Pass The Salt!

Humans need salt to live. When man developed agriculture, salt was added to supplement the vegetable and cereal diet and the quest for salt became a primary motivation in history. Learn the facts about salt!

So, tell me, who can resist a packet of salty crisps? Well, for starters, I can't! Crisps, with a sprinkling of salt that gives that crunch and delicious tingle to the taste buds. Ummm. Aside from the fact that, the crisps are deep fried and high in fat and are simply scrumptious because of that, what exactly is it that gives the crisps and the other food we eat, the actual taste?

Well, it's the salt. Salt is a gustatory delight. You're probably wondering what's with the salt we eat that is so significant to my health?

First let me give you a little background about salt. Most people probably think of salt as simply that white granular food seasoning found in a salt shaker on virtually every dining table, It is that, surely, but it is far more.

The fact is that throughout history, salt--called sodium chloride by chemists--has been such an important element of life that it has been the subject of many stories, fables and folktales (such as "Salt on a Magpie's Tail" from Sweden) and is frequently referenced in fairy tales. Charles Dickens penned a Victorian era Ghost Story "To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt." Forty years later, author George Gissing's last book was "The Salt of the Earth."

Salt served as money at various times and places, and it has been the cause of bitter warfare. Offering bread and salt to visitors, in many cultures, is traditional etiquette. It is used in making pottery.

While there are records of the importance of salt in commerce in medieval times and earlier, in some places like the Sahara and Nepal, salt trading today gives a glimpse of what life may have been like centuries ago. Alchemists use the square symbol to represent salt.

Salt was in general use long before history, as we know it, began to be recorded. Chinese folklore recounts the discovery of salt. Nomads spreading westward were known to carry salt.

Egyptian art from as long ago as 1450 B.C, records salt-making. Salt was of crucial importance economically. A far-flung trade in ancient Greece involving exchange of salt for slaves gave rise to the expression , "not worth his salt." Salt has played a vital part in religious ritual in many cultures, symbolizing immutable, incorruptible purity. In the early 19th Century, sick people traveled to rudimentary spas to soak in salt springs.

Humans need salt to live. Prehistoric man obtained salt from the meat of hunted animals. When man developed agriculture, salt was added to supplement the vegetable and cereal diet and the quest for salt became a primary motivation in history.

The Facts ///

  • Pure salt consists of the elements sodium and chlorine. Its chemical name is sodium chloride and its formula is NaCl. Its mineral name is halite.
  • All salts come from a sea. The oceans that once covered the earth left a generous supply of salt beds and underground deposits.
  • Our body contains 4 to 8 ounces of salt. It helps maintain the normal volume of blood in the body and also helps keep the correct balance of water in and around the cells and tissues. Salt plays an important part in the digestion of food and is essential in making the heart beat correctly.
  • Only about 5% of the world's annual salt production ends up as seasoning at the dinner table. The vast majority pours into chemical plants.
  • During his or her lifetime, an average person will use 28,000 pounds of salt.
  • Every day, each of the earth's 5.9 billion inhabitants uses salt. Annual salt production has increased over the past century from 10 million tons to over 200 million tons today.

But get this; we're getting far more sodium in our food than a man or woman should consume -- up to even two teaspoons a day!

The use of salt to spice up processed foods is so rampant there is a movement afoot to get manufacturers to ease up on the stuff!

While dumping the saltshaker is a good idea, it won't solve the problem. Any dietitian worth their... um salt, will tell you the vast majority of the sodium we eat is hidden inside common foods. And sadly, many are our favorites, including pizza, frozen dinners and canned soups.

The situation is serious, you see, it's not simply a matter of bloating from water retention -- too much salt can lead to nasty health problems. For 4,000 years, we have known that salt intakes can affect blood pressure through signals to the muscles of blood vessels trying to maintain blood pressure within a proper range. Most of the population can lower blood pressure by restricting dietary salt. And we know that elevated blood pressure, hypertension is a well-documented marker or risk factor for cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes, a "silent killer".

Salty food tastes good... there's no denying that! And your body needs sodium. It's a mineral that helps the body regulate blood pressure. It's also needed for muscle and nerve function.

Diets high in sodium are linked to fluid retention and high blood pressure, factors that lead to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Not to mention renal problems too.

