Believe it or not, our taste buds are designed to pick up on only a few certain types of flavors. From a combination of these few flavor profiles, we are able to experience an incredible range of tasty sensations. One of the primary flavors that we are able to detect is one of the western world’s favorites. If you are thinking it must be the sweetness of sugar, think again. It is actually salt.
The entire world has a strong affinity for salt, and for quite some time it was even considered one of the most valuable trade goods in the world. Today, in America, our relationship with salt isn’t a healthy one. Salt, on some levels can even be considered an obsession. We crave it, we seek foods that have it added and when they don’t we automatically reach for the salt shaker to add some “life” that we feel is missing. The result of this obsessive love affair with salt is that like any bad relationship, it is creating havoc for our general health and our appearance.
Salt, or sodium chloride if we want to be proper about it, is actually a valuable nutrient for the human body. It is essential for many physiological processes. The problem is not with salt itself, but with the amount of it that we consume. The typical American consumes as much as five or more teaspoons of salt per day. This is well above the amount of salt that our bodies actually need. In fact, we only need about ¼ of a teaspoon per day. This means that the average person consumes approximately twenty times more sodium than their bodies can effectively utilize. The FDA recommends that individuals do not consume more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, which is the absolute uppermost limit. The actually recommended daily intake is 1,500 milligrams per day or less, especially for those people with sodium sensitive health conditions.
What happens when you exceed the uppermost recommended limit of sodium intake? Well, that depends on a couple of different factors. First of all, if you have any health condition that can be affected by sodium, such as high blood pressure or kidney disease, the effect on your health can be immediate. If you do not suffer from a pre existing health condition, an occasional sodium indulgence is likely to just cause some temporary discomfort. However, exceeding the recommended amount on a daily basis for an extended period of time can lead to some very serious health implications including the development of:
- Hypertension: As many as one third of adults suffer from elevated blood pressure, and many of them are not even aware of it. Untreated high blood pressure can lead to very serious health issues including heart attack or stroke. There are many factors that contribute to an individual’s blood pressure reading. Blood pressure can be affected by genetics, obesity, stress and dietary factors such as excessive sodium intake. Reducing the amount of salt that you consume can significantly reduce hypertension and pre-hypertension risk. Even if you do not currently suffer from high blood pressure, prevention is extremely important to your long term health.
- Coronary Heart Disease: This is one of the leading causes of death in the developed world. Coronary Heart Disease is a term that is used when the supply of blood to the heart is restricted, sometimes to the point of causing heart failure or heart attacks. This restriction happens when the blood vessels become so thickened that they cannot properly supply blood to the heart. One of the leading causes of coronary heart disease is high blood pressure. Reducing your salt intake can reduce your risk of developing this potentially fatal disease.
- Stroke: Very similar to coronary heart disease, a stroke also happens with blood supply is restricted, except in this case the lack of blood flow is to the brain rather than the heart. This happens when the blood vessels become thickened or weakened to the point that they rupture. Again, high blood pressure is the leading cause of strokes. Keeping your sodium intake in check can help to prevent high blood pressure and potentially a stroke.
- Osteoporosis: This is a condition or weakening or thinning of the skeletal system. Calcium is very important to bone health, and some calcium loss is natural as we age. However, excessive sodium consumption can accelerate this process, making you more vulnerable to injuries including breaks and fractures at a younger age.
- Obesity: There is an interesting connection between our society’s love for salt and its increasing rates of obesity. Salt makes you thirsty. When you become thirsty, you might first reach for a glass of water, however for many people water is not always the first choice. Many of the drinks that we turn to in order to satisfy a thirst are heavy in sugar, such as juices, sodas or energy drinks. These drinks are also high in calories. Additionally, the saltiest of foods are often processed and are calorically dense. The more salt you consume, the more you crave each of these things and before you know it, between bloating and extra calories, your waistline begins to expand.
- Water Retention: Taking in too much salt can cause to retain an average of 1.5 liters of extra fluid. Pour this much water into a bottle and feel how much it weighs, or simply look at it and think about how that much extra water in your body might affect your health and your appearance.
