Worth Its Salt

Think pass­ing on the salt will reap ben­e­fits for your health? Ex­perts say, not so fast. Here’s why you should be wel­com­ing the condi­ment’s re­turn...

Women's Health (South Africa) - - JAN/FEB 2018 - BY VIC­TO­RIA J OY

Cut­ting out salt? It could be a bad thing!

Salt – those tiny white grains that can el­e­vate fish and chips to the up­per ech­e­lons of taste and make even the most in­sipid boiled veg­eta­bles slightly more palat­able. It’s a shame, then, that they’re also blighted by con­tro­versy among food­ies and health fans, be­ing un­favourably linked to ev­ery­thing from bloat­ing to heart dis­ease. How­ever, new re­search ar­gues that the bit­ter taste salt has left in the health in­dus­try’s mouth is un­jus­ti­fied and, in fact, that low-salt di­ets pose more risk. “Healthy peo­ple have spent far too long fear­ing the salt shaker when, ac­tu­ally, that’s do­ing more harm than good,” says Dr James DiNi­colan­to­nio, car­dio­vas­cu­lar health spe­cial­ist and au­thor of The Salt Fix. “All of the ev­i­dence points to salt and its com­po­nent sodium as our gate­way to feel­ing – and be­ing – healthy.” A his­tory of bad PR

First things first: what is salt? Let’s rewind to grade nine sci­ence and the pe­ri­odic ta­ble for a sec. The salt we eat, aka sodium chlo­ride, is a min­eral com­posed of two chem­i­cal el­e­ments – sodium and chlo­rine – nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring in sea wa­ter, which has been used to flavour and pre­serve food for thou­sands of years. When salt en­ters your body, the ions of sodium and chlo­rine sep­a­rate, leav­ing them free to be used by var­i­ous bod­ily sys­tems. De­spite it hav­ing been con­sid­ered a pre­cious com­mod­ity for mil­len­nia, the bad press sur­round­ing salt for a mere few decades has done se­ri­ous dam­age to its rep­u­ta­tion. The gloom can be traced back to the 70s, when the US gov­ern­ment first pub­lished di­etary goals for the pub­lic in line with its na­tional health pol­icy. Salt was named a silent killer – blamed for hik­ing your risk of high blood pres­sure, stroke and heart dis­ease. The mes­sage was clear: the less of it we con­sume, the bet­ter. Sci­ence backed it up – ground-break­ing re­search pub­lished around that time by Lewis Dahl at Brookhaven Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory in New York showed that up­ping the in­take of sodium in rats in­duced high blood pres­sure. So that, it seemed, was that. In 2003, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion rec­om­mended cut­ting daily in­take to less than 5g a day. Fast for­ward to now and the Dis­cov­ery Vi­tal­ity ObeCity In­dex for 2017 sug­gests the av­er­age South African is still con­sum­ing 11g (or two tea­spoons) per day. All the while, the back­lash against salt has shown no signs of slow­ing – that is, un­til now.

Drop­ping the shack­les

In­creas­ingly, re­search is show­ing that ad­vo­cat­ing a low-sodium diet is as out­dated as evan­ge­lis­ing about a low-fat one. For starters, Dahl’s re­search, on which, ar­guably, the case for low-salt di­ets was based, was a worst-case sce­nario. Why? The rats that showed a spike in blood pres­sure were fed the equiv­a­lent of over 500g of sodium a day – more than 14 times what the av­er­age South African is get­ting from her two tea­spoons of salt. So, not re­ally com­pa­ra­ble to lib­er­ally salt­ing your scram­bled eggs.

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