingest quite a bit of omega 6 from poultry or pork that has been fed grains high in omega 6″. So that’s those that weren’t grass fed pasture raised or whatever the terms is I assume?
Esmee:. That’s not true of beef no matter what the diet of the animal is because ruminants do not transfer the omega 6 from the grains into their fatty tissue like birds and pigs do.” And is probably why most ZCarbers state “I eat mostly beef” ( or some say lamb) and “I feel better” because they get less inflamed I suspect?
Esmee, re “ruminants do not transfer the omega 6 from the grains into their fatty tissue like birds and pigs do”. So the inflammatory omega 6 issue of pig & birds is more in the skin + whatever oil is in the meat portion or more just the skin? The meat alone is decent protein in your opinion? And for a bird, say chicken, you’d probably get less inflamed from skinless with added ruminant oil such as tallow or butter, fried or maybe liquefied & poured on boiled chicken like a gravy? And how does this concept square with the oil of a pig when lard has so many good qualities http://www.empiri.ca/2014/01/recent-changes.html and
http://www.empiri.ca/2013/04/on-lard-from-gary-taubes.html ? So I am a little confused on pig. Like most, I eat almost entirely beef, but pork chops aren’t bad (not as satisfying but decent but not enough fat for that nice protein:fat ratio so I have to eat with lard and I don’t think I feel poorly after eating them, cheaper than beef), bird is nowhere near as satisfying as beef or pork, I may feel a tad less well afterwards but not alarmingly so, and it is rare that I eat it. I guess I’m also asking how I can prepare pig & poultry so it’s less inflammatory when I occasionally eat them? Or are the inflammation -producing parts also in the meat profile of pig (mammal)& bird (non-mammal)?
For everyone, wiki: Ruminating mammals include cattle, all domesticated and wild bovines, goats, sheep, giraffes, deer, gazelles, and antelopes.
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I read Udo’s book when it first cane out and actually went to hear him lecture at a health food store back then some 20 years ago. He was ahead of his time, but he later admitted that he way over did the flaxseed oil and his skin got super thin as a result. Ingesting a ton of omega 3 seed oil (a form that is not easily converted to EPA) is not wise. It is very unstable and oxidizes quickly in the body and can causes higher levels of free radicals. It’s best to eat mostly very stable saturated animal fats, with small amounts of animal derived omega 3.
As I have mentioned, it took me a good month to adapt to no salt. I felt very tired and extremely dry and I had tachycardia off and on and was quite hypotensive. Then one day, all these symptoms ceased and I felt better than before when I was eating salt.
If poultry and pork are not fed grains, then their fatty acid profile will be much healthier. If they are eating grains, then the omega 6 will be higher in all of their fat, muscle or skin. Yes, lard has its own benefits for sure. Grainfed pork is lower in omega 6 than grainfed poultry. But if you can get pork fed acorns that is supposed to be very amazing. I’ve never had an opportunity to try it.
I have these electrolytes because, besides being low-carb and often ketogenic,
And ZC is quite different than LC in spite of being very close compared to all other diets.
I also drink caffeine and exercise quite bit.
I am pretty active & exercise too & just ditched the coffee & caffeine. I hear caffeine can affect Mg, so good to get that caffeine confounder out of my life, but because it was so recent the absence is a confounder for maybe a few more weeks.
I figure it was a good supplement to keep around. I don’t think I necessarily need them all the time.
I hear ya. But it’s tricky, one of the many variable changes that affect all the other variables. That’s why I’m shooting to get my Mg & potassium out of my life for good. No doubt long term ZCarbers went through this same experience & feelings. I’m not opposed to continuing to salt food though, I’ll see. But even salt may be tricky, because what’s your sweat & activity & water intake levels and do they change, indoor outdoor summer winter etc.
I use Redmond’s Real Salt and that supposedly has a good balance.
Ditto, but mine says only salt (so only sodium & chloride), and as Esmee said, the marketing hoopla re Mg & or potassium in other salts are in negligible amounts.
I had been using was magnesium that I got earlier in the year because it supposedly is a common deficiency, but I wasn’t taking it all the time. That was what seemed to help with the occasional muscle cramps. I’ll every now and then take it just for good measure, though not every day. Maybe I don’t really need it.
Again tricky isn’t it, very true that Mg supposedly is a common deficiency, but then ZC is a different animal, that makes it tricky too. I think I saw a YouTube on LowCarb Down Under on CV health where they mentioned it, but to repeat, LC is not ZC
Simply using a good quality salt is probably enough.
