Maybe salt on your chips is saving your life, not killing you

Friday 29th March 2013 

  • Everyone will tell you that salt in our diet is bad for you – but is it?
  • New theories that salt is good for us are being ignored
  • A bit of common sense and cynicism is all you need to stay well.

Could we be getting it wrong about the amount of salt we eat?

The general consensus is that we are all eating far too much salt, and that it is a prime cause of heart disease and high blood pressure.

Certainly last week the good folk at the Daily Express think so because they stated that dietary salt is responsible for over two million deaths a year.

The basis of this story was an American Heart Association study which found that high salt intake was the cause of 2.3 million deaths, and that 84% of these were in low and middle income countries.

The highest rates were found in Ukraine and Russia with the lowest levels in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Undoubtedly I think we all know that too much of anything will be bad for us, but this latest research doesn’t mean we should shun the salt pot when we have a bag of chips.

In fact, the salt that we add to our food is the least of our worries.

Once again it is the huge amounts of salt which are added to processed food that is the real danger, yet another example of why we cannot trust the food industry and retailers.

For many years the manufacturing community has been ladling salt into poor quality food in an attempt to give it some flavour, and hide the texture of the reconstituted muck they use.

This cheap commodity has been regularly used to hide a multitude of culinary sins, however, they have moved heaven and earth to make sure that we don’t find out about their skulduggery.

Any attempt to have plain, honest labels on packs of food saying just how much salt is in them has been vehemently opposed by the processors and retailers – instead they choose to confuse the message with complicated traffic light systems and information about percentages of your recommended daily intake that takes a degree in maths to fathom.

Whilst all of this is going on, our politicians have devised national health guidelines telling us to avoid adding salt to cooking water, or sprinkling a pinch over the finished dish, because it will damage our hearts.

The fact is that we need salt in our diet and if we are using fresh ingredients to cook our own dinners we can add as much salt as our palate requires – and do so safely.

Failing to add a bit of salt could actually be dangerous – and I bet you didn’t know that!

Read on and let me explain why we should all eat a peck of salt a day.

Keeping your internal sea in balance will keep you healthy

Salt is vital to life.

Our forefathers knew this and treated it with much reverence – after all that is where the concept of a salary comes from... literally to be paid in salt.

Animals know all about it, especially in hot climates where salt licks are much sought after and defended by mammals, reptiles and birds alike.

So, why is it that we often crave something salty?

To answer that you would need to go back to the dawn of life, where all living creatures were spawned in the great oceans of the evolving planet earth.

Our body fluids are basically solutions of brine, a mixture of minerals, chief amongst them is sodium and potassium.

When we lose fluid from the body we also lose salt with it – in urine, in breath and in sweat for instance.

It comes to a point when we need to replace the salt we lose to allow our bodies to function correctly, and without doing so we would perish.

It really is that important.

A very well written paper that was published in the Journal Science by Gary Taubes(1) sums up the problems consumers face with trying to discover the truth about salt.

In the article he quotes huge amounts of research that shows that dietary salt is NOT linked to blood pressure at all.

In fact this is one of those instances where scientific proof from research is regularly ignored because the public facing bodies find it too difficult to change their ways…

… A situation which was summarised by the English Biologist Thomas Huxley who, in 1860, wrote;

“Science ... warns me to be careful how I adopt a view which jumps with my preconceptions, and to require stronger evidence for such belief than for one to which I was previously hostile. My business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonize with my aspirations."

Basically, if you want to disprove someone’s pet theory you need to work an awful lot harder!

So what do we do?

Clearly there is a need for moderation in salt intake much like anything else we eat – a balanced diet will always be the most healthy way to provide the food and trace minerals that our bodies need.

If you are preparing and cooking your food from base fresh ingredients then add salt to satisfy your taste.

But if you do have to use a prepared meal or treat yourself to a takeaway (fish and chips excluded), don’t add any extra salt as the chances are it has been extensively seasoned by the time it gets to you.

Above all, don’t take the words of the food manufacturers and retailers as truth...

...if we have learnt nothing else from the horse and beef fiasco in recent months, it is that the big boys don’t have a clue where the food comes from, couldn’t care less what is in it and really have no interest in healthy eating at all.

Once again listen to what the advice is and then let your common sense make the final call – just be a cynic because you’ll live longer!

 

Yours, as always

 

Ray


References
(1) Taubes, Gary. "Three decades of controversy over the putative benefits of salt reduction show how the demands of good science clash with the pressures of public health policy." Science 281 (1998): 898-907.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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