Salt. Healing or Harmful?
So What’s the deal with SALT? Is it good for us or not?
Salt, also known as Sodium Chloride, is a chemical compound that our body needs and is essential to our health. Salt regulates our body’s fluid, cellular structure, balances our electrolytes and pH and is necessary for tissues, muscles and nerve function. If salt is so important to our body’s function, then why is it getting such a bad rap these days? Everywhere we go, products are now being labeled “low sodium” or “less salt” than the original packaged formulas. There’s even “lightly salted” chips! There has got to be a better reason besides being a new and improved flavour.
Unfortunately, there is a good reason why we are being told directly and indirectly to reduce our salt intake. Research and health studies have shown us that too much salt in our diet can lead to hypertension, in other words high blood pressure, which causes a slew of other problems in the body. Too much salt in the body, causes the water to flow out of the cells and into the bloodstream to help balance the excess levels of sodium. This causes the blood vessels to constrict and makes it harder for the heart to pump blood throughout our body. This can then lead to heart disease, heart attacks or strokes. The high salt levels in the body also strain the kidneys as they try to filter the blood of impurities. In order to regulate a fluid balance in the body, the kidneys filter out excess fluid from the body as urine, but when there is excess salt in the bloodstream, the body holds on to that water. Again high blood pressure stresses the kidneys and can lead to kidney disease. Excess water being retained can be observed as edema or swelling, especially in the ankles and hands. All of this strain causes a spiral of issues in the arteries, heart, kidneys and even the brain.
Reducing salt intake from the obvious food culprits such as, potato chips, pretzels, processed foods and other salty snacks are a good way to avoid consuming excess salt and dealing with its’ negative effects in our bodies. There are, however, many other foods that have salt hidden in them, that we may not think of. Most canned foods like sauces, vegetables, soups all have excess salt for flavour and for preserving. All fast food is loaded with salt that is just not good for our us. Even if you avoid eating these high salt foods, you may still not have the right salt you need for your body to function optimally. Most processed foods and restaurant foods are prepared with what we know as “Table Salt” or processed white salt. This type of salt starts off as a real food, but is then stripped of all natural nutrients through a high heating process which changes its’ chemical structure. Then an anti-clumping agent and dextrose (sugar) is added to it. Finally, the salt is bleached to give it a clean white appearance that we are accustomed to. The only ingredient of value added back to table salt is iodine, which is an important mineral for our thyroid function, however it is not a naturally occuring iodine, but a potassium iodide compound. Either way, this once real food, now becomes fake food. Our body cannot recognize, process or utilize unnatural foods as efficiently as it can with naturally occuring foods.
There are a wide range of salts available on the market these days, but the most commonly known ones are sea salt and Himalayan pink salt. There are various types of sea salts depending on where they are sourced. Sea salt is naturally dried and is loaded with natural iodine from marine life in the waters. These sea salts also have over 60 minerals, including essential minerals that our bodies need for proper health. Himalayan salt is very beneficial to our health, not only for using in our foods, but to use for making salt baths and scrubs, as well as the growing popularity of Himalayan salt lamps and salt caves. Himalayan pink salt or crystal salt comes from the Himalayan mountain regions and is mined 5000 feet below the mountain range. This region is believed to have the oldest and richest salt deposits. These salt fields date back to the original creation of Earth! The benefits of Himalayan salt are so great, that most people use this salt as medicine for their body. This salt is known to ease digestive issues by balancing stomach acid; it improves respiratory issues as it cleans the lungs; it can purify the air we breathe; it provides the body with over 84 minerals for cellular and nerve health; and overall heals the body by aiding in elimination of pathogens and waste products. Although, these types of salts are superior in their mineral content and healing powers, they are also still mostly made up of sodium, so need to also be consumed in moderation. We need to ensure there is a good balance of both sodium and potassium intake to maintain a proper balance in the body, as both are equally important because they work together to create that fluid balance. Trying to increase potassium rich foods, like avocado, spinach, sweet potatoes, bananas and coconut water will ensure you are not causing an imbalance of fluids in the body, and will promote health and well-being.
So the question is, how can we make sure we are getting the salt our body needs to function properly but not cause health issues from overconsumption of it?
EAT REAL FOOD! Focus on staying clear of processed foods that are loaded with salt and stick to eating a diet that is mainly comprised of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other whole foods. If you eat foods that don’t have added chemicals and preservatives, you have no reason to fear overconsumption by using salt in your cooking or adding some salt on your plate with your shaker. Fresh foods and whole foods usually don’t need a lot of salt to improve their taste as the natural flavours are enough to satisfy the palate. If you can prepare most of your meals yourself, you have complete control and knowledge of how much salt intake you have daily and if you are eating whole foods and vegetables, you are most likely to be able to balance it with the right amount of potassium and other minerals that our body requires. When you are preparing your own meals, you can also use other beneficial spices, instead of salt, to create a more interesting flavour profile and you can again limit your salt intake in this manner. Other spices that you can add to your foods to create a more colourful and health-promoting plate would be black pepper, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, ginger, garlic, oregano, basil, rosemary and cinnamon. All of these spices will not only add a punch of flavour to your meals but will provide your body with other amazing healing powers.
If you are worried about not getting enough iodine in your diet, which many of us are lacking in with today’s diet. I would suggest adding more seafood, especially seaweed to your meals or snacks. You can also buy dulse (seaweed) seasoning, which is a great way to further season your foods and to gain the benefits of the additional iodine needed. Healthy levels of iodine are necessary to support your thyroid. Also, limiting exposure and ingestion of chlorine and bromine, chemicals that compete for iodine receptors in the thyroid help to support healthy thyroid function.
To find out about where to find good sources of salt and iodine, please contact me for further information. I can also guide you on how to protect yourself from toxic chemicals and reducing exposure in order to promote good health and prevent disease.
Bringing balance to mind, body and soul.
Nindy Grewal – Holistic Nutritionist (CNP, Cl. Irid., B.Ed)