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Boldly Going Nowhere

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Salt of the Earth

Sodium chloride (NaCl) is a crystalline compound called salt. According to a publication called The Sodium Counter, the average American's salt intake is two to three teaspoons per day. This provides 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams of sodium a day. The Food and Drug Administration recommends a maximum daily quantity of 2,400 milligrams.

Sodium helps pass fluids between cells, while potassium exists mainly on the inside of the cells. These two minerals, crucial for maintaining health in every cell in the body, must be in balance to absorb nutrients and eliminate waste within cell membranes. A deficiency or excess of either mineral compromises the health of cells.

Along with potassium, sodium is required for the proper functioning of our nerves and contraction of our muscles (including the heart). Sodium is also necessary for the production of hydrochloric acid, a digestive enzyme for digesting protein, and to maintain fluid balance, electrolyte balance and pH (acid/alkaline) balance.

Excessive salt consumption has been associated with high blood pressure, calcium deficiency, osteoporosis, fluid retention, weight gain, stomach ulcers, stomach cancer and strokes. Too little salt can cause spasms and poor heart rhythms (increasing the risk of a heart attack). As with many things in life, a proper balance is the key.

Ann Louise Gittleman, N.D., M.S., author of a book titled Get the Salt Out, believes we consume too much sodium. In addition, the highly refined nature of table salt is a major problem. During the refining of table salt, natural sea salt or rock salt, more than 60 trace minerals are stripped and essential macro-nutrients are lost.

She writes, "Commercial refined salt is not only stripped of all its minerals, besides sodium and chloride, but is also heated at such high temperatures that the chemical structure changes. In addition, it is chemically cleaned and bleached and treated with anti-caking agents that prevent salt from mixing with water in the salt container."

When combined with water in the human body, instead of dissolving, these anti-caking agents build up in the body and leave deposits in organs and tissue, causing severe health problems.

The most common anti-caking agents used in the mass production of salt are aluminum-oxide silicates. Aluminum is a toxic metal that has recently been implicated in the development of Alzheimer's disease.

To make matters worse, the aluminum used in salt production leaves a bitter taste, so manufacturers usually add dextrose (a form of sugar) to hide the taste of aluminum. So you're not only getting salt that won't dissolve in your system, but you're also getting "refined" sugar which is an added health risk for many people.

Salt is routinely added to most processed food, from snack foods to canned goods to soda pop to bread. Gittleman writes, "It's even hidden in cereals like cornflakes and desserts like instant chocolate pudding."

If salt intake is a concern, you need to become a label reader when purchasing food products in the grocery store. Although sodium requirements vary among individuals, Gittleman recommends making foods with 140 milligrams or less of sodium as staples and adding extra salt at the table if needed.

When I lived in Arizona (1987-1992), I discovered a product in a local health food store called RealSalt, a pollutant-free salt (non-coloring, non-additive, non-bleached, non-kiln-dried) with a full complement of trace minerals, extracted from an ancient seabed in Utah. I've been using it ever since.

RealSalt can be purchased via the Internet at www.realsalt.com or over the phone at 800-367-7258.

Another problem is the practice of softening water. The American Heart Association warns that salt-softened water can cause elevated sodium levels, not only from drinking it, but also from showering or bathing in it, because sodium is very efficiently absorbed through the skin.

A healthy body is a balanced body. But the proper intake of minerals for one individual may not be the proper intake for someone else. Figuring out the proper balance for oneself may be difficult but it's worth the effort.

Life is an endless exercise of trial and error, involving everyday choices. Choose wisely and don't give up.

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Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels, which are available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at bret@centurytel.net.