The Low Carb Secret Ingredient


For weeks, I suffered from varying degrees of dizziness, body weakness, headache and confusion.  I had trouble finding the right words and concentrating on my writing. I felt absolutely helpless. 

I initially saw a General Practitioner because I couldn't see my Endo right away. She suggested that I had a cervical spine issue and I needed to relax. The GP prescribed a muscle relaxant/tranquilizer and sent me on my way.  

Then I was able to get in to see my Endo, who suggested that I try to rest and relax (again), have a spinal x-ray, and get checked by an ear/nose/throat specialist. She thought I might be suffering from a virus or, once again, a cervical spine issue. She gave me a referral to get my ears checked, a referral for 10 massages (which has been wonderful. I can't complain about that!) and told me to come back with the x-ray and info from the specialist. 

The ear/nose/throat specialist said my ears looked fine but wanted me to go for additional testing....

(I didn't follow any of this advice, other than the massages, because I honestly didn't think these doctors were getting to the root cause of my issues.) 

I was frustrated that these doctors seemed to blow off my symptoms.

Of course I was thinking my problems were much more serious, than simply stress or a neck issue. I was convinced I had a brain tumor or degenerative neurological issue.

SOMETHING had to explain the symptoms I'd been experiencing. 

Then, I was reading Voleck and Phinney's book, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living and the information started falling into place...


I had low blood pressure of 90/70, and a slightly low sodium level from my lab reports a month earlier, but the three doctors who reviewed my labs (Endo, GP and Hematologist earlier in the month) weren't concerned.

I knew my body craved salty foods (I'm known to overeat salty snacks such as nuts) and my cravings for salt have been stronger since starting low carb almost a year ago.

What I didn't realize was that after cutting all processed foods from my diet (I eat a low carb diet of whole foods, with little to no deli meats and packaged items), I not only reduced my sodium intake dramatically, but the way my body processed salt had also changed.

This information is contrary to what we've all been taught about nutrition (just like the recommendations to eat a high carb diet for diabetes), who loads their food with tons salt??? I didn't think sodium was good for a body....

BUT when eating low carb, your liver no longer stores excess sodium, but flushes it, requiring higher dietary sodium levels than people who eat a standard, high carb diet. 

"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 kidneys (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." Volek and Phinney, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living, 2011. page 20

"If you are eating less than 60 grams of carbohydrate per day, you need to purposefully add 2-3 grams of sodium to your daily intake (unless you are still taking diuretic medication under a doctor's direction for high blood pressure or fluid retention). And if you do hard or prolonged exercise (enough to make you sweat), one of those grams needs to be consumed within the hour before you start. At or above 60 grams per day of carbs, this prescription becomes optional."  Volek and Phinney, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living, 2011. page 240

"The best solution is to include 1-2 cups of broth or bouillon to your daily schedule. This adds only 1-2 grams of sodium to your daily intake and your ketoadapted metabolism ensures that you pass it right through within a matter of hours (allaying any fears you might have of salt buildup in your system). Volek and Phinney, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living, 2011. page 41

According to WebMD, low sodium levels (hyponatreamia) can cause: 

  • Headache

  • Confusion or altered mental state

  • Seizures

  • Decreased consciousness which can proceed to coma and death.

  • Restlessness

  • Muscle spasms or cramps

  • Weakness, and tiredness

  • Nausea and vomiting

Now, as Volek and Phinney recommend, I'm drinking a large mug (12-18 oz) full of broth every day. I prefer homemade bone broth, but in a pinch, a commercially available version will do. I just posted my bone broth recipe here.

This increased sodium has created a dramatic improvement in my concentration, energy level and lightheadedness. It's so easy to do and the results have been dramatic. 

I'm being evaluated for any underlying thyroid and adrenal issues that can cause low blood pressure and low sodium levels, but I'm convinced that additional salt intake is at least part of what I need to feel better. 

Interested in more information? Check out Voleck and Phinney's book, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living (Amazon affiliate link) You are not charged anything additional, yet we receive a small portion of the sale price to help support writing for when you buy through our links.  Thanks!! 

Have you experienced these low sodium symptoms, or have you purposefully increased your salt intake when eating low carb? Tell us your story in the comments below!