That’s what I’m hoping & shooting for.
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“And ZC is quite different than LC in spite of being very close compared to all other diets.”
I wish there was more and better research. It’s hard enough to find much info on low-carb diets. Most of the research on in comparing diets rarely includes low-carb diets. One study that did include a low-carb diet defined it as 40% carbs, which is the highest range of carbs in hunter-gatherer diets. As for zero-carb, info is even more scarce.
That forces people into experimentation. Anything true of high-carb diets may or may not apply to low-carb diets. We don’t even know that the same will be true between moderately low-carb diets, extremely low-carb diets, zero-carb diets, etc. Then there are other factors such as fasting, ketosis, autophagy, etc that alters the body’s functioning. It’s possible that, on low enough carb restriction, the need for electrolytes and trace minerals decreases, as is the case with vitamin C. Sounds like a great hypothesis to be tested.
Then there is the issue of what actually helps vs what might harm you. What are the potential risks and benefits of getting too few electrolytes and trace minerals vs higher levels? I’m not sure experimentation can exactly figure this out, although maybe some have strong enough responses to salt or its lack that they know what works for them. My own experimentation hasn’t indicated anything particular, either positive or negative.
Like anyone else, I enjoy the taste of salt. But unlike sugar, I’ve never craved salt. According to some of what I read, the danger seems to be specifically with refined salt, as is the case with so much else that is refined. Refined salt doesn’t give your body what it needs and so throws off the balance, disallowing healthy processsing of glucose, and so according to this explanation this is why refined salt disposes you to sugar cravings.
I remember reading about this sugar and salt craving cycle back in the 1990s, but apparently it only applies to refined salt. It just so happens that processed food manufacturers love to combine refined carbs and sugar with refined salt, where taste has become disconnected from actual nutrient content because almost all nutrients have been stripped away. They also throw in addictive wheat and dairy for good measure.
I noticed that Dr. James DiNicolantonio says to worry less about salt and instead focus on potassium. But he emphasizes natural sources of potassium. His point is that salt simply makes high-potassium foods more palatable, foods that otherwise would be more bitter. He points out that there are both animal and plant foods that have greater amounts of potassium: fish, shellfish, greens, beans, potatoes, and tomatoes. The significance of the salt is that once potassium hits a threshold the sodium supposedly will balance it out. Of course, everything he is talking is research that has never included a zero-carb diet.
“I am pretty active & exercise too & just ditched the coffee & caffeine.”
I go back and forth about caffeine. I’ve found I have more energy, alertness, and focus since restricting carbs over the past year. I suspect much of this has to do with ketosis. But I still find caffeine useful when I’m doing mental work for long hours. Plus, Siim Land says that occasional use of coffee is good for promoting autophagy and so plain coffee can be used during a fast.
“the marketing hoopla re Mg & or potassium in other salts are in negligible amounts.”
Yeah. Then again, maybe we only need negligible amounts, as is the case with vitamin C. Besides, many foods contain magnesium and potassium, not only plants but seafood. Many healthy populations have lived near the ocean. Some argue that seafood shaped human evolution. The foods in the standard American diet obviously is far different in numerous ways, likely including nutrient content of magnesium and potassium. It would be useful to measure the levels of micronutrients in a healthy hunter-gatherer diet.
After reading other stuff elsewhere and watching some videos, I went back and re-read your post here. It really is an informative and balanced piece.
I wonder if this is something we overthink because dietary experts came to obsess over it. The whole debate has become polarized, those arguing for low-salt vs those for high-salt. But other factors might be more important. Besides the problems of a high-carb diet, maybe salt levels aren’t that big of an issue. Assuming there aren’t specific health conditions, most people might be perfectly safe to salt to taste or largely ignore salt if they prefer.
Potassium and magnesium seem a bit different, though. Those mostly come from foods, not salt. I don’t know of research that compares people who eat foods high in these micronutrients and those who don’t. It’s another one of those confounders with the standard American diet. And even a zero-carb dieter can eat foods that are either high or low in these micronutrients. For those not using salt, it would be useful info to know which foods they eat and their micronutrient profile.
I’m definitely a fan of the philosophy of listening to one’s body. As I’ve said, there is a big difference in my experience between craving sugar and enjoying salt. One is clearly an addiction and the other not, at least in my case.
