Because it kills life, salt is considered by many to be a great food preservative, as it prevents spoilage for months to years on end. Salt is hidden in almost every food in the average diet, from ice cream to butter, cheese, peanut butter, bread, crackers, cereal, ketchup, bacon, ham, sausage and soy sauce, to soups, soft drinks, barbecue, baking mixes, smoked meats, fish, and even health-food fare. It is also hidden in seasonings such as meat tenderizer, lemon pepper, Thai seasoning, fajita seasoning, and herb chicken seasoning. Sodium is an ingredient in many over-the-counter medications as well, such as cough medicines, antacids, aspirin, and laxatives, and, unbeknownst to most, in many commonly prescribed prescription drugs.
All processed, take-out, frozen, canned food and restaurant fare is overloaded with salt. Many say it’s a great way to make cheap food taste good, so salt is also found in almost every single so-called “food” picked up at the drive-through. More than 90 percent of the money people spend on food is spent on this type of so-called convenient processed food, so, as you can imagine, most people are consuming outrageous amounts of salt.
Salt is disguised in ominous ways on labels: MSG (monosodium glutamate), sodium citrate, sodium alginate, sodium sulfite, sodium caseinate, sodium benzoate, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda and powder), sodium hydroxide, and disodium phosphate. Salt is smoked, spiced, and flavored. You can sprinkle onion, celery, or garlic salt onto your food, too. Lately the rage is to toss out your regular salt shaker and instead, reach for something else: sea salt or crystal salt.
Like the old Morton’s jingle said, “when it rains, it pours,” and gourmet sea-salt companies are appearing even faster than those pesky internet pop-up ads, using alluring names such as “Sicilian,” “Mediterranean,” “Hawaiian,” and “Celtic,” successfully enticing unwary consumers into using their products. Romantic stories of their rare, delicate salts being drawn from the exotic crystal-blue seas of glamorous foreign lands insinuate their “traditional methods of harvesting,” “sun-drying,” “flavors of the ocean,” and their “roots firmly entrenched in the past” in order to make their particular brand of sea salt an indispensable ingredient and the only healthy choice. Take that advice with a big grain of salt. Many health experts are now concerned that these alluring illusions of grandeur and the concurrent epidemic of sea-salt use may be doing us more harm than good and could actually be a recipe for disaster.
“I’ve heard so many great things about sea salt! How can this be?” you ask. Let’s take a little trip back to school to a cellular chemistry lesson. Let’s go inside the cell . . . .
Our trillions of tiny cells are constantly pushing out waste and pulling in nutrients. This is accomplished with the sodium/potassium pump; remember that? Now don’t worry, I’m not going to get too deep here, just a few of the basics.
Negatively charged potassium ions (K-) are found on the inside of the cell membrane and positively charged sodium ions (Na+) are on the outside of the cell membrane (see diagram). These charged ions are two of the body’s major electrolytes, making the cell “electrically polarized” so that the waste moves out and stays out and the nutrients move in and stay in; this is what is needed for our cells to survive and thrive. The opposite polarization or opposite charges of those potassium and sodium ions naturally attract – you know, like magnets – so the cell has to protect itself from this and does so in two ways. First, the cell’s membrane is very strong and holds most of the sodium ions out. Then there is also a pump – a protein pump – that pushes out any sodium ions that do find their way inside. There is a delicate homeostasis and a constant interplay between potassium and sodium and several other important electrolytes on an ongoing basis, affecting your blood pressure, pH, heart rhythm, digestion, nerve impulses and muscle contractions. Several factors, including your diet, can disturb this balance. In general, a diet higher in potassium and lower in sodium keeps our cells happy, but that is hard to find with today’s unconscionable food choices.
When we talk about diet, we need to differentiate between the words salt and sodium, for most think they are one and the same. Salt content and sodium content are not synonymous, as sodium is contained in salt. Foods such as celery, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables contain plain ol’ naturally occurring organic sodium, but not the traditional “salt.”
Regular table salt found in processed and prepared foods, as well as all those gourmet sea-salts, is actually sodium chloride (Na+ Cl-), consisting chemically of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride by weight. In excess, sodium chloride is toxic to our body, so in defense our body hoards water to offload, neutralize, and dilute it. In fact, for every gram of sodium chloride ingested, 23 times the normal amount of cell water is needed to neutralize it. Water weight, edema, puffiness, the bloat – whatever you want to call it – the body’s fluid balance is off-kilter and the cellular transport of wastes and nutrients as discussed above is impaired, sometimes with deadly results.