Speaking of appearance, too much salt can have a big impact on how you look and how you feel about yourself. We just mentioned that salt can cause your body to hold onto an excessive amount of fluid. This alone is enough to make your clothes feel tighter, and cause you to feel a little discouraged when you look in the mirror. But salt can also affect your facial structure and the health of your skin. Just like the how rest of your body retains water, so does your face. This most often shows up in the form of puffy cheeks or relentless bags under the eyes. Additionally, you become thirsty when you consume too much salt because it is dehydrating. That dehydrating effect extends to your skin as well. Your skin can lose its moisture balance and become dry and scaly. Would you like to know what is worse that puffy eyes and dry skin? When your skin loses moisture, your oil glands can become over stimulated in an attempt to compensate for the moisture loss. This results in the dermatological mess of acne breakouts on dry skin, leaving you not knowing what direction to approach your skin issues from. Before spending large amounts of money on products that will likely counteract each other in an attempt to regain your healthy skin, try reducing the salt in your diet for just one week and notice how improved your skin becomes in such a short amount of time.
Most people are completely unaware that they are exceeding the daily suggested amount of sodium intake. This is because it is found in so many places that you might not be expecting it. Reducing your salt intake requires more effort than just putting down the salt shaker. Here are a few tips to reduce your daily salt intake and some advice of which foods to avoid.
- Eat fresh and homemade. Any processed packaged food that wasn’t created to be specifically low sodium if going to be high in salt. You can avoid this trap by choosing to eat fresh foods instead and preparing meals and snacks from scratch rather than reaching for the prepackaged, prepared varieties.
- When you do reach for a packaged food, take the time to read the label. Note what the serving size is and how much sodium is in each of those servings. You will be surprised by how quickly it adds up.
- Explore using other spices and flavorings such as vinegars, herbs, garlic, etc. to spark up the flavor of your food.
- Learn to appreciate each food for what it is. When was the last time that you tasted a fresh-from-the-garden vegetable in its purest, unadulterated state? The true flavors of nature are wonderful on their own, once you become accustomed to not always adding salt to everything.
- When adding salt during cooking, try reducing the amount that you add. You can also use a coarse ground salt which teaspoon per teaspoon contains less sodium than table salt.
- Avoid high sodium foods such as:
Smoked, cured or salted meats
Prepared meals in cans, including soups
Frozen meals such as pizza, burritos, and breaded items
Salted snacks such as chips and nuts
Olives, capers, pickles and sauerkraut
Now that we have gotten all of the negatives about salt out of the way, let’s take a few minutes to talk about how salt can naturally beautify your skin, from the outside. Salt has wonderful exfoliating properties, works as an antiseptic and can help balance moisture and oil, leaving you with glowing, radiant skin. Instead of eating the salt in your kitchen, try a few of these natural salt-based beauty treatments:
- Make an all over body scrub. While still wet in the shower, take a handful of sea salt and rub it in upward, circular motions to remove dead skin cells and improve circulation. You can also mix equal portions of salt and your favorite oil for an extra luxurious, moisturizing body scrub.
- Take it to the bath. Taking a nice, warm bath sprinkled with sea salt and your favorite moisturizing oil will leave your skin silky soft. The salt in the bath actually allows more of the oils to be absorbed into your skin. Also, you can soak as long as you like because the salt will reduce any unsightly pruniness on your fingers and toes as a result of sitting too long in the water.
- Reduce oily shine. Add one teaspoon of salt to two ounce of purified water in a spray bottle. Shake well and mist over oily skin.
- Get rid of the flakes. If dry or cold weather has your scalp dry and itchy, try rubbing a little salt directly onto your scalp right before your favorite therapeutic shampoo. The salt helps to lift and loosen dead skin cells from the surface, allowing your shampoo to work more effectively.
- Be kissable. Do your lips look dry, pale and unhealthy? Dab a damp finger in a little salt and rub it over your lips. Dry skin will be removed and your lips will immediately take on a fresh, rosy glow. Follow up with your favorite natural lip moisturizer.