In Defense of Salt

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We’ve all watched
as death row inmates, after having spent years in prison for crimes
they did not commit, are released after exculpatory DNA evidence
proves their innocence. This all too frequent scenario is what led
Ron Paul to rightfully change his mind about the death penalty,
despite the fact that his convictions are so well thought out, so
solid, that he very rarely has to change his views about something
so important.

One has to
wonder how many common criminals are convicted with faulty evidence
and testimony, with or without malicious intent. In these cases
the stakes are rarely high enough to warrant the attention given
to the lifers, or deathers as it were. Wouldn’t we all love the
opportunity to come to the aid of even one such innocent target
of malicious state prosecution?

Well the opportunity
is here and the victim is salt.

Our society
loves to hate a villain and our politicians will seize any opportunity
to exploit that hatred. These villains provide politicians with
the opportunity to ride the wave of popularity, sauntering into
town with a heroic swagger like John Wayne to put the bad guy behind
bars where he belongs. Our heroes ride into town on our television
screens along with their posse of assistants, calling out the villain
and his accomplices, usually business owners, because as we all
know, anyone who owns a business amasses great wealth using nefarious
means at our expense.

In the case
of food, the health Nazis have issued all manner of ill-informed
proclamations, attempting to encourage us all to eat as they do
based on limited information and simplified and/or biased interpretations
of it. One thing that politicians don’t know how to do well is where
to draw the line. They want to use the popular bans on cigarettes
as templates for intrusions on our freedom of choice wherever they
can, but they haven’t yet learned that while banning cigarettes
will find plenty of support as smokers are in the minority, they
will find a public mobilized against them when they start slamming
the bars on our friends.

What happens
when a politician doesn’t know what he’s talking about? He advocates
things like banning salt in restaurants. According to New York Mayor
Michael Bloomberg, "salt and asbestos are not good for you."
He said, "modern medicine thinks you shouldn’t be smoking if
you want to live longer. Modern medicine thinks you shouldn’t be
eating salt, or sodium."

Apparently
Mayor Bloomberg is not familiar with the fact that the National
Academy of Sciences recommends that Americans consume a minimum
of 500 mg/day of sodium to maintain good health. In fact, sodium
chloride is one of the 12 daily essential minerals. As far as I
am aware, there is no minimum recommendation for asbestos consumption.

Mayor Bloomberg
isn’t alone in his ignorance. One of mainstream society’s problems
is its seeming inability to ferret out the good from the bad, or
even that there is often plenty in between. We love to parrot the
concept of "everything in moderation," yet we have difficulty
applying it unless someone in authority stands up and tells us to.
Our mindfuls seem to be about the size of our mouthfuls. Anything
that cannot fit into a soundbite is too complex for the simplest
among us, toward whom most of our information is geared. Since there
is a correlation between salt and hypertension, all salt must be
bad. The difference is that the average person can live his life
in blissful ignorance without wielding the power to enact laws that
govern the rest of us based upon it.

Our bodies
cannot create salt and without salt we die

Our bodies
are approximately 60 percent water, some of it within our cells
and some without our cells. Salt controls the amount of water in
our bodies and it maintains the critical balance between our cells
and body fluids. Salt also aids in the contraction of muscle tissue
and serves as a vital ingredient of blood plasma and digestive secretions.
According to a University of California study, our bodies regulate
our sodium content, ensuring that serum sodium levels remain within
a certain range at all times. We lose sodium with our sweat and
waste and without replacing it our bodies attempt to redistribute
it in less than optimum ways.

Before the
extreme result of death, it may serve us well to find out what happens
to our bodies when we withhold or restrict such a vital nutrient:
an eight-year study of a New York City hypertensive population found
that those on low-salt diets had more than four times as many heart
attacks as those on normal-sodium diets. Could it be that since
the heart is a perpetually active muscle, constantly contracting
and relaxing from birth until death, that removing one of the aids
to muscle contraction may impede its effective operation? The fact
is, some of the draconian recommendations for salt use have just
as dramatic effect as a pharmaceutical intervention. Just don’t
tell that to the FDA or we may find salt classified as a drug.

The ways in
which the human body needs and uses salt are far too numerous to
be covered in one short article. Nevertheless, if we decide that
salt is good, we should ideally be choosy about the type of salt
that we pick. Natural salt cannot be directly replaced with processed
salt. Like many other sources of nutrition, it is the co-action
of all the constituent parts that performs the complete function
of the food. Unfortunately as in so many areas of food and our health,
the good is that which we have subsisted on for millennia and the
bad is that which we process for the convenience of products that
are "trouble-free." We can reasonably expect that the
foods we buy that contain sodium will contain the processed form,
so the salt that we add at home should be a minimally processed
natural form.

Mac
Beaulieu [send him mail]
is a non-practicing registered nurse who’s spent the past 20 years
working within America’s healthcare system.

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