High blood pressure, congestive heart failure, heart disease, gout, migraines, osteoporosis, asthma, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, nerve disorders, stroke, kidney and gallbladder stones, and kidney failure are just a few of the health challenges caused and/or complicated by salt (sodium chloride). Even unsightly cellulite is exacerbated by sodium chloride.
Our bodies require some sodium since our blood, sweat, tears, urine, cells, and even amniotic fluid all require this element. Adult bodies need only about 500mg of sodium per day and slightly more if we are active. 500mg is the amount of sodium found in only ¼ teaspoon of salt, but most consume that and then some, and then some more – sometimes in excess of 6,000mg on a daily basis – about 2½ teaspoons, more than 10 times the amount of sodium we can handle. A salt shaker is not required to acquire the necessary sodium, since a wide cross-section of wholesome foods provides this essential element.
One of the challenges with salt is that government agencies worldwide have placed it on the GRAS List (“generally recognized as safe”), fostering the constant excessive use of this potentially harmful granule. This notorious seasoning sits on the same list as a distinguished group of health saboteurs: high-fructose corn syrup, nitrates, sulfites, canola oil, caffeine, saccharin and other questionable ingredients that are also “safe” for our health.
Another challenge is that the food industry purposely puts salt into your food along with other addictive ingredients to make you crave even more of their products and encourage you to unleash an unquenchable thirst for their unhealthy beverages. Groups such as the American Heart Association still claim it’s perfectly fine to have up to 2,300mg of sodium – about a teaspoon – per day, and according to the American Medical Association, 95 percent of men in North America alone and about 75 percent of women consume well over this amount of sodium on a daily basis.
Honest health authorities think the government is not doing enough and that salt should be taken off the GRAS list and be considered a food additive for purposes of regulation. Frankly, the FDA and its worldwide counterparts are more interested in supporting expensive new drug therapies for the high blood pressure caused by rampant salt consumption. The companies that they protect would not be pleased if fewer of those drugs were sold via lower salt consumption. Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of The Center for Science in Public Interest (a Washington D.C.-based health watchdog group) has said that “Improving the food supply by gradually reducing the sodium content of processed foods would send a lot fewer Americans scurrying for expensive medical care. You’d think an administration ostensibly in favor of weighing costs and benefits of government action would see that.” When a meat-lover’s breakfast of two eggs, bacon, two sausages, hash browns and toast contains 3,460mg of sodium, it’s not hard for the average consumer to exceed the already inflated limits for sodium in the span of one meal, much less in one day.
The many gullible and delusionary health-seekers using sea salt aren’t off the hook either. A teaspoon of regular table salt contains almost 2,400mg of sodium, but a teaspoon of “healthy” sea salt contains around 1,900mg, a negligible difference in the scheme of things. Although sea salt may not be bleached, heated, stripped of minerals or fortified with iodine or fluoride, as is regular table salt, there’s no dodging the fact that it is still destructive sodium chloride.
Of course, since the United States is the world’s largest salt producer, selling 1.6 million tons valued at $242 million last year alone, salt won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. If you value your health, it won’t be going on your plate, either. Instead, opt for some of the truly natural sources of sodium. Replace your salt shaker with a real salt substitute – a shaker of sea vegetables such as dulse or kelp (found at your local health food store), or your own homemade dehydrated celery “salt.” Try fresh herbs such as basil, dill, sage, cilantro, oregano, parsley, chives, thyme, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, curry, cumin, and use raw onions, garlic, ginger, cranberries, cinnamon, or citrus juices such as lemon and lime for a savory kick without the added chemical salt.
In addition, consume other whole foods found in nature that contain organic sodium. These foods also contain living enzymes, phytonutrients, vitamins and other important electrolytes, as well as trace minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, all vital for cellular health. A varied diet of fresh, raw, ripe, organic vegetables, fruit, salads, fresh-made vegetable juices, nuts, seeds, sea vegetables, sprouts, sprouted grains, wheatgrass, blue-green algae, chlorella, and properly filtered water will give you the sodium, additional electrolytes, and nutrients needed for optimum health. Refined salt and its many manifestations are damaging, no matter how you shake it.
Vol 26 Issue 4 Page 42