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The Assault On Salt Is At Fault

Salt with a skull drawn into it. As if sodium were poisonous or something.

You probably know that salt is bad for you. Maybe you even feel bad for that random-object-shaped, pepper-caster-complimenting salt shaker sitting on your coffee table, reminding you of the guilt every time you glance over. And nevertheless, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you “shake it like a polaroid picture” – even though you shouldn’t. Or so you’re led to believe.

It’s weird. I feel like good old sodium gets worse press than Kim Jong-Un. Maybe it’s because some of those nutrition fanatics approve of the North Korean diet – which consists of organic, vegan, and locally grown plant roots. (Caution: Participation is, like everything else in North Korea, mandatory.)

tree-309046

I admit: I might be exaggerating a bit, but I seriously don’t get the whole ‘healthy’ food craze and the restrictions that come with it.

No processed meat? – Fine, I guess.

No dairy? – I don’t know, man.

No salt? – I’m outta here.

If you think that you could easily pull off a salt-free life by banning the shaker from the kitchen, think again. It’s not the added table salt that gets you; 89% of your sodium intake comes from other sources. According to this infographic by the American Heart Association there are six secret sodium suppliers you should try to avoid. And they’re doozies:

#1: Bread & Rolls. I could stop right here, because I’m not sure I could survive very long without every German’s best friend. Let’s keep going anyway.

Laugenzöpfe und Semmeln

#2: Cold Cuts & Cured Meats. This is like being a vegetarian, right? That’s doable.

#3: Pizza. Kill me now.

#4: Poultry. Damn, diet! Back at it with the vegetarianism.

#5: (Canned) soup. One less option if I don’t have time to cook an elaborate meal, I guess.

#6: Sandwiches & Burgers. I mean I’m sad and all but I can’t have bread anyway, so these two were implicitly included. Unless you count this as a burger (which no one should):

Breadless Burger

And there’s more bad news: Heart.org lists even more foods as salty scoundrels looking to give you an overdose. According to them, you should also stay away from cheese, condiments, sauces, pickles, olives, chips, crackers, and of course, salty popcorn. Going to the movies just became a lot less fun. Well… that and cooking.

Now that I’ve convinced you of sodium’s inescapable abundance in the average diet, you’ve probably shifted from “I can do without” to “I can’t, but why should I anyway?” Well, if the ‘Consensus Action on Salt and Health’ is to be believed, salt is literally Hitler. I’m kidding, but they list the following diseases and impairments as salt-related:

  • High blood pressure
  • Strokes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stomach cancer
  • Osteoporosis
  • Obesity
  • Kidney stones and kidney disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Water retention
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • (And eventually death, I’m sure)

Suddenly sodium sounds like a type of poison that will slowly and painfully kill you. And I thought WebMD was giving people bad ideas!

Salt shaker laying on a flat surface having just been assaulted by the anti-salt association

Why that post title then? Surely, the government agencies and health associations I cited can’t all be wrong. Plus, anything in form of an infographic must be true!

Let’s look at the facts: Our bodies need sodium to function. Aside from the fact that it’s practically impossible, completely cutting out salt would therefore be a bad idea. And while high sodium levels have repeatedly been linked to hypertension, the opposite (low blood pressure) is just as detrimental. Going cold turkey on salt might actually prove more harmful than just keeping up the junkie life.

Although they acknowledge that there is a correlation between high-sodium diets and stomach cancer, Authority Nutrition warns of the adverse effects that sidestepping salt could have on your health:

  • Elevated LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (read: the bad kind of cholesterol)
  • Heart disease
  • Heart failure
  • Insulin resistance
  • Diabetes

Admittedly, this list is not even half as long as the first one. But if I trusted the anti-salt people and lived a sad life void of pizza and full of tasteless french fries, in order to avoid diabetes from high sodium levels, and then I got diabetes from low sodium levels, I’d be pretty… salty. To say the least.

French fries and salt on a table

TIME Magazine, The Economist, and Scientific American have all pointed out that the case against salt is rather tenuous. There is plenty of questionable work on the topic, leading to lots of inconclusive or even contradictory results, and even the more trustworthy studies stand on shaky legs, considering the difficulty of conducting this type of research. To be frank, the whole thing is as problematic as most other dietary recommendations.

Straight out demanding that everyone eat less salt is like handing everyone glasses, regardless of how good their vision is. Kim Jong-Un might do that, but we shouldn’t. My point is: given the ambiguity of salt research, I’m choosing to live the tasty life. “Everything” causes cancer anyway and the happiness that eating salty snacks brings me has positive effects on my health!

If this rather ignorant approach doesn’t satisfy you, I have a couple more tricks up my sleeve that will boost your health, despite high sodium levels:

1. Eat bananas! There is evidence to suggest that the diseases supposedly caused by too much salt are actually caused by too much salt in relation to the amount of potassium in your body. And even if that turns out to be false, potassium-heavy foods such as spinach, salmon, and mushrooms are good for your health either way.

Lots of bananas in a grocery store

2. Stay away from soda (and fruit juice)! Don’t look at me like that. You’ve been told this a million times and your fridge is still filled with sugar water, even though switching to regular water would be the easiest and cheapest way to tremendously improve your health. Added (and relevant) bonus: you get to avoid all the sodium soda contains (hence the name? – Sadly, no).

3. Quit drinking and smoking! I can’t believe how many vegetarians have tried to convince me of the benefits of a meat-free lifestyle, while smoking their umpteenth cigarette outside a bar… Talk about ignorant.

Or you know, if that’s too much of a hassle for you, you can always spend your hard-earned money on low-sodium, high-price products that probably won’t do anything for you at all. Especially if they’re gluten-free – but that hoax is a topic for another day.

Long story short: Salt is in good books with me.

Handful of salt

What do you think about sodium paranoia? Tell me in the comments below!