Learning more about salt, and its role in nutrition

Published 7:20 am Wednesday, March 8, 2023

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Last week, we learned what salt is, and that it is necessary for a variety of biological functions, including nerve conduction, blood pressure maintenance, acid-base balance and muscle contraction. 

Salt is so prevalent in our society because it’s an inexpensive way to flavor our foods, but also serves other purposes as a culinary binder, stabilizer and preservative. Sodium often is imparted into processed food items in combination with other food additives. In fact, there are 21 different forms of sodium added to foods, particularly processed foods, and some you might not recognize. These include sodium lauryl sulfate (used as a thickener), disodium inosinate (flavor enhancer) and disodium guanylate (which actually makes salt taste saltier when added to foods, so less salt is added to taste).

Sodium is an essential mineral, and its balance in the body is finely regulated as excess sodium is usually excreted efficiently in the urine. But what happens when we eat too much salt? Immediate symptoms of excess salt consumption include:

  • Increased thirst: The reason for this is that in order to maintain balanced sodium levels, the body bonds excess salt with water, then excretes it in urine. Logically, more salt taken in means the body needs more water. 
  • Swollen feet or hands: Remember, the body will accept only a certain ratio of water to salt, by volume. So, let’s say it’s 1 to 10. That means for every “one part” salt ingested, the body holds on to “ten parts” water to dilute it. Such an overabundance of water saturates tissues of the extremities, due in part to the effect gravity has in pulling fluid toward the earth, causing hands and feet to swell. Now that may seem contradictory, since I stated earlier that sodium causes the body to excrete water, yet it can cause fluid retention as well. The reason is that when too much salt is ingested, the body retains extra sodium which increases the amount of fluid “outside” cells. This increase in “extracellular” fluid allows the body to continue retaining sodium and fluid while excreting higher levels of sodium in the urine. 
  • Elevated blood pressure: The retention of extra fluids in the body can result in elevated blood pressure levels. Think of it this way. Imagine you have a garden hose, one inch in diameter, that’s pumping two gallons a minute, and suddenly that same diameter hose is pumping three gallons per minute. There would be added pressure within that hose’s walls to pump the same amount of fluid. That’s the way water retention and high blood pressure work.

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Here are a few more interesting salt facts. The human body contains about 250 grams of salt, or about half a pound, and salt is the only family of rocks regularly eaten. Mixing salt in the water of fresh-cut flowers will help them last longer. It does this by drawing fluid out of the plant cells, lowering the pressure inside the stem and encouraging osmosis, drawing in water, and saturating the stem. It’s in much the same way we feel thirsty after eating something salty. 

If you rub salt on the griddle, pancakes won’t stick, and adding a bit of salt to the water when boiling eggs will help prevent them from cracking. You can test the freshness of eggs in a cup of salt water. Fresh eggs will sink, while bad eggs will float. If you drop a raw egg, sprinkle salt on the mess, then leave it there for 20 minutes, You’ll be able to wipe the spill right up. 

Sprinkling salt in your pantry helps keep ants away, and keep potatoes and apples from turning brown once they’re sliced if put in salted cold water. 

Throughout time, salt has been a symbol of wisdom and discretion. It’s even mentioned in the Bible 47 times.     

The response to my free nutrition and fitness consultations has been so good that sign-up will continue for one more week. Just go to my email address to sign up. I’ll be contacting everyone next week.

David Crocker is a nutritionist and master personal trainer. Question? Email David at dwcrocker77@gmail.com or text to 864-494-6215.