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Don't Be So "Salt"y

Many of you have probably heard of this expression referring to a person's cranky or irritable personality. One who complains about...EVERYTHING...or someone who blows up at the littlest things. While this saying is used to try and calm an individual down, it usually makes the situation worse. Looking at the title a bit closer, you'll notice quotation marks part way through a word. For an English teacher, this would not be grammatically correct. However, in this case they are strategically placed to give you a hint as to what the topic of today's blog is.


Last week, I mentioned we are shifting to a seven week crash course in nutrition with micronutrients being the primary focus. What I failed to point out is exactly what these dietary necessities actually are. You might remember that back in February before the start of the Olympic Games, I talked about macronutrients...essential components (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) that comprise virtually all of what we eat. Within these macronutrients are equally important compounds called micronutrients vital to achieving a balanced diet and optimal health. I say equal, but in some instances, like with vegan or vegetarian diets, they can be even more crucial in ensuring adequate, well-rounded nutrition. Micronutrients, as you will see, appear in a variety of food sources but have lower daily allowances. This is because they offer huge amounts of good in much smaller packages. Taking the bold print above into consideration, can you guess what our first micronutrient might be?


In my last post, I gave a bit of a chemistry lesson when I discussed caffeine. I would like to continue to broaden your horizons and expand your knowledge in what was probably one of your most dreaded subjects. Chemically speaking, salt is composed of two elements, Sodium and Chloride. As a natural crystalline form, it is known as halite or rock salt and can be found in seawater. Our oceans typically have a salinity of 3.5%.


Those of you that preferred history class, salt is the oldest mineral known to man. Salt processing from mines and sea water dates back to 6000 BC when the people of Romania boiled spring water to extract what minerals they could to season food or use for other miscellaneous purposes. People in those times thought of it as a very valuable resource because of its versatility so it was put on boats or the backs of camels and traded across the globe. Some cultures even use it in their religious ceremonies. At one point, it became so scarce that countries started warring over this prized possession. Talk about being salty! Maybe this is how the expression originated.


Approximately six percent of all salt processed is used in the manufacturing of food products. Although most people view salt as something that can cause health issues like high blood pressure, there are many ways it is used besides cooking. Probably the most familiar to you is dumping it into backyard or community swimming pools to keep them sparkling clean and beautifully sanitized. While large pools consume tremendous amounts of salt, there are multiple other ways in which salt can be beneficial. What you might not know is that it is found in vinyl, plastic, soap, glycerin, rubber and paper pulp as well. Individuals who live in climates where it frequently snows, salt is used to de-ice roads making them much safer for travel. Homes with water conditioning systems use salt to rid drinking water of harsh chemicals and nasty tastes. Families raising livestock frequently give their farm animals salt licks to help balance their electrolytes. And the list goes on...


Going back to it's most popular use in humans, edible salt is sold in several types. Sea salt, as its name indicates, is processed by evaporating seawater or mineral laden springs. Table salt sometimes has added iodine to prevent deficiency. Kosher salt primarily appears in Mediterranean recipes. Himalayan pink salt is...well...pink. The question arises as to which salt is best. Unlike my prior articles, the answer is straightforward...none. Although it is argued that the pink salt is best, all contain relatively equal amounts of sodium by weight so using any of them in excess can pose health issues like hypertension. Because kosher and sea salts have larger crystals, less fit in measuring spoons so overall sodium content seems to be less and, therefore, deemed to be healthier by consumers and health professsionals.


Don't let this scare you into removing salt completely. Our bodies do need a little bit of salt for the electrolytes it possesses but most people far exceed the recommended allowance of one teaspoon (or 2300 milligrams) per day. Seventy percent of the sodium Americans consume comes from pre-packaged meals (pizza, lasagna, pastries, etc) and processed foods like lunch meats, soups and chips to name just a few. Note: an average individual ingests 3400 mg daily.


So how can I reduce my sodium intake? It may feel like an impossible feat to accomplish but, in fact, it's really not that difficult. Here are some pretty simple ways to cut back on salt:


1) read nutrition labels

2) prepare your own meals

3) rinse sodium rich foods such as canned beans, fish and vegetables

4) buy fresh produce and meats

5) use herbs and spices to flavor food rather than salt

6) choose lower sodium snacks

7) limit condiments and dressings-put separately

8) reduce portion sizes


See...you can do it! Easy peasy! By making these minor adjustments you can drop your salt levels substantially while still being able to enjoy delicious satisfying foods. Combine that with exercise and you're well on your way to a healthier tomorrow.


Well folks, I hope you enjoyed reading my blog and will put some of these suggestions into practice. I appreciate feedback so please join me again next week for Part 3. Until then, get up, get out and get moving! Since this is a no judgement zone:


What is your favorite salty snack?

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