Part II: Salt

From the three part series, “The Necessary Evils: Sugar, Salt and Fat”

 

THE ALL AMERICAN SPICE

Salt is the quintessential American spice. It is cheap, abundant, and it enhances the flavor of whatever you put it on. I know that mashed potatoes and gravy would not be the same without it. When I was young and I looked in the kitchen cupboard, the spice rack was sparse, but I could always count on seeing a container of common table salt, with the now infamous iconic image of a young girl leaving a trail of salt behind her as she casually strolls in the rain. Morton’s salt was the only salt that I knew of. Today, there are more options than ever before, as well as more information about the ills of a high sodium diet and eating foods that use refined table salt. Anyone with hypertension (high blood pressure) can speak to you at length about the evils of eating a diet that is high in sodium or salting foods too liberally. Yet, salt is essential to life.

A large part of the problem is the quantity and the quality of salt that is used. People often get more sodium from poor quality sources of salt than their bodies know what to do with. Many professionals in health and nutrition fields, including Simone Gabbay, RNCP, note that the research that exists today, connecting a high sodium diet to poor health and a range of chronic health problems, is based on research that observed the effect of refined table salt on people (Gabbay 2002, 22).

However, alternatives do exist, and not every salt is created equal.

REFINED VS. UNREFINED SALT

Refined table salt is a highly processed food full of additives. Refined table salt is rock salt that has been stripped of valuable minerals leaving sodium and chloride, and in some cases iodine, which is reintroduced after the minerals have been stripped. Refined table salt is heated at high temperatures, bleached, and caking agents, as well as other chemicals are often added. In the end, you are left with something that is pure white, but I would not say that it is food, and it certainly is not the source of salt that the body truly needs. Experts in conventional and alternative medicine agree, that if you are using refined table salt, you are using something that is lethal to the body and has proven connections to high blood pressure, heart disease and water retention, among many other health concerns.

Unrefined sea salt is harvested naturally from ocean water, and it does not go through the same harsh heating and chemical stripping that refined salt does. Unrefined sea salt also has the added health benefit of 84 essential minerals that the body does need. It is also interesting to note that the mineral composition in sea salt closely resembles the mineral composition of the major fluids of the body including blood and lymph.

Dr. Jacques de Langre, wrote two books about the healing benefits of sea salt, Sea Salts Hidden Powers and Sea Salt, the Vital Spark of Life. Dr. Jacques de Langre’s research is based on over 30 years of experience as a biochemist, and his theories about the effect of sea salt on the body are well respected by professionals in natural health and holistic nutrition fields. Dr. Jacques de Langre talks about the significance of salt as a component in bodily fluids and the health benefits of using unrefined sea salt in an interview that was posted by Regenerative Nutrition. De Langre comments, “People forget, but everyone was born in a salty solution—or mother’s amniotic fluid. This is probably the best biological proof we have that cellular structure is enhanced by salt. The amniotic fluid is a salty, “mini-ocean” for the fetus. This is the prime example of why we need all of the ocean’s minerals as part of our make-up” (Regenerative Nutrition, 2009).

WHY OUR BODIES NEED SOME SALT

Every cell in your body relies on salt to function properly. A moderate amount of salt in the diet benefits the body in many ways. In some instances, a small amount of salt normalizes blood pressure. Salt is also an important digestive aid, as HCI production in the stomach does not occur without it, making it nearly impossible to digest food without it. Alternative healthcare practitioner sometimes suggested adding a pinch of unrefined sea salt to water to assist with low adrenal function because of its benefit as a valuable source of electrolytes, and its value as an aid in the absorption of minerals. Salt is also needed to absorbed fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. Some salt in the diet also promotes circulation.

SOURCES OF SALT AND EXCESS SODIUM

Concern with over-consumption of salt is largely because of one key player: sodium. While some sodium is necessary to regulate blood pressure, and to balance the fluids in the body, many people can stand to reduce the amount of sodium they use, especially if the source is commercial table salt. In the article, Sodium: Are You Getting Too Much?, it is noted that people should be consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, which equals about a teaspoon of salt (Eat Right Ontario, 2009). Yet, sodium is in most of the foods we eat: meat, dairy and vegetables, as well as most refined and processed foods, and in significant quantities. Unfortunately, a busy lifestyle can lead to dependence on convenience foods, and eating foods from boxes, cans or from fast food restaurants.

