Salt - a tasty danger April 2009
Salt – a tasty danger
Salt is part of all of our lives. It is in the sea, it is in our body, it is in our food. Salt is also very clever. Many of us will probably remember from school chemistry lessons that salt increases boiling points and lowers freezing points - hence we even use it to de-ice our roads in winter.
But most of all, salt is important for its taste. Even the Romans realised that bland boring food could be brought to life with the addition of this magic substance and in some periods of history it was deemed so important that it was taxed along with wine and tobacco.
Today though, medical science has advanced and health authorities are quite clear that too much salt is bad for us. Why is this and what can it do?
Salt is actually two chemical elements, a mixture of sodium and chloride. We all know how salt the sea is – the water became saline when, over millions of years, rain and rivers washed over rocks containing sodium chloride. They picked up sodium chloride elements and carried them down into the oceans of the earth. Some of the salt in the sea also came from undersea volcanoes and hydrothermal vents.
To function properly, we all need a certain level of sodium in our bodies. It helps to maintain the concentration of body fluids at the correct levels and also is important in the transmission of electrical impulses in the nerves. It also helps cells to absorb nutrients. Salt is removed from the body through the kidneys into our urine.
But, like so many aspects of our body, balance is the key. It our levels of sodium are too high, then we will retain too much water to compensate and the volume of our bodily fluids increases.
It is generally thought that an over high level of salt and the resultant extra water stored in the body is linked to high blood pressure and also can contribute to a stroke if there are any weaknesses in the brain’s blood vessels.
How much salt is safe?
None of us want to spend our days checking all the small print on the food we are eating, but there are some general tips that can help:
Finally, if you reduce the amount of salt you eat, at first you may find the food rather bland and tasteless; but don’t give up! After a short time, you will start appreciating the true and subtle flavours of food and eventually may find heavily salted food impossible to eat!
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