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Salt for Life and Death

Salt is everywhere and particularly in processed foods. This includes everyday items like breakfast cereals, bacon, kippers, tinned soups and cheese. It even comes as a ‘designer food’ in fancy containers and called ‘Sea Salt’. All salt is sea salt, found in massive deposits created millions of years ago.

The body needs salt in the form of sodium chloride for the nerve cells in our muscles and brain to function effectively. The 100 billion nerve cells in the brain rely on the electrical impulses created with the aid of sodium to connect with each other.

Problems arise when there is too much salt. It can then stay in the body and retains excess fluid around the tissues. This extra fluid has to be pumped round the body, putting strain on the heart and resulting in higher blood pressure. That in turn can lead to heart disease, strokes and kidney failure. High blood pressure is the biggest single cause of death in the world, and we can’t even feel the higher blood pressure – it needs to be measured with medical equipment. Blood pressure tends to rise as people get older.

So how much is enough and how much is too much?
For millions of years, animals including humans have managed perfectly well with only the sodium found naturally in vegetables, fruit and meat. Today it is common for people to eat 12grams of salt a day. Many health authorities recommend 6grams a day as a maximum.

Professor Graham McGregor is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, UK and he maintains .1 of a gram is sufficient for the needs of body and brain – yes that is point one of a gram. That’s very low and easily achieved by relying on the sodium found naturally in food.

Vigilance is required here. The salt industry makes about 40% of its profits from the salt it sells to the food industry. Packaged and processed foods rely on salt for adding more taste to cheap food. It also makes people thirsty so a firm making drinks can sell more. Packaged meat and fish will retain more water adding to their overall weight. Some cannot always be avoided as it is a preservative and can control bacteria in cheeses.

Recently I bought a vegan burger mixture, which I expected to be a healthy product. I prepared it and cooked it, then managed only one mouthful. It was so salty it was uneatable. According to the ingredients on the package it had nearly 4% salt. Sea water has 3.5% salt and who would eat that?

The motto is: Be on your guard and cut out the salt.