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...
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.