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Salt of the Earth

Nutrition Corner

Series: Salt of the Earth | Story 1

Salt has been around literally for ages. One source stated that salt was being used as far back as 6,000 B.C. In ancient Rome it was used to pay the soldiers or pay for many other things.

It is still around today. Salt can be very useful. In the right amounts, it can add flavor to an otherwise tasteless dish. Brine, made with a greater concentration of salt, is still part of the process to make pickles and sauerkraut. In jerky or salt pork, salt keeps the meat from spoiling. Teriyaki and soy sauces give flavor, make meats more tender and have a high salt content.

What’s the problem with salt?

Well, there are some differences between ancient times and now, more than just television and the iPad.

For one thing, we are living longer and wish to live longer in better health than our ancestors. Too much of anything can be bad for us.

For many people, too much salt (also known as sodium chloride) can raise blood pressure leading to strokes or can lead the body into holding on to more fluid than it needs.

This last effect can make the heart work much harder, contribute to what is known as “Congestive Heart Failure” or CHF, and make breathing almost impossible. So much for living longer and better.

When my patients ask me why they have to cut down on this nifty white stuff, I remind them that when salt was used with food, it was to either preserve meat or to kill the taste of it, if the meat wasn’t preserved in time.

Nowadays, we have refrigerators and freezers to keep our food from rotting. “But,” my patients told me “it makes the food taste better.” “Tasting better” is what manufacturers will tell you is the reason they put so much salt in their foods.

Think about the last time you opened a can of chicken noodle soup.

What was the first thing you tasted?

Chicken? Broth? Or was it salt?

For many of us, the answer is salt. In many cases the amount of salt that is being used actually kills the taste of the food, masking the taste so that good food and bad food taste the same.

Your response is that while this might be true, foods without salt taste flat. You’re right…to an extent. If you cut back on your salt intake, it will take about six months to a year to figure out that your taste buds haven’t died. Once you do get used to this new way of eating, if you try something salty, it will taste like you’ve taken a bite out of a salt lick, unbelievably bad. The good part is that you will find more pleasure from the natural flavors in foods you are eating and it is better for your body.

Wouldn’t you like to be healthier this new year? We will discuss ways to lower sodium intake painlessly next time.