Salt of the Earth

Posted October 8, 2007 in Mind Body Spirit

<p>You may have noticed that your good ol’ Weekly is always bitching about how you need to eat less sodium, but you also know that salt makes most things taste better. Can you seriously imagine eating fries without those requisite flavor crystals? Fries are bad for you anyway, but salt can make something healthy like trail mix that much yummier to munch. Is it really that bad? We all know how salt tastes, but few of us actually know what it is, how it works or how much to have. Here’s the nitty-gritty on our favorite granules.</p>
<p>Sodium is a naturally occurring mineral. Table salt is the compound sodium chloride-40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. The two main sources of salt are sea water and rock salt beds (the salt must be extracted, either through evaporation or mining). Salt works both as a flavor enhancer and, more importantly, as a preservative. As the FDA explains, salt preserves foods by lowering the amount of available water molecules in foods. Bacteria need moisture in order to thrive, and so, without enough "free" water, they cannot grow well in foods that contain salt. This ability to preserve food has made salt a foundation of our civilization. It meant that food could last through times of scarcity and travel over long distances-i.e., it often made the difference between life and death. With the ability to either strengthen (when in abundance) or destroy (when lacking) lives, economies and empires, salt was one of the most highly-valued trade items from the 20th century BC until the 1900s, when it became easier to get.
Despite these powers over society, our bodies only need minute amounts (250 milligrams) in order to function normally. While sodium is a necessary mineral for optimal health, according to the American Heart Association, the average American consumes a very unhealthy 6,000-18,000 milligrams! The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines dictate that healthy adults should consume less than 2,300 milligrams (about one teaspoon of salt) of sodium, total, per day. Reducing the amount of sodium in your diet may help you reduce or avoid high blood pressure, which is important because people with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke. You might cease shaking the shaker when you consider that these two diseases are the number one and number three killers in the U.S. today. High sodium diets can also cause fluid retention and uncomfortable swelling in the feet and hands.</p>
<p>While many good foods, such as spinach, raisins and milk, naturally contain small amounts of sodium, as a general rule, the foods highest in sodium are processed and packaged foods. Try to avoid, limit or control your portions when eating processed meats like hot dogs, cold cuts, corned beef and bacon. The same goes for packaged foods such as frozen dinners, flavored/instant rice and noodle or potato mixes. Other foods that are excessively high in sodium include cheeses, canned foods (soups, sauces and veggies), pickled foods, salted snacks, condiments (such as soy sauce, ketchup and BBQ sauce) and pretty much anything you’re going to get at a fast food restaurant.</p>
<p>Yep, sodium is everywhere, and it’s not good for you. The best way to deal with it is to try and pick whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible (which is, conveniently, also the best way to lose weight), and don’t add extra salt to your food. Nowadays, fresh food is frequently available, and we have refrigeration for preservation. We should also be thankful for another advance-deodorant.</p>



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