I was reminded of this just moments ago. I got a glass of water. Since it was on my mind, I sprinkled some sea salt in it and a few drops of electrolytes. I quickly downed it and realized how refreshing it was. Earlier this morning I had a glass of water without anything in it and it wasn’t nearly as thirst-quenching.
I’m not sure why that is. Something about water with salt and trace minerals in it is so satisfying. I suppose that is why many people love Gatorade and similar drinks. They go down so easily, even though the other ingredients are horrible for your health.
I have had similar experiences Benjamin regarding water with electrolytes.
And a bit of trivia: the original Gatorade (formulated for the Florida Gators) did not have a ton of sugar in it. Dr. Richard Johnson discusses this in his book The Sugar Fix.
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I wonder about sources of water. Humans, of course, originally didn’t drink tap water. In nature, water is often more likely to have higher amounts of minerals. I know that mineral content of water can vary quite a bit.
And it may be that we are over consuming water and don’t really need as much as we drink. I’m really not sure. I know when I lived on yogurt and raspberries for two years that I only drank 1 quart of water per day in the morning and the liquid content of the yogurt and fruit was plenty to meet my needs. Meat does not contain as much water obviously, but we still may not need as much as we would if we were eating a diet of processed and denatured plant foods, especially things like breads and chips and crackers which require liquid from the body to be properly digested. And one’s activity levels certainly plays into a person’s requirements. A higher activity level may artificially increase need for water and, by extension, need for electrolyte supplementation. You might want to read the fascinating book by Dr. Batmanghelidj Your Body’s Many Cries for Water (and his subsequent books). He healed many illnesses simply by having his patients increase their water consumption, but he also had them add 1/4 tsp. of sea salt to each quart of water to help the cells absorb it.
I personally feel that too little potassium can be more detrimental to health long term than too much salt. The real key I believe is balance though, not absolute amounts of either. From all my research, I think its important to ingest more potassium than sodium. Meat is naturally 4 parts potassium to 1 part sodium, and I would use this as a model.
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You make a lot of good points Benjamin.
Benjamin: ” It’s hard enough to find much info on low-carb diets… As for zero-carb, info is even more scarce.”
If you want some good info on LC or LCHF see https://lowcarbdownunder.com.au/ ; go to the Videos tab, it won’t disappoint
” It’s possible that, on low enough carb restriction, the need for electrolytes and trace minerals decreases, as is the case with vitamin C.”
“What are the potential risks and benefits of getting too few electrolytes and trace minerals vs higher levels?” I’m not sure experimentation can exactly figure this out, although maybe some have strong enough responses to salt or its lack that they know what works for them.”
Yes, me & most ZCrbs seem to go with how we feel; if I’m ever in doubt I get tested as I did 1 day pre ZC, 90 days after ZC, 6 months later, then at my annual routine blood work, if I want more tests I can get them at the Dr or we even have commercial labs available to the public (AnyLabTestNow etc)
Thanks for the info on refined salt, it probably explains how some feel after eating at restaurants and I hear that some take their own salt shaker to the restaurants.
“I go back and forth about caffeine…But I still find caffeine useful when I’m doing mental work for long hours”
Ditto, I ditched it only because I felt it was too influential on my various mental tasks, encouraging/comforting me to spend more time on the computer and a few other attitudinal/emotional things that I have to say only recently began. And I always had it with HWCream and for me I think ditching HWC was a bonus. I am pleasantly surprised how I’m doing caffeine free now. I’ve been caffeine free before both pre-ZC & during ZC and it was shocking how different caffeine vs. caffeine free was ( I liked caffeine way more than caffeine free even though I always slowly tapered off caffeine ). This time, is different, I’m doing swell, the only minor negative is I seem to tire a bit at a certain ~ 1-2 hr time frame every day but that is more than balanced out by the several positives, and maybe it will pass, if not it’s probably my body needing to rest so I’ll listen. After that time frame, whether I rest or not, I have about the same energy level- go figure.
“It would be useful to measure the levels of micronutrients in a healthy hunter-gatherer diet.” True; better yet it to measure our own. No doubt long term ZCarbers have, and I read some never bother after a while, nor bother with just about any other conventional medical advice because they feel it does not apply to a ZC diet. Stephanson back in the 30s had a team of scientists measure those two guys after 1 year ZC.
