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David Crocker

Diet and Exercise

There are many folks who think salt is just some common, inexpensive seasoning we use, most everyday (actually salt is the only rock, we eat). However, centuries ago, salt was so valuable, Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt, instead of money. Their monthly allowance of salt was called “salarium” (“sal” being the Latin word for salt). In fact, it was a commodity, so valuable, that it was once called “white gold”.

Salt, or referred to by its chemical formula NaCl, is an ionic compound made of sodium and chloride ions. It is composed of 39% sodium by weight and 61% chloride. Salt’s two main sources are sea water, and the sodium chloride mineral halite (also known as rock salt).

While our bodies do need chloride (for fluid balance, and to maintain proper blood volume, blood pressure and PH of the body’s fluids), most of the nutritional attention these days is given to sodium.

Sodium is essential for life. In fact, it is so significant, humans have specific sensors on their tongues to detect it. Sodium is crucial in maintaining the health of every cell in our bodies. It plays a pivotal role in controlling the movement of fluids in and out of cells. Most of the body’s sodium is located in blood, and in the fluid between cells (this is referred to as “extracellular fluid”). The mineral potassium is present in fluid inside cells (this is called “intracellular fluid”). Sodium and potassium are closely intertwined but have opposite effects in the body. These two minerals need to be in constant balance, so nutrients and waste products can move across cell membranes. If either of these minerals is in over abundance, or is deficient, cellular health will be compromised. When concentrations of sodium in the blood are too high, this is called “hypernatremia”; if too low, “hyponatremia”. Low blood potassium is referred to as “hypokalemia”, while high potassium levels is “hyperkalemia”.

Sodium plays other important roles in the body, as well. This includes controlling the amount of fluid in the blood (blood volume), transmission of electrical impulses (salt is an electrolyte, as is potassium), muscle contraction and contraction of blood vessels in response to nervous stimulation.

Though it’s clear salt is necessary for life, acquiring too much, can be harmful. In most folks, the kidneys have trouble keeping up with excess sodium in the blood. As sodium accumulates, the body retains water to dilute the sodium content. This excess water raises blood pressure, and puts a strain on the kidneys, arteries, heart and brain. Research also shows, too much salt can be associated with an increased risk for stroke, calcium deficiency, osteoporosis, stomach ulcers, stomach cancers, fluid retention and weight gain.

However, not eating enough sodium can be just as unhealthy. Low sodium levels in the body have many causes, including consumption of too many fluids, kidney failure, heart failure, cirrhosis and use of diuretics. Low sodium levels can increase insulin resistance (which can lead to type 2 diabetes), cause poor heart rhythms, and even sudden death and heart attack in hypersensitive individuals.

So just how much sodium is too much, and what amount do we really need? To find the proportion of sodium you’re actually consuming, I recommend looking at the “nutrition facts label”. The amount of sodium per serving is listed in milligrams (mg). Sodium is added to so many food products, by manufactures, that it’s hard to avoid, so check the ingredients list for words like “sodium”, “salt”, and “soda”.

Also, remember, many processed foods contain tremendous quantities of sodium, even though they don’t taste salty. The America Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams a day, with an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults. That might sound like a lot of sodium, but Americans eat on average, more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day. I recommend becoming a label reader. It’s the best way to know just how much sodium you’re getting.

Questions? Email David at dwcrocker77@gmail.com.