Salt: A pinch for Health

Salt is nothing less than a miracle worker when it comes to food. Its allure is far superior to that of sugar and fat. Unlike the later, salt comes from the ocean and cannot be created by a human, animal or plant body. Some food scientists believe our desire for salt comes from evolutionary history: we evolved from living in oceans to living on land. In the ocean there was no dearth of sodium, but on lands our pre human mouths had to develop salt receptors as a means of ensuring we got enough sodium when we forged for food.

Salt has been an essential part of our diets for centuries. Studies have shown that diets lacking in sufficient sodium, salt’s chemical name, can cause underdevelopment of bone and muscle mass and the make the brain shrink. Even in a dire case of hypertension, a minimal amount of sodium is necessary to survive. Sodium is present in certain fruits and vegetables, like spinach. On an average consumption of sodium through natural forms  makes up roughly ten percent of our total intake. Table salt added during or after cooking makes up for another six percent or so, leaving processed food to be the main cause for our over consumption of sodium.

In the case of processed food, salt makes everything better. It makes sugary treats sweeter, chips and frozen waffles crunchier, and meat last longer. It delays spoilage in packaged meals, allowing them to sit longer on shelves. Its most important feature however is that it can mask the otherwise bitter or dull taste of additives. It has a wonderful ability to hide objectionable flavours and enhance good flavours in foods that do not always taste salty. Dozens of sodium based compounds are added to processed food to help bind ingredients and  blend mixtures that would otherwise come apart, like the protein and fat molecules in processed cheese.

One of the healthiest ways to delay spoilage in cooked or uncooked meat is to infuse it with fresh herbs like rosemary that have antioxidant properties. However, fresh herbs are costly and cannot compete with the almost negligible cost of salt. Food companies want to keep their costs low, while they pump out more and more food and push us to consume it. While we cannot control the amount of salt that goes into our packaged foods and meats, or ignore the benefits of it for both consumers and producers, what we can do is become aware of its many forms and the ways in which we consume it.

Alternative names of salt commonly found in packaged foods are: sodium citrate, sodium phosphate and sodium acid pyrophosphate.

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