According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), a whopping 77% of daily sodium intake is from refined and processed foods, while only about 5% of daily sodium intake is from adding salt to foods as you cook, and 6% of daily sodium intake is from foods that are salted to taste (MFMER, 2008).

As a child of two busy working class parents, many of the meals I ate came from places such as McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken out of economic hardship and convenience. A recent glance at the nutritional facts on the websites for Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s proved to be illuminating. A typical evening supper of chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw and a biscuit from Kentucky Fried Chicken far surpasses anyone’s sodium needs for an entire day: 1050 mg of sodium in a chicken breast, 560 mg of sodium in mashed potatoes and gravy, 270 mg of sodium in coleslaw and 530 mg of sodium in a biscuit.

Consumers know that knowledge is power, and they want to be informed about what they are eating. As interest in public health issues rises, more fast food restaurants are publishing their nutrition facts on their websites and menus. A recent article published in the LA Times, called Denny’s Sued Over High-sodium Foodillustrates how one consumer took his health concerns into his own hands by filing a lawsuit against the fast food giant Denny’s for not publishing the dangerously high sodium content of their food on their menu (Hirch, 2009).

Some other processed foods with high sodium content include: potato chips, soda, TV dinners, canned vegetables, boxed stuffing, packaged gravy, peanut butter, and many, many others. Even packaged health foods are a concern.  The nutrition label of a can of “organic” spicy fajita chicken soup has 770 mg of sodium in just 1 cup. So, it is wise to check the label first, even if it is considered to be a healthy brand.

SODIUM AND WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Read the nutrition label.

Look for the obvious sources: salt, sea salt and sodium.

Look for the not-so-obvious sources of sodium contained in condiments, soy sauce, baking soda, and baking powder, bouillon cubes, canned soups and canned vegetables, and “spice packets”.

If an item has monosodium glutamate (MSG), leave it on the shelf.

USE A MODERATE APPROACH

By eating foods in their whole form, and eliminating highly processed and refined foods, you automatically reduced the amount of refined salt in your diet. A natural next step is to switch to an unrefined sea salt.

Educate yourself. Sodium is in most foods, refined foods, whole foods and packaged health foods. As individuals, people process salt differently, so always communicate with your health-care provider about how much sodium is appropriate for you. Sleuth out the not-so-obvious sources of sodium. Switch to an unrefined natural sea salt. Read the nutrition label. Salt to taste. Use alternatives to salt such as herbs, garlic, ginger, lemon or limes to flavor your food.

As far as commercial table salt is concerned, I still have some uses for a container of Morton’s salt. During snowy winter months, it makes an excellent anti-icing agent, so for this purpose, I will keep it on hand.

REFERENCES

Bradshaw-Black, Vivienne. “Is Salt Good for Your Health? Unrefined Salt vs. Industrial Grade Sodium Chloride…Does it Matter Which We Use?” Townsend Letter, Issue 300 (July 2008) : 74-78. http//ebscohost.com.   

Bschorr, Hild. “Salt is Vital to Health.” Townsend Letter. Issue 291 (October 2007) : 99-100. http//ebscohost.com.                

Butler, Graham. “Health-sustaining Sea Salt”.  Alive: Canadian Journal of Health & Nutrition. Issue 255 (January 2004) : 110-111. http//ebscohost.com.                                                                          

Eat Right Ontario. “Get the Scoop on Salt.” http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/ViewDocument.aspx?id=265. (accessed July 23, 2009).

Eat Right Ontario, “Cut Out the Salt.” http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/ViewDocument.aspx?id=7. (accessed July 25, 2009).

Gabbay, Simone. “Ask Our Experts: Professionals from a Variety of Health-care Fields Answer Your Questions About Natural Medicine.” Alive: Canadian Journal of Health & Nutrition. Issue 235 (May 2002) : 22. http://ebscohost.com.                                                                                      

Hirch, Jerry. “Denny’s Sued Over High-sodium Food.” Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2009. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-denny24-2009jul24,0,734556.story.        

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). “Sodium: Are You Getting Too Much?” http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sodium/NU00284                                                       

Regenerative Nutrition. (interview with Jacques de Langre), “Celtic Sea Salt.” http://www.regenerativenutrition.com/salt-celtic-blood-pressure-unrefined-sea.asp. (accessed July 20, 2009).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

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