Of all the seasonings in the world, there is one to rule them all: salt. However, too much of this good thing can lead to some very serious negative health problems.
Salt (NaCl ) is also known as table salt. It is a chemical compound made of sodium and chloride ions. All animals on our beautiful planet depend on ingesting salt to stay alive.
Ancient people knew that salt made food taste better. They also used the ionic compound to preserve food for consumption when it was out of season and to transport food over long distances. It is thought that salt was fundamental to the creation of human civilization – that’s how important it is.
In many parts of the world, salt is very hard to come by. In other places, it is abundant. Because of this, salt became a highly-prized trade good. There is a salt road which leads to Rome, Italy, called the Via Salaria that dates back to the Bronze Age.
If you noticed that the Italian word for salt – salaria – looks a lot like the word “salary,” go to the head of the class. Here’s the back story:
“Salary comes from the Latin word salarium, which also means “salary” and has the root sal, or “salt.” In ancient Rome, it specifically meant the amount of money allotted to a Roman soldier to buy salt, which was an expensive but essential commodity.”
Nowadays, salt is easy to find in grocery stores and quite inexpensive. A 26-ounce container of iodized salt costs around $5. The same amount of sea salt sells for a bit more.
There are several kinds of salt, including some you that are probably quite familiar:
Table salt is usually mined from underground salt deposits. It is then processed to eliminate unwanted minerals and often has an additive to prevent clumping. Natural table salt contains no iodine.
Sea salt comes from evaporated water from oceans or saltwater lakes. Typically, it is not highly processed. Trace minerals and elements are left behind on purpose, as nutritional supplements.
Iodized salt is any salt that has iodine added to it. The thyroid gland needs iodine to produce thyroid hormones that control many functions in the body, such as growth and development. Your body can’t make iodine so it is imperative to include an iodine source in your diet.
Kosher salt contains no bitter-tasting iodine and its texture is coarse compared to table salt. It is used in cooking rather than table-side. Chefs like it because it handles easily and sticks to food. A Jewish Rabbi doesn’t have to bless salt to make it kosher – the name comes from the koshering process, where blood in meat must be drawn out with water and salt (or broiling) before cooking.
All salt contains 40 percent sodium. Nearly every processed food item available commercially has some sodium – it is everywhere and hard to avoid – even if you add salt sparingly at the dinner table.
New Jersey nutritionist and fitness guru Mandy Enright explained it this way:
“The general rule of thumb is that any processed or man-made food most likely contains sodium – and high levels of it. If it comes in a can or is pre-made and frozen, there’s salt present.”
Intaking too much dietary salt is linked to bloating, water retention, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
How much salt is too much? A mere teaspoon (2300mg), according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC says we Americans eat about 3,400mg of sodium daily. That’s about 1/3 teaspoon too much – and that can add up fast. Part of the problem is that we typically don’t even know when we’re eating food laced with sodium. From the CDC:
“And don’t let your taste buds fool you. Foods like grains, baked goods, and meats may not taste salty, but they add up to major sources of daily sodium because they are eaten so often.”
These numbers might shock you:
- One slice of bread can contain anywhere from 80 to 230 mg of sodium, and a slice of frozen pizza can contain between 370 and 730 mg.
- Some breakfast cereals contain 150 to 300 mg of sodium.
Among the signs that you’re eating too much salt are:
- Extreme thirst
- Belly bloat
- Swollen fingers or toes
- Food loses its taste
Salt makes your body retain water. The extra water stored in your body raises your blood pressure. The heart races and feel the bloat.
High blood pressure strains the heart, arteries, kidneys, and brain and can cause heart attacks, strokes, dementia and kidney disease.
If you suspect you’ve eaten too much salt, here are some tips on how to feel better:
- Drink a lot of water to dilute the salt and flush it from the kidneys.
- Sweat it out by vigorous exercise, a hot sauna, or blanket sweat.
- Take some potassium to counteract the sodium. Bananas, white beans, leafy greens, and potatoes are all high in potassium – or take a supplement.
- Ask your doctor to examine you and check your blood sodium levels. African Americans over the age of 51 and anyone with a cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure are at risk of further complications.
There is a fine line between not getting enough salt and overdoing it. The best thing to do is read the nutritional labels on packaged foods and adjust your diet to stay within the recommended limits. You might want to eliminate extremely high-sodium foods such as pop-open biscuits and canned soups.