Salt is an essential element in the diet of all living things --humans, animals, and even many plants. Critical to life, it is made up of 40% sodium and 60% chlorine. With over 14,000 known uses, salt is an integral part of a person's diet. The human body cannot exist without salt. Salt has been worshipped; salt has been used as money. Salt was once worth its weight in gold. Homer, who lived about 550 B.C., called salt “divine”. Plato said salt was “dear to the Gods’. Salt has been the cause of many wars during the ancient and the medieval periods.
Why should I be aware of this?
In modern times, salt is no longer scarce. It is one of the low priced food items across the world. Today a person needs to check if he is having too much salt; what are the surprise sources of salt; why in the first place should he have salt; what does the decision of opting for a particular type of salt mean for him and his family; and the health implication of having too much or too little salt.
With recent food trends moving towards processed or prepared foods, it has become necessary for everyone to monitor their personal salt intake regularly. The generally accepted maximum recommended amount of salt intake per day is set at 2400 mg by the US Food and Drug Administration ( FDA. ) The average fast food burger contains anywhere from 500mg to 1500mg of sodium.
Many foods such as anchovies, salted nuts, packaged soups, sauces, breads, cereals and ready made meals already contain reasonably high levels of salt. In product where salt is mentioned as sodium, the quantity should be multiplied by 2.5 in order to determine the actual salt content. The guidelines for salt content state that 0.1g of sodium is low salt, 0.2-0.4g is medium salt and over 0.5g is high salt content.
How does this affect me?
Consumption of more than 6g of salt per day can lead to high blood pressure which can then lead to stroke, heart attack, osteoporosis and asthma. Salt has also been linked to stomach cancer.
Those suffering from high blood pressure and kidney problems should be particularly careful about salt intake. The kidneys regulate salt level regulation in the body. When the body's sodium levels are low then the kidneys conserve it. When the levels are elevated the kidneys work to reduce it. With age the kidneys are unable to perform this task optimally and the potential problems become much more likely to occur.
There is currently no test to determine sodium sensitivity, However if your blood pressure lowers while on a low salt diet then it is safe to assume that the odds are you are among the genotypes that have a sensitivity to sodium.
Many alternatives to salt can be used for cooking, such as curry powders, mustard powder, lemon juice, lime juice, red wine, white wine, cider, beer, onions, garlic, shallots, ginger and chilies. Potassium can also be used as salt substitutes.
Salt and environment
Rock salt is preferred as the principal deicer because it is the most available and cost-effective deicer. It is used to keep snow and ice from bonding to the pavement and to allow snowplows to remove. When salt is applied to ice and snow it creates a brine that has a lower freezing temperature than the surrounding ice or snow.
But according to estimates, 30to 50 percent of the salt used travels into the ground water and causes pollution which affects human health in the form of high blood pressure and hypertension.
The increase of salt around bodies of water also effect aquatic life in the area as most fish life can only tolerate a narrow range of salt content in the water.
All about salt
- Human body -- All human body fluids including blood, sweat, tears, etc contain sodium. It is essential to maintain proper balance of sodium in these fluids. In the body, sodium is mainly found in fluids that surround the body’s cells, such as blood and lymph fluid. When sodium intake exceeds the amount the body can handle, it builds up in the interstitial areas and the kidneys have to work extra hard to excrete it. Salt (sodium) plays an important role in the regulation of muscle contraction, fluid balance and nerve impulses in the human body and it is essential for overall good health.
- Food -- The earliest known food additive, salt brings out natural flavors and makes foods acceptable. One of the popular preservatives, it retards the growth of spoilage microorganisms. Salt gives proper texture to processed foods and serves as a control agent to regulate the rate of fermentation in food processing. It also strengthens gluten in bread, provides the colour, aroma and appearance to various food items. It is also used to create the gel necessary to process meats and sausages. As a result, more heavily processed foods usually contain more sodium and salt.
- Feedstock for the production of chemicals -- This is the greatest single use for salt. The chlor-alkali industry uses salt, primarily as salt in brine from captive brine wells, to produce chlorine and caustic soda.
- Supplement for animal feedstock -- Livestock, poultry and other animals do not always receive adequate amounts of sodium and chloride from forages and other feeds.
- Highway deicer - Salt is the most effective, readily available, and economical highway deicer in use today. It assures winter driving safety and continued mobility in snowbelt states, even under the most adverse snow and icing conditions. Rock salt and solar salt are used on U.S. highways.
- Industry -- Salt is used in pulp and paper industry. It is also used for fixing and standardizing dye batches in the textile industry; it is used in metal processing and secondary aluminum making, to remove impurities and many other industries.