“I wonder if salt is something we overthink because dietary experts came to obsess over it.… Besides the problems of a high-carb diet, maybe salt levels aren’t that big of an issue… most people might be perfectly safe to salt to taste or largely ignore salt if they prefer.”
Agree, and high carb diets seem to have so many other LARGER problems that make the salt/sodium issue of secondary concern, of course treat it with a pill which brings on its side affects disrupting things/the variable even further.
“Potassium and magnesium seem a bit different, though”.
For sure in a LCHF & ZC diet, maybe because they display as more profound symptoms after the previously HiCarb symptoms are lessened/vanished?
” And even a zero-carb dieter can eat foods that are either high or low in potassium and magnesium micronutrients. For those not using salt, it would be useful info to know which foods they eat and their micronutrient profile.”
Esmee repoted most long term ZCarbers she has asked settle on “mostly beef” and most but not all use no salt. If I ever become salt free (don’t really care if I do or not , unlike caffeine where I was motivated), all I care about is how I feel & my lab results & if I feel crummy go get some labs. My guess is that long term ZCarbers become salt free, gradually, by listening to their body, not to be cool or accomplish a goal or to get another spice & ritual out of their life? I say ” gradually” because as far as I can tell when you eat ZC, month 3 is different than month 1 is different than month 6 & 12 probably up to maybe a 1-3 years? Probably varies by the person & the level of ill-health they start with. And of course life gets in the way of our body’s health & response (a new stress or an elimination of one, break an arm and you activity level changes, hormonal changes with age, other changes with age, move to a place with more or less sunshine, have to take a drug for a surgery or whatever, etc )
” I got a glass of water. Since it was on my mind, I sprinkled some sea salt in it and a few drops of electrolytes. I quickly downed it and realized how refreshing it was. Earlier this morning I had a glass of water without anything in it and it wasn’t nearly as thirst-quenching.”
Interesting, astute, and helpful to me so I will tinker with it, salt/sodium + potassium (which is why I used to sprinkle Morton’s Lite Salt in my water, “because it has potassium”, but read the label- dextrose etc so ditched that. In fact I’ll make some water with a 4:1 potassium:sodium using potassium supplement : Redmons Real Salt. I have only done the salt-in-drinking-water thing when working outside in brutal heat but it’s appropriate now with my current complaint of muscle cramps. I’ll call it Esmeegade, market it, make billions.
” I wonder about sources of water. Humans, of course, originally didn’t drink tap water. In nature, water is often more likely to have higher amounts of minerals. I know that mineral content of water can vary quite a bit.”
Totally agree, I know folks who drink reverse osmosis water & wonder if they are mineral deficient. I’m going with evolution; your body is expecting and craving minerals (again maybe differently so on a ZC vs. LCHF vs. SAD diet). I filter tap water for sure though.
Esmee: ” And it may be that we are over consuming water and don’t really need as much as we drink. I’m really not sure.”
Once again all bets are off as it relates to a SAD. Water consumption is a variable that affects many other variables (maybe all of them?). I chose to determine my water needs by going with the healthier LCH & ZC guys + listening to my body + being aware that my personal water needs are not set in stone- that they can change (as I age, as my conditions change, the ill-health conditions I started with that have to be overcome & that hopefully get healed as I progress over the years of a ZC diet, etc). It’s tricky because the variables affect one another & things change, but ZC seems as simple & pure as it gets, and reading posts of long term ZCarbers sounds like there is very little obsession over the variables, they struggle through it, figure out what works from them, & barely give it a passing thought unless asked about it; obsession seems an affliction of the ZC newbies (like me), we are newbies for various lengths of time I suppose.
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FYI… Lo-Salt is 1/2 sodium chloride and 1/2 potassium chloride and is another way to increase potassium via supplementation.
Pingback: On Salt: Sodium, Trace Minerals, and Electrolytes | Marmalade
Thanks, I saw that elsewhere in another post of yours, I couldn’t find it. I’m making my salt shaker 4:1 Potassium: RealSalt & using that for food & when I add to water, being sure to shake a bit prior to dispensing if grains are of different size/ settling etc, don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier. Since I don’t like the taste of potassium as much, it may help me reduce intake of both?
Give it a try and see how it goes. Just be aware of your total potassium intake and don’t exceed the safe range.
Oh yes that is a good point, I should formulate my salt shaker daily to ensure I don’t exceed the maximum daily dose of the potassium. If I repeatedly don’t come close to using that amount then I can make a bigger batch, otherwise watch it/make it daily. Thank you.
