Pass The Salt – But Don’t Overdo It

Salt … Good for your health, in moderation.

Salt is valuable. At various times throughout history, this simple compound of sodium and chloride has been used as currency, as an ingredient in sacred rituals, as a preservative, and, of course, as a seasoning for food.

Salt, or more accurately sodium, is also essential in maintaining good health, necessary for proper nerve and muscle function, and in regulating fluid and electrolyte balances. Too little sodium and we may suffer from headaches, cramps, fatigue, heart disease, and death. Unfortunately, too much sodium and we run the risk of kidney damage, high blood pressure, stroke, and — again — heart disease and death.

The question is, how much sodium is enough and how much is too much?

Most government health organizations now recommend a balanced intake of 2.3 grams of sodium per day for adults, less for children. That works out to 6 grams of salt, about 1 teaspoon. It’s not much when you consider that sodium occurs naturally in almost all foods and that most processed and prepared foods have a lot of added salt.

A few examples …

One cup (250 ml) of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup contains 650 mg of sodium, according to the nutritional information on their label. That’s 28% of the recommended daily intake.

A single teaspoon of plain soy sauce gives you about 300 mg of sodium.

McDonald’s reports that their Big Mac has 970 mg of sodium, while their Angus Bacon & Cheese burger delivers a whopping 1990 mg. 86% of the recommended daily allowance in a single sandwich!

If you look for sodium on food labels — as we all should — don’t be fooled if salt isn’t listed. Sodium is often added to foods as sodium benzoate, baking soda or sodium bicarbonate, sodium nitrite, sodium saccharin, and even the much maligned monosodium glutamate .

What can you do if you think you’re getting too much sodium in your diet? Obviously, don’t add salt to your food when you cook, and avoid packaged foods and restaurant foods. Drink plenty of water to keep your kidneys functioning properly. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those rich in potassium since potassium helps to counteract the effects of sodium on blood pressure.

If you miss the taste of salt in your food, try pepper instead, and experiment with all the wonderful herbs and spices available.

Is sea salt a healthier alternative than plain table salt? In terms of its sodium content, no. The sodium in sodium chloride is sodium wherever it comes from. However, sea salt may provide other minerals as well, including magnesium, potassium, and calcium, all of which benefit the body in various ways and help to give sea salt the range of flavors favored by chefs.

As any Star Trek fan can tell you, we need salt in our diets; remember the salt-sucking alien from planet M-113. How much salt you need depends on your circumstances. But so long as you’re balanced, you can safely say, “Pass the salt, please.”

Taste the world of salt with a Gourmet Sea Salt Sampler Collection from Amazon.