Salt is sneaky. It is not only found in salty and savory food products, It is found in many packaged foods you'd think as sweet, including snack puddings and instant hot chocolate. There is more sodium in a cup of cereal (486 milligrams) than in a cup of dry roasted peanuts (about 9 milligrams).

Salty foods also include cereals, crackers, breads and many packaged foods. Packaged meats, soups and frozen entrees are the worst offenders. One smoked pork sausage contains over 1,000 milligrams! Cheese is especially high in sodium. One cup of 1% cottage cheese contains over 900 milligrams.

Fast food is salty food. Monosodium glutamate is used as a flavor enhancer, and is present in most of the seasonings and flavors used in commercial food preparation. A 4-oz. hamburger contains about 80 milligrams of sodium; a fast food burger almost 10 times the amount. Your best bet is to order baked, grilled or broiled foods and hold the sauce.

Salt Is An Acquired Taste ///

Due to the fact many of our processed foods are sodium-soaked, it's tough to steer clear of the stuff. However, it can be done. Read the labels! You should consume no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium a day. Go to your pantry or freezer and check the nutritional numbers on the food you eat on a regular basis. Scary, huh?

Here's something scarier: too much sodium is bad for your blood pressure and high blood pressure hurts your heart, brain and kidneys. Over 50 million people suffer hypertension and are urged to eat a low sodium diet n that includes no more than 1,500 milligrams a day. Amazingly, the average person eats over 4,000mg of sodium a day -- and 75% of it comes from processed food and restaurant meals.

If you are a soup lover thinking, "Hey, I'll simply opt for those cans labeled 'healthy!'... Think again. FDA allows no more than 480 mg of sodium in "healthy" soups, compared to the 800-1,000mg found in typical canned soups. But that amount of sodium is still considered high by some watchdogs. Not so surprisingly, the industry has fought an FDA attempt to lower the allowable sodium in a product labeled HEALTHY. ...

Dine out at your own risk. Restaurants can assault you with more than 3,000mg per entree. Here's a list of those high sodium products:

High-Sodium Products ///

  • Table salt
  • Seasonings that contain salt (celery salt, garlic salt, onion salt, season-all, "Lite Salt")
  • Sauerkraut or other vegetables prepared in brine (pickles)
  • Regular canned soups
  • Breads and rolls with salted toppings
  • Biscuits and cookies
  • Potato chips, corn chips, pretzels, saltines, salty crackers, salted popcorn
  • Salty or smoked meats (bacon, bologna, chipped or corned beef, frankfurters, ham, meats koshered by salting, luncheon meats, salt pork, sausage, smoked tongue, canned or pickled meats)
  • Salty or smoked fish (anchovies, caviar, salted and dried cod, herring, sardines)
  • Processed cheese, cheese spreads, Roquefort, Camembert, Gorgonzola, or Parmesan
  • Salted nuts, olives.
  • Bacon and bacon fat
  • Regular peanut butter
  • Bouillon, ketchup, chilli sauces, meat extracts, meat sauces, meat tenderizers, monosodium glutamate, prepared mustard, relishes, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce
  • Antacids containing sodium (Alka Seltzer)
  • Baking soda toothpaste
  • Convenience foods (canned, processed, or frozen)
  • Many restaurant foods.
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Aerated beverages like colas atc.

To Reduce Salt Intake ///

  • Use less salt when cooking -- try using a squeeze of lemon or small quantities of herbs and spices as an alternative
  • Choose fresh foods where possible
  • Choose foods with a lower salt content: food products that say "low sodium" on the package have 140mg of sodium or less per serving, while products marked "very low sodium" have no more than 35 milligrams
  • Be leery of certain veggies. One stalk of celery contains 35.2 milligrams of sodium. Other vegetables to watch are: beets, beet greens, carrots, mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chard, white turnips, frozen peas, frozen lima beans, and tomato juice, sauce, paste or puree. The sodium values range from 35 to 155 milligrams for one cup cooked of any above vegetable. If you are a veggie lover who's trying to cut down on sodium, try munching peppers (green, yellow, orange or red), green onions, cauliflower, cabbage or broccoli instead.

One Final Word Of Warning

Most salt substitutes contain potassium chloride. Talk to your doctor. Certain blood pressure medications or kidney problems might make salt substitutes a bad choice. And keep in mind that "light salt" is still salt. So, I think you should just simply pass by the salt.

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