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Originally published July 29 2005

Your body needs sodium, but not too much

by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, NaturalNews Editor

While the body needs sodium, it only needs small amounts, and enough sodium usually occurs naturally in our foods without the use of added table salt. However, if your diet is too high in sodium it is important to maintain balance by eating a lot of potassium-rich foods.

Chemically all types of salt contain sodium and chloride, regardless of whether the salt is processed from seawater or rock salt, which is mined from the ground. Unrefined sea salt or rock salt may contain trace amounts of beneficial minerals such as magnesium, iodine and zinc as well as other impurities that are present in the seawater or in the area from which the salt was mined. However, the amount of the minerals relative to the amount of sodium and chloride is so small that, to be nutritionally significant, very large amounts of the salt would have to be consumed. Refined salt contains around 95% to 99.9% of sodium chloride in various grades. It is usually made by re-crystallisation of raw salt, during which impurities are removed. Refined table salt labelled as iodised salt contains added iodine. Iodised salt is useful for people who live inland where they do not include fish or other sea produce in their diet for supply of iodine. The mineral is required for production of thyroid hormones. Deficiency of this hormone causes the enlargement of the thyroid gland commonly known as goitre. Salt substitutes are for people who wish to restrict their sodium intake. Most salt substitutes contain potassium chloride. Its taste is comparable to regular table salt. Do not use salt substitutes in cooking as it gives an after taste that may not be to your liking. If you wish to consume salt substitutes, you should check with your doctor for professional advice. Certain diseases and drugs may reduce the body’s tolerance for extra potassium. Free flowing with anti-caking agent To maintain the free flowing property of table salt, refined salt may contain anti-caking agent. They are hygroscopic chemicals that absorb moisture, prevent salt crystals from sticking together and become lumpy. Common anti-caking agents are compounds of phosphate, carbonate, silicate or oxide. Sodium alumino-silicate, alumino-calcium silicate and aluminium silicate which contain aluminium are anti-caking agents that are now causing concern to some health-conscious consumers who are opting for unrefined sea salt. Most of the anti-caking agents do not dissolve in water. When making a concentrated salt solution, the cloudiness is due to the undissolved anti-caking agent. Essential sodium We cannot exist without sodium, but the amount we need is small. Sodium is readily available in most naturally occurring foods especially in fish, eggs, nuts, prawns, crabs, lobsters and seaweed. Even in carrot, cauliflower, celery, loofah, pineapple, jackfruit and fresh cow milk there is sodium, though in low levels. Sodium is the main component of the body’s extracellular fluids and it helps to transport nutrients to the cells. Sodium also works on the lining of blood vessels to regulate blood pressure and fluid volume. Do not indulge in a whole or even half a roasted salt-chicken in a meal. Too much or too little salt in the diet can cause severe, even fatal neurological problems. Too much salt in the diet has been linked with the development of high blood pressure and with preventing high blood pressure from dropping and other health problems as well. Sodium is lost from the body mainly through the urine and sweat. Depending on our daily activities and how regular we exercise till we perspire profusely, our intake of salt should be around one teaspoon or two to five grams a day. At times, we experience salt craving and look for savoury foods. Salt craving may be due to habitual eating of food with salt or to trace mineral deficiencies as well as deficiency of sodium chloride itself. Nevertheless, it is wise to reduce your intake of salt. Hidden sodium In food preparations, salt is used as a preservative to cut bacterial growth. There are fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish and meats preserved in salt. These foods are usually very salty with high sodium levels. In our culture, we are accustomed to salty, sweet, sour, bitter and spicy tastes. Salt becomes an important seasoning that adds flavour and heightens existing flavours, either sweet or sour. Sodium levels vary widely in foods served in restaurants, or even at home, depending on the preferences of the person who prepares the food. Salt also raises the boiling point of water. By adding a pinch of salt in cooking, it helps heat penetration into the food. In baked products, salt helps condition dough into a better texture. There is always a pinch of salt in cookies, pastry and bread. Undoubtedly, salt is a basic ingredient in processed foods. Some food products include sodium content in the nutritional label as a guide to consumers. There are also products manufactured with reduced salt. However, salt is not the only culprit as many processed foods contain hidden sodium from flavour enhancers and other additives. Healthy eating habits If you think your meals are high in sodium, balance them by eating high-potassium foods. An easy way is to include at least two cups of fresh fruit and one and half cups of cooked (or three cups of raw) vegetables in your daily diet. Try not to reach out for the saltshaker or add soya, chilli or tomato sauce to your food. Very often the food served on the table already has sufficient salt for you. While cooking, add salt after you have finished cooking and just before you dish out the food. This way, you will need to add much less.

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