This is the best overall info page on potassium that I’ve found…
I am a newbie to ZC. My first ever diet. I’ve never been a big salter, and I’ve always cooked my own food except for patronizing restaurants. Processed foods were never part of my life from childhood and on.
I had a crises 33 days into this diet. All was going very well —- from day one —- I kid you not !! (no more muscle leg/feet cramps, bloating gone, sciatica gone, cancer spots on skin disappeared, sleeping like a baby (a first) through the night, no more tingling hands, or numb feet, super energized, strong enough to want to do squats and REGULAR push ups, clarity, eating only twice/day, 15 pounds lost by day 30, etc. etc.). I’m female 59, haven’t been athletic since my early 20’s, never was into dairy, loved my meat and veggies always.
Problem is I went into this ZC diet withOUT doing ANY research. Just started eating meat, eggs, bacon, liver, and water after reading one post. Period. Easy. Bad idea not to do my homework however.
So on day 33 I used rendered fat as a dip for my homemade jerky, got a stomach ache, had diarrhea, became dehydrated, and my electrolytes got out of balance. With my head feeling like it was swelling, and my heart beating fast I started researching and found Keto-flu symptoms. I didn’t think it was the adaptation stage that got me (since everywhere I started reading it said these symptom showed within the first week. But the diarrhea (I’m fairly certain from the rendered fat) that caused the imbalance (I’ve never experienced that sort of thing in my life so didn’t know what was happening) matched the Keto-flu symptoms so after 3 days of not eating (and meat the furthest thing from my mind), I finally tried to experiment with electrolyte and foods with potassium and pinches of salt. I unfortunately broke the diet with spinac. Couldn’t find anything online on how to break the diet effectively. My teenage daughter who put me up to this ZC diet in the first place told me all or nothing. Start eating normally again 100% to rebalance or get back on meat only. By then it was too late and I ended up in the hospital but not before I finally felt like eating my first solid meal in 7 days at home (salmon, broccoli, asparagus) and finally felt balanced. But my daughter showed me off to the hospital where they found high markers on tropopine levels. It felt so good to feel good again, I didn’t care about my markers, and I got out of bed and did squats, etc. but since I was on a heart monitor, they found me in another unit where I had a long corridor to exercise and they made me rest. Anyway the blood test results showed my electrolytes were in balance when I arrived after my great home cooked dinner.
Now I’ve been back on my “regular” diet for one week and I feel my lost symptoms are resurfacing. My doctor says give it two weeks taking electrolytes, and vitamins (which I’ve never taken in my life) before jumping back into the carnivore diet.
On the meat diet I felt 40 years younger. Not joking!!
Questions: I want to be armed and prepared if there is another bout of Keto-flu. I was so far off balance that I didn’t know what needed balancing —- sodium, mag, pot. Of course I’ll stay away from using rendered fat as a dip!
Is it true one can eat TOO MUCH fat or just the wrong kind on a ZC diet?
Should I be armed with a monitor to check my levels so I know what needs replenishing if I get depleted again?
I couldn’t even look at meat or eat for 3 days, most likely making my situation worse.
If I need to, do you know exactly how I should break my diet? Hospital food sucks!
Also I hadn’t pooped for 33 days (on the diet) yet not once did I feel constipated (believe me — I know a about constipation) so I want to ask if that’s at all normal? I heard after a week or maybe two the bowels get back on track, but mine did not, and I figure I was simply finally absorbing food and not making waste. But do you think I need a bowel cleansing agent? I have a great one called OxyCleanse but I chose not to use it since I didn’t FEEL constipated, was no longer bloated, was losing weight, and feeling GREAT.
Sorry this is so long. I’ve never been on a forum before.
It’s been nice to read and catch up with what I’m doing via watching videos and reading. Moral of my story: Don’t be ignorant and go into something blind.
I can’t wait to go ZC again. Salt or not !