- Seeding clouds -- Salt has been used to "seed" clouds to produce rain in desert areas.
Types of salt
Table salt -- This is the most common type of salt found at home and the type that we find on most restaurant tables. Our basic table salt is made by sending water into salt deposits then evaporating. Table salt can be iodised, free flowing or both.
- Iodised salt --Iodine, an important element for the regulation of the fluid content of the body, is essential for the thyroid gland to manufacture thyroxin. Iodine deficiency led to health problems such as goitre, myxedema, dry skin, loss of hair and memory, tiredness, sleepiness and loss of muscle tissue. With people across the world, consuming salt on a daily basis, it was decided to iodise salt to ensure adequate iodine intake.
- Free flowing salt--To prevent moisture from being reabsorbed, salt refiners also add alumino-silicate of sodium or yellow prussiate of soda as desiccants plus bleaches to make it free flowing salt. This salt finds it difficult to combine with human body fluids so it causes health disturbances. Instead of buying free flowing salt purchase the usual salt and add ten grains of rice to it. This will absorb the moisture and make the salt free flowing.
- Kosher Salt -- A coarse salt, Kosher salt is generally evaporated from brine, giving its grains a block-structure. This structure better allows the salt crystals to absorb blood (Jewish law states that you must extract blood from meat before you consume it). Kosher salt is less salty than table salt.
- Sea Salt --Sea salt is harvested by evaporation, also. Sea salt is not quite as salty as table salt. Sea salt can be either fine grained or coarse grained. Many sea salts include trace minerals like potassium, magnesium, and iodine – these minerals are naturally present, not added.
- Fleur De Sel --A type of sea salt, Fleur de sels have a higher mineral content than basic table salt, have an ocean like smell and tend to be grayish in color. Fleur de sel comprises the early crystals that start to form across the surface of salt evaporation ponds. This is generally done during the summer months, the time when the sun is strongest. Other types of sea salts include sel gris, esprit du sel, and pink, black, and brown sea salts from India.
- Rock Salt -- Rock salt is not fine-grained. It is unrefined and has a greyish hue. It is sold in large crystals. It was used for making ice cream in traditional hand-cranked ice cream makers.
What can I do?
Tips to reduce salt
Many consumers are taking salt off their dinner tables in a bid to reduce a salty diet. Yet three quarters of salt is actually hidden in processed foods including ready meals, cereal and even soup
- Check the back of ready-meals to see how many grams of salt they contain. Some labels only mention sodium and not salt. If this is the case convert sodium to salt by multiplying the number by 2.5. The guidelines for salt content state that 0.1g of sodium is low salt, 0.2-0.4g is medium salt and over 0.5g is high salt content.
- Look for foods with 'no added salt' labels, or check for 'reduced salt' versions of old favourites. Guidelines from the Food Standard's Agency say these should have at least 25 per cent less salt than the orginal.
- Eat fresh vegetables.
- Use high-salt condiments, such as ketchup and mustard, sparingly.
- Remove salt from the table as a person's daily diet has enough salt in some form or the other. If the food feels bland for a while, remember taste buds adjust in a few weeks to less salty food.
- Pre-produced gravy cubes and granules are a hidden source of salt. You could replace these by making your own stock and gravy.
- Cook with herbs, spices, fruit juices, ginger, garlic, lime, wine and vinegars for flavour. To make up for less salt, add red wine to stews and casseroles, and white wine to risottos and sauces for chicken.
- Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather than canned or processed types.
- Switch to low-sodium margarine, or low-salt butter.
- Avoid salted nuts, chips, pickles and other snack foods.
Salt cooking tips
- Though unseasoned salt has an infinite shelf life, seasoned salts should be kept tightly capped and used within 1 year.
- Humidity and moisture will cause salt to clump and stick together. Add about ten grains of raw rice to the shaker to absorb the moisture and keep the salt flowing freely.
- If a liquid dish has been oversalted, add unsalted liquid to dilute it or toss in a peeled, quartered potato for 15 minutes.
- Over-salted sauces can often be helped with the addition of a little cream, brown sugar or vinegar.
- A bit of unsalted, cooked white rice pureed with unsalted water or broth to a thin paste can also help cure oversalted soups or stews.
- For soups and sauces that have a long simmering time, go easy on the salt in the beginning.
- Although a pinch of salt added to breads and desserts enhances flavors, do not double this ingredient when doubling a recipe.
- Salt pulls juices out of vegetables. This is a good thing for some watery vegetables like cucumbers and eggplant in some dishes, but if you want mushrooms to remain plump, add the salt at the end of cooking.
