Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth. You know the expression. It's said that someone is the "salt of the earth," if they are good to the bone. They may not be handsome, rich or even smart. But if they're hard-working and would give you the shirt off their back (another silly expression), then they are salt.

Well, I have an issue with that. Salt is bad for you. OK, not salt, per se. But sodium is bad, bad, bad. Salt is largely composed of sodium.

You actually only need very tiny amounts of sodium to keep your body healthy. About 500 mgs daily would do it, according to the latest scientific evidence. In fact, our governmental keepers have never established a minimum RDA for salt, because it's pretty much impossible to not get enough. RDA is "recommended daily allowance," btw.

I've been hearing for many years that we eat too much sodium. Way too much. It's bad for us. It ruins our arteries, causes high blood pressure, etc. etc. The end result of high blood pressure? Heart attack and stroke are two big ones that come to mind. But I only recently started counting the sodium my family ingests. The reason I started taking note of sodium is because I was told I have osteoporosis.

Now, there may be a link between osteoporosis and sodium intake. But it's complicated. I will blog about my osteoporosis,sodium, calcium, etc. at a future date. Right now, I'm just going to talk about sodium.

There's no denying salt is a contributing factor to high blood pressure, much of the time. Some people seem immune, and don't seem to receive any bad health effects from too much sodium intake. But most of us would probably be way better off with much less sodium in our diets.

That's the ticket, though. Have you ever tried to bring your sodium intake down to 500 mgs. daily? It's just about impossible, unless you are vegan, and never buy canned beans or processed cereals, or other processed foods.

If you check pretty much any food label on the groceries you buy, you will see that it contains sodium. Huge amounts of sodium. Things you never imagined have sodium added to them, because manufacturers have insisted this is how we will eat.

There's no legitimate reason nowadays for sodium to be added to the vast majority of processed foods. Eons ago, adding salt was required for preservation. Well, I have a refrigerator. Case closed, and sodium should be gone. But it isn't.

I challenge you to examine your food labels.

Bread, milk, cheese, ice cream, breakfast cereals, any boxed prepared product, almost all deli meats, mustard, ketchup, canned soups and vegetables, and especially Chinese condiments like soy sauce, all contain varying amounts of sodium.

If you are eating processed food from the store, you are probably taking in far too much sodium. I figure the average person eats at least 3000mgs of sodium per day, and many people eat much more, as in up to 4-5000 mgs.

This is insane. With all the health information and pressure on people to cut fat and sugar from their diets, you'd think there'd be at least as much pressure to cut sodium.

Even the supposedly safe amount of sodium established by alleged scientists is crazily high. For many years, I heard the number 2400 tossed around, as in that was a great amount of sodium to ingest. That number is still out there, although more and more, you hear rumblings that really, 1200 would be a better number.

Where do they get these numbers from? I have no idea. Health Canada won't even insist that manufacturers start lowering the amounts of sodium in the products they foist on us. Apparently, it would cause an uprising.

I think its quite safe to say 500 is a healthy number. But let's take that number of 1200 mgs. Let me show you how ludicrous a thought it is to even attempt to eat that amount of sodium, in our modern world, never-mind 500.

Take a typical day. You get up, and think about breakfast. Hmmmm...what to have? A bowl of "healthy" fibre-filled bran cereal, endorsed by the Heart and Stroke Association as being "healthy?" (make ironic noise here) Or perhaps a bagel with peanut butter, glass of milk and some fruit. Really healthy, right? How about a giant muffin, one you bought at the local health food joint? It's low in fat, remember?

WRONG! Processed cold cereals (as well as processed hot cereals, like those instant packages of flavoured oatmeal) can be very high in sodium. Almost all are. I've started seeking breakfast cereals that have no sodium, and believe-you-me (another silly expressions!), they are few and far between. I can recommend Post Shredded Wheat which is whole grain and has no sugar or sodium. President's Choice also makes a "Blue Menu" brand of some crunchy oats and almonds concoction with no sodium (and lots of sugar). But that's about it. So those are the cereals I buy.

You can also make your oatmeal from scratch, or prepare hot cereals like Red River Cereal or Cream of Wheat to arrive at a breakfast with no sodium.

Otherwise, you are eating about 200mgs of sodium in your prepared cereal, and once you add milk (which contains naturally-occurring sodium), you are up to 300 mgs already.

If you eat a bagel and PB, good luck. The bagel probably contains 400 mgs and the PB another 100. Add a glass of milk and you are up to 500 already, which is supposed to be your allotment for the entire day, if you are sticking to a truly healthy amount. Even if we aim for 1200 a day, you've already used up almost half.

You can see where this is going.

All commercial breads are high in sodium. They often contain baking powder, or baking soda (which contain sodium), and the manufacturers add salt as well. Two slices of toast can provide you with 3-400 mgs of sodium. I've read the labels at my local Great Canadian Superstore, and I can't find a bread that contains less than 120 mgs of sodium in each slice. That's actually a "good" number, given how much sodium they pack into some baked goods like bagels or Naan. Even breads that are made with yeast (and thus require no baking powder) contain salt, and so have significant amounts of sodium in them.

I bought a bread maker and have started to TRY to produce low or no-sodium bread. Good luck to me. There are few recipes anywhere that espouse a no-sodium approach. The ones I've tried are failures. Apparently, yeast requires salt to make it work right. So you just can't cut out the salt in a yeast-based bread recipe. The dough rises too high and then collapses without salt to make it rise correctly. Who knew?

But I'll keep trying. Making bread is an art, and I think I may be able to come up with a match of A WEE BIT OF SALT ALONG WITH A PORTION OF YEAST, so as to make a loaf. I've also started buying peanut and almond butter which contain no added salt (again, President's Choice Blue Menu). This makes everyone in my family unhappy (except for me), because these products also contain no added sugar. PB with no added salt or sugar tastes very bland compared to "regular" PB.

Anyway, this post is already much too long. I'll continue on another day and tell you how much sodium your lunch contains.

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