Ok, wow… that’s quite a complicated experience you went through. Did the blood tests you got in the hospital every show any low sodium or potassium? If not, then it’s unlikely that your symptoms were due to an electrolyte imbalance. But too much diarrhea and dehydration certainly can cause an electrolyte imbalance which is very potentially serious once it’s enough to show up in blood tests. The easiest way to naturally get more potassium it through meat broth. Whole chicken and turkey parts are the best choice. Fill a large pot and cover in water and simmer for 3-4 hours (longer for turkey). The potassium present in the muscle meat gets transferred to water and is easily absorbed. You can add some salt to the broth for extra sodium chloride. However, be sure to remove all the rendered fat from the broth before drinking. Yes, rendered fat can be a major problem for some people and could absolutely cause diarrhea. Other people are strangely unphased by it. I have no idea why, but I have definitely observed this difference among zero carbers over the past few years. It can take the body time to adjust to a new elimination cycle, but 30+ days is long time to go without a bowel movement. How much fat were you eating prior to the rendered fat disaster? Too little fat could prevent sufficiently regular elimination, just as too much fat could cause diarrhea.
So on day 33 I used rendered fat as a dip for my homemade jerky, got a stomach ache, had diarrhea, became dehydrated, and my electrolytes got out of balance.
ok, not your fault, not like you cheated or something. And based on what you write below we don’t know for fact that your electrolytes got out of balance
With my head feeling like it was swelling, and my heart beating fast I started researching and found Keto-flu symptoms. I didn’t think it was the adaptation stage that got me (since everywhere I started reading it said these symptom showed within the first week. But the diarrhea (I’m fairly certain from the rendered fat) that caused the imbalance
I believe you are correct, the diarrhea led to excess water loss/ dehydration & with the water possibly electrolytes which resulted in your symptoms. For all we know it may not have been the rendered fat but just a bug/bacteria that got you unrelated to the rendered fat, but trust your instinct
I finally tried to experiment with electrolyte and foods with potassium and pinches of salt.
Since you were doing fabulous before the diarrhea, I wouldn’t fiddle with supplements, whatever it was that gave you diarrhea, the result of the diarrhea was the symptoms. As soon as you are back to eating carnivore I bet you’ll be fabulous in no time, and supplements will just hinder it (based on being fabulous without them. I suspect you got symptoms from diarrhea not from adapting.
. Start eating normally again 100% to rebalance or get back on meat only. By then it was too late and I ended up in the hospital but not before I finally felt like eating my first solid meal in 7 days at home (salmon, broccoli, asparagus) and finally felt balanced.
yea so you fixed yourself without the hospital
. Anyway the blood test results showed my electrolytes were in balance when I arrived after my great home cooked dinner.
so you fixed yourself without the hospital and maybe your electrolytes were never off?
Now I’ve been back on my “regular” diet for one week and I feel my lost symptoms are resurfacing.
which ” lost symptoms” before carnivore, or after diarrhea ?
Questions: I want to be armed and prepared if there is another bout of Keto-flu. I was so far off balance that I didn’t know what needed balancing —- sodium, mag, pot.
I think you were fine until the diarrhea, so why won’t you again, unless the diarrhea returns or you somehow loose too much water again or you get the same bug. For all we know you were just deficient in water, not electrolytes?
Is it true one can eat TOO MUCH fat or just the wrong kind on a ZC diet?
When you eat enough fat your body will let you know you are full/want no more
Should I be armed with a monitor to check my levels so I know what needs replenishing if I get depleted again?
Unless you again have massive water loss like from diareea I’d expect keto flu symptoms (if present at all) to be vague & more mild than what you had after the diarrhea ? I’d also expect you to not go through this again because you were fabulous for 33 days
I couldn’t even look at meat or eat for 3 days, most likely making my situation worse.
Your body didn’t want it, that’s ok
If I need to, do you know exactly how I should break my diet? Hospital food sucks!
If you want to break the diet, just trust your body to eat what you want, sound like you’ve made decent choices for a lifetime.. It is traumatic to go back and forth though I would think, so find something that works for you
Also I hadn’t pooped for 33 days (on the diet) yet not once did I feel constipated (believe me — I know a about constipation) so I want to ask if that’s at all normal?
33 days sounds abnormal, and better explains the diarrhea maybe, there maybe was a GI issue here, and the diarrhea was just part of the GI issue, unrelated to the rendered fat.
I heard after a week or maybe two the bowels get back on track, but mine did not, and I figure I was simply finally absorbing food and not making waste.
But do you think I need a bowel cleansing agent?
I have no experience here
but I chose not to use it since I didn’t FEEL constipated, was no longer bloated, was losing weight, and feeling GREAT.
Good plan, it should work in the future
I can’t wait to go ZC again. Salt or not !
If you return to ZC I’d do whatever you did the 1st time. If you ever want to try rendered fat again , make it maybe 1/10 the amount ? You eat rendered fat on a greasy burger, in a meat dish, no?