- MSG (monosodium glutamate), used in many Oriental dishes, not only amplifies the natural flavor of salt, but can impart a metallic taste to the dish due to a chemical interaction. Keep this in mind when using them together.
- Do not add salt before whipping egg whites. The salt pulls out the moisture which will not only increase whipping time, but decrease volume, texture, and stability.
- If you plan on adding salt to boiling water for pasta or vegetables, wait until the water boils before adding it. Salted water takes longer to boil.
- The addition of salt to vegetables and pasta results in a firmer texture.
- Vegetables naturally high in sodium include beets, kale, chard, celery, spinach, dandelion greens, carrots, endive, corn, and artichokes. Take care when adding salt.
- When reducing salt in breads, you will need to reduce the quantity of yeast and water.
- A salted warm dish will not taste as salty when cold because chilling dims salty flavors.
- Seafoods are high in salt, considering their growing environment. Added salt will toughen shellfish. Use additional salt sparingly.
- To restrict salt intake, maximize flavour by sprinkling a pinch of kosher or coarse salt on cooked meats during their resting period.
- Do not use table salt for pickling and canning. The additives can darken the pickles and affect fermentation. Use pickling salt for best results.
- Do not store salt in silver containers. The chlorine in the salt reacts negatively with the silver, causing a green discoloration.
- Substitute 1 Tablespoon coarse or kosher salt for 2 teaspoons table salt.
Tips to read food labels to reduce salt intake
The Food and Drug Administration has definite guidelines as to the terms a food company can use when describing the salt in the food on the label. Keep these terms in mind and make a point of buying low-salt foods on your next trip to the grocery store.
- Sodium free means less than 5 mg sodium in a portion.
- Very low sodium means less than 35 mg sodium in a portion.
- Low sodium means less than 140 mg sodium in a portion.
- Reduced sodium food contains 25 percent less sodium than the original food item.
- Light in sodium food has 50 percent less sodium than the original food item.
- Unsalted, No salt added, or Without added salt means absolutely no salt has been added to a food that's normally processed with salt.
- Be careful of salt substitutes. Some contain sodium. Check the label. You could end up eating so much of the substitute in an attempt to get that salty taste that your total sodium intake is just as high as using salt.
- Potassium is often used in salt substitutes.
- The maximum recommended intake of 6 gms of salt for humans is equivalent to one teaspoon of salt.
- Human salt consumption accounts for only 7% of the total salt production, the balance (93%) is used by the chemical industry and in manufacturing for things like manufacturing explosives, chlorine gas, agro-fertilizers and in the plastics industry.
- Salt is the world's oldest known food additive.
- It has more than 14,000 known uses.
- One of the greatest military roads in history was built to bring salt from the salt works at Ostia, on the Tiber River, to Rome. The English word salary comes from the fact that Romans were paid in part with salt coins that were called solarium.
- Mahatma Gandhi’s “Salt March” was instrumental in the freedom of India from British Colonial rule and the salt tax.
- When Napoleon Bonaparte was at war with Russia, thousands of his men died in the retreat from Moscow. Historians record these soldiers died from wounds that would not heal because their bodies had been deprived of salt.
- It has been said that the lack of salt in the south was the greatest single factor for the Confederacy having lost the war.
- Magnesium is extracted out of common table salt: Because the chemical industry needs pure sodium and chloride, vital magnesium is taken out to make it flow smoother which means it can be sold for a better profit on the chemical market.
- Ocean salt alone possesses the power to restore wholeness to the human internal seas, our body fluids.
If a person intends using a salt-chlorinator for the swimming pool, he needs to consider carefully how to deal with the edges of the pool. Clay brick paving, real slate, cast concrete coping and several other types of pool surrounds are subject to a phenomenon known as salt attack, in which salt crystals form when splashed water evaporates from the coping surface. The formation of these crystals “eats away” the pool edge, causing it to crumble. The problem only occurs with salt-chlorinated pools, not with ordinary chlorinated pools.
Things to keep in mind for those using salt chlorinated pool
- Ensure that the salt dosage is accurate. Do not over-dose.
- Dive-bombing and other activities which cause a lot of splashing will accelerate salt attack.
- Using fresh water and a high-pressure hose, spray down the coping towards the pool edge to wash away excess salt.
- What is salt?
- Britons told to cut salt intake;BBC Health
- Salt Cooking Tips and Hints
- Did You Know that Excess Salt is Harmful?
- Interesting Facts About Water & Salt
- The history of salt
- High salt consumption can cause a range of health problems
- Dangers of excessive salt intake
- Sodium - Salt - Needs for Ultra-Endurance Athletes