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Does Salt Break a Fast? The Truth

By Liam McAuliffe Updated on

We associate salt with food, so when we’re eliminating all food on a fast, it’s natural to wonder, “Will salt break a fast?”

The short answer is, no, salt does not break a fast. But there’s a lot more to the story of fasting and salt than the fact that it won’t interfere with caloric restriction. 

Salt is an essential nutrient whether you’re consuming or abstaining from food. When fasting, getting enough salt becomes even more important for your health. 

In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of salt while fasting, explaining why it doesn’t break a fast, and detailing the changes the body goes through while fasting that require more salt. We’ll also offer guidelines on how much salt you should consume. 

Table of Contents

Will Salt Break a Fast? 

No, salt will not break a fast. 

Salt is made up of 40% sodium and 60% chloride.

Salt has no carbs, no fat, and no protein. Therefore, salt has no calories. 

Your body enters a fasted state when you restrict calories. Salt will not interfere with this process. 

What about the other minerals found in salt?

Common salt, sea salt, and Himalayan pink salt contain other electrolytes, including potassium, calcium, and magnesium. None of these minerals provide calories and will not break a fast. 

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Why Your Body Needs Salt

Salt is a victim of remarkably scant nutritional science and outright misinformation. Thankfully, modern science is setting the record straight and restoring the importance of salt in our modern diets. For example, a 2011 article in Scientific American titled It’s Time to End the War on Salt, citing a gold standard meta-analysis of numerous studies involving 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension, found “no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure.”

We crave salt because we need salt. More specifically, our bodies need the sodium and chloride that make up a large percentage of most salts.

In nutrition, the word “essential” means that our bodies can’t make it on their own, and salt is profoundly essential. Your body needs salt in order to 

  • Maintain critical fluid balances within and around cells
  • Maintain healthy blood pressure
  • Help muscles (including our heart muscles) contract properly
  • Help nerves send signals throughout your body

What happens When You Don’t Get Enough Salt?

Not getting enough salt causes a set of potentially severe symptoms associated with low sodium levels, or hyponatremia.

Low sodium can lead to 

  • muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Shock
  • Coma
  • Death

These acute symptoms are just the most obvious signs of salt deficiency. When you consume less than 6 grams of salt per day, your body undergoes a cascade of problematic hormonal reactions: 

  • The renin-angiotensin-aldosterone (RAAS) hormone system is stimulated
  • These hormones attempt to balance your blood pressure in the short term
  • In the long term, stimulation of the RAAS can increase the risk of chronic inflammation, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, heart disease, and cognitive decline.
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Why You Should Be Using (More) Salt While Fasting

Fasting with salt is a recipe for success. 

In the early stages (4-24 hours) of a fasted state, your body begins metabolizing stored carbohydrates in your muscles called glycogen. In order for this to occur your body reduces insulin. 

A reduction of insulin triggers your kidneys to release sodium. At the same time, glycogen is “packaged” with water molecules that are “flushed” when the glycogen is released. This combined flushing of fluids and sodium decreases blood sodium levels and can disrupt associated electrolyte balances. 

Ultimately, this process triggers two beneficial metabolic processes: 

  • Ketosis: our body metabolizes stored body fat into powerful energy molecules called ketones. 
  • Autophagy: A process of cellular repair and renewal that protects your body against disease, inflammation, and infection.

Though these processes are remarkably beneficial,  it’s important to support your entire physiology by replacing the sodium and rebalancing the electrolytes that are disrupted by this transition. 

Does Salt Break Autophagy? 

As we touched on above, autophagy is a process where your body cleans out broken and damaged cell parts and organelles and recycles them into new cell parts. 

The main pathway involved in this process is a protein called mTOR.5 When mTOR is stimulated by intake of proteins and carbs that increase blood sugar and insulin levels, autophagy is inhibited.

Basically, anything that stimulates mTOR puts the breaks on autophagy. Salt, made up of sodium and chloride, does not stimulate mTOR, and studies have found no evidence that sodium intake interferes with autophagy.

However, when fasting it’s important to get your salt from non-caloric, which essentially means mineral water or water with salt added to it. 

How Much Salt Do You Need When Fasting?

General guidelines for how much salt you need to consume while fasting is at least 3.75 – 5 grams of salt, which provides 1.5-2 grams of sodium per day.  

While on an extended fast, and deep into ketosis, you may benefit from increasing your sodium intake by 100-200%. 

When consuming salt, it’s crucial to spread your intake evenly throughout the day. 

Here are a few other considerations to keep in mind. 

  • If you’re not accustomed to consuming more salt (most people get salt passively through processed foods), consume very small amounts at a time and pay close attention to how your body responds.
  • Pay attention to symptoms of sodium deficiency and increase salt intake accordingly.
  • If you have pre-existing health conditions, especially related to the kidneys and high blood pressure, consult with a healthcare provider knowledgeable about fasting before making any significant changes to your salt intake.
  • If you’re physically active or in an environment that causes significant sweating you may need to increase your salt intake above the above recommendations.
  • Though staying hydrated is critical when fasting, drinking too much water without the addition of salt and other electrolytes can cause sodium deficiency.

When fasting it may be appropriate to supplement with electrolytes such as “keto chow” formulated by low-carb eating expert Dr. Ken Berry. 

How To Take Salt While Fasting

One approach is to add around 1/8 tsp of Celtic Sea Salt or Himalayan pink salt with each 12 oz. glass of water, beginning in the morning. 

Does Salt Break a Fast: The Bottom Line

Salt is composed mostly of sodium and chloride, with some types of salt also providing potassium, magnesium, and calcium. None of these electrolytes and minerals contain calories. Therefore salt will not break a fast. 

Nor will salt “break” or interfere with beneficial processes associated with fasting, including autophagy or ketosis. 

Salt, or more specifically, the sodium and chloride that it provides, are essential nutrients that your body needs for the proper performance of numerous vital processes. Fasting triggers metabolic changes that require even more salt intake than the standard recommendations. 

Despite the anti-salt dogma of the last half-century, modern research tells us that salt does not negatively affect blood pressure or heart health.

While the guideline above will likely support most people in their fasting practice, prolonged fasting can affect electrolyte balance in complex ways that vary among individuals. It’s important to pay close attention to your body and to consult with experienced professionals if you have questions.

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