Just saw Esmee’s post who knows way more than me . So true re ” How much fat were you eating prior to the rendered fat disaster? Too little fat could prevent sufficiently regular elimination, just as too much fat could cause diarrhea.”
Yes, I suspect you were getting too little fat for 33 days. Esmee has great posts about how much protein etc but don’t obsess over it. Try to guess your calories from fat & see how you compare to the often recommended “60-80% of calories from fat” & if you are way below 60% see if you can SLOWLY go up towards 60% & listen to your body. Some need 60% calories from fat, others do better at 80%
Thanks Lou, your comments compliment what I said.
I don’t know if I wasn’t eating enough fat prior to dipping the jerky. I felt absolutely awesome though. But apparently not enough fat you’re saying to have a proper bowel movement? Fat is gets it moving?
I ate bacon for breakfast with a burger or liver as well as eggs all cooked in the bacon grease. I ate a single rib eye or other meat (T-bone/porterhouse) with marbled fat for dinner sometimes with a slab of unsalted butter on top. Snack if needed was 1-2 slices of jerky. Drink was my homemade broth. Sometimes at night I had some some whole pasture-fed milk.
I’ve never in my life counted calories or weighed food. So I don’t think I’ll be good at figuring out % ratios of fat:protein. Is that a must?
ZC is the single best and easiest way to eat that I know of. Planning, shopping, chopping, prepping is no longer what I do 3x a day. I’m free to have time now!! But I don’t want figuring to take over and stress me. I could do this diet forever if I feel as good as I did for 30 days.
So you think it’s bad not to have a BM even though I had fantastic energy, and everything else was perfect?
I have searched online for answers. Yet to find.
I must’ve been getting enough fat as I have not wanted to exercise like I wanted to during that time. Can it be I simply needed to immediately put meat back in my system to replenish the loss of electrolytes? I think I waited too long to eat normal (7 days) after my bout of diarrhea. And it wasn’t even a long bout. Just one short session on the toilet and I was drained. Wish I knew then what I know now about sodium and potassium, etc. I’m just a bit afraid to start again. But I think all meat is far better then having my old symptoms come back.
Do you think it’s safe for me to just get back to ZC asap, and have my electrolytes at hand?
It sounds to me like you were eating sufficient fat prior to the diarrhea episode. I really have no idea how one small episode of diarrhea could have made you feel so bad that you ended up needing to go to the hospital. I really question whether it was an electrolyte issue or if it might have been some sort of virus or bug instead. If you felt good before that, then you should have no trouble going back to zero carb. As far as your elimination is concerned, if you did not feel constipated or uncomfortable in any way, there was probably nothing wrong. I have certainly heard of people on ZC who only have a bowel movement once every 10 days or so, but a full month is a bit unusual. It could be that you were still adapting and your elimination will become more frequent the longer you do it. The only way to know is to try it again and see what happens.
But I will see if I can figure out my fat from calories somehow to be sure I’m getting at least 60 and not more then 80.
And no, you don’t need to become obsessed with calculating percentages and ratios as long as you feel good doing what your doing.
I would suggest skipping the milk when you try ZC again, as dairy can slow down elimination in some people.
I don’t know if I wasn’t eating enough fat prior to dipping the jerky.
Sounds to me too like you were
But apparently not enough fat you’re saying to have a proper bowel movement?
yea that’s why I implied fat intake may have been inadequate. True don’t obsess about % af calories from fat, but make an initial effort to get a ballpark idea, just do what you did 1st time but this time also try to estimate the calories from fat for say 2 weeks, if it’s not 60% you need not add more fat, just know, that way maybe you can identify something in the future to adjust, you need not adjust now, now you want to reproduce your 1st 32 days
Fat is gets it moving?
yes, as does caffeine but avoid that if you can, dairy especially cheese can makes it move less
I ate bacon for breakfast with a burger or liver
Seems most long term ZCarbers avoid liver or eat it rarely, but listen to your body if it’s screaming for liver. Liver has plenty carbs
as well as eggs
an egg yolk has 0.6g carbs, just so you know, I eat them rarely but usually about 5 yolks at a time, some carnivores will eat a dozen in a day
all cooked in the bacon grease.
that’s a good fat
Snack if needed was 1-2 slices of jerky.
Your homemade jerky? If yes, & not refrigerated or not prepared properly or just too old I can reason it may have been a source of a bacteria?
