Are you paying a high price for your salt?
Salt used to be a prized commodity, especially in hot and humid climates where people sweat a lot and have a higher requirement. In India, nearly a century ago, people were forced to pay high prices for the mineral they could easily have collected themselves for free. In 1930, Mahatma Gandhi walked nearly 240 miles to the Arabian Sea to collect salt crusts from the beach in protest against the salt tax imposed by Imperial Britain. Gandhi’s “salt march” came to symbolise India’s struggle for independence. Thousands joined him and started producing their own salt or buying it illegally. Although Gandhi and his followers were imprisoned for civil disobedience, he eventually created change using non-violent resistance.
Nowadays, we are constantly being reminded to eat less salt. It is shamelessly overused, not just as a preservative but a cover-up for the bland taste of processed foods. It is estimated that almost 80% of the salt in the average diet comes from convenience foods such as ready meals, meat products, snacks, bread and breakfast cereals. Common forms include sodium chloride (table salt), sodium nitrate, monosodium glutamate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium citrate and sodium benzoate. It is well known that if our bodies are “oversalted” we are more likely to gain weight and develop high blood pressure, osteoporosis, asthma and stomach cancer.
Although the food industry is taking steps to reduce the salt content in many foods, it isn’t just excessive salt that causes health problems, but a relative lack of potassium. Sodium and potassium work together in regulating the balance of fluids inside and outside body cells. They also make our nerves and muscle work. Fluctuations in one of these minerals always affect the level of the other.
Historically, humans were supplied with an abundance of potassium-rich foods and very little sodium in their diets. Therefore, we have a tendency to hang on to sodium stores whereas we can easily excrete any excess potassium in the urine. Unfortunately, the sodium-potassium ratio has been reversed by modern food and cooking practices, with most of us consuming too much salt and too little potassium. Canning, freezing, processing and cooking dramatically reduces the potassium content in fruit and vegetables as it leaches out into the surrounding water. This is a pity, as potassium has the ability to lower sodium levels in the body.
If suffering from kidney or adrenal problems, please consult your health professional if you want to reduce salt intake, otherwise gradually reduce the amount of salt you add to cooking and don’t add salt to food at the table. You will soon get used to eating less – it takes about 3 weeks for taste buds to adjust. Use low salt versions of foods where possible and write to food manufacturers, asking them to reduce the amount of salt they add to their products. Use sea salt or mountain salt, add herbs and spices to enhance flavour and don’t forget to increase your potassium levels by eating more fresh fruit and vegetables.
© 2011 Martina Watts MSc Nut Med, First Published Brighton Argus 2004