Drink was my homemade broth.
Ditto re a possible source of a bacteria, but not if you heated/re-heated it well, but many drink it cold so long as not too old
Sometimes at night I had some some whole pasture-fed milk.
Ditch the milk for sure, forever I would say, but that’s your call. If you must have something like milk, go with heavy whipping cream. If you can avoid all dairy the 1st 3-6 months all the better, THEN you try the HWC or cheese & see how/if it affects you
I’ve never in my life counted calories or weighed food. So I don’t think I’ll be good at figuring out % ratios of fat:protein. Is that a must?
Not a must. It would be worth the small effort to at least try. Sounds to me like you were pretty close if not dead on (unless carbs like milk & liver threw you off). You regretted not being as informed about ZC as you wished, here is your chance to improve. Lots of stories of folks doing good/decent on ZC then when they upped their fat towards 60%+ they went from decent to optimal.
But I don’t want figuring to take over and stress me.
correct, if it stresses you forget it, you simply want to see about what % of calories from fat you get, not necessarily change it, just know.
So you think it’s bad not to have a BM even though I had fantastic energy, and everything else was perfect?
I agree with Esmee
I must’ve been getting enough fat as I have not wanted to exercise like I wanted to during that time.
FWIW many who start ZC are sluggish for often at least a week, many times longer, a month.
Can it be I simply needed to immediately put meat back in my system to replenish the loss of electrolytes? I think I waited too long to eat normal (7 days) after my bout of diarrhea.
If it happens again , try, take a nibble or 2 & if you feel like continuing then do & if not quit.
And it wasn’t even a long bout. Just one short session on the toilet and I was drained.
Which leads me to think it was not the diarrhea that gave you the symptoms but of course may have contributed/exacerbated them .
Wish I knew then what I know now about sodium and potassium, etc.
FWIW, fiddling with electrolys is a tricky thing, I can say it from experience & from current/ongoing experience (I’ll post it soon). If I could go ZC with no fiddling with electrolytes I would ! But the cramps just don’t fly in my career. my goal is to eliminate all electrolyte supplementing, and I most definitely will get there
Do you think it’s safe for me to … have my electrolytes at hand?
Not going to hurt, unless you unnecessarily supplement, or supplement in the wrong doses and or ratios and screw yourself up more than you would have if you never supplemented at all, which we’ll never know.
We still don’t know if electrolytes is what put you in the hospital do we?
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Thank you for all those resources and articles – I cannot stop reading! So much wisdom and useful information!
I’ve been on zero carb for over 6 months and have not felt as good as I had expected. After reading your website and figured out that I was eating too much lean protein (over 2lb a day) and salting too much, which resulted in night leg cramps, constipation, bloating, gas, fatigue and weakness. I upped my fat intake and gradually reduced my salt intake as well and stopped it completely on Jan 1 (3 days ago) – I have read that you felt dry mouth and hypotensive during that period – I do too but also I’m sleepy and need a nap in the afternoon but wake up at 4 am thirsty. Did you have those symptoms as well? I’m just wondering if it’s something else I must look into. Also, consipation continues – I suspect it might be lazy colon and will stay this way.
I did not experience those specific symptoms, but I certainly think they could be possible. It took my body a full month to adapt to no salt, so it’s impossible to make conclusions after only 3 days. Constipation can be caused by a variety of things. Do you not go as often as you feel you should? Most people on ZC go less often, but they are not constipated.Do you feel pain or discomfort from not going or during a bowel movement? If so, then that would be a sign of actual constipation. More fat is usually the solution to constipation.
Thank you, Esmee. That’s pretty comforting. I increased my fat intake 2 weeks ago and try to prepare my meals 1 part fat and 3 parts lean (following Stefansson, Bear, Washington) and then eat as much as I want. I will try to add more fat as I don’t feel a need to go for 1-2 weeks. I waited 3 weeks the longest but at that time I must admit I ate more lean protein. Would electrolyte imbalance (my using salt without supplementing other electrolytes) contribute to that as well?
Electrolytes might play a role. Some people end up taking magnesium to facilitate bowel movements, but they are usually consuming salt and other minerals as well. I think it’s best to go back to basics if at all possible and do just fatty beef and water and give it a month or three and see if things improve.
Thank you again. More and more pieces of the puzzle fit together. I will do only beef and water and will see if it improves.
Most welcome. May your journey be blessed.