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All About Salts

Facts
Salt and Sodium
How much salt?
Salt and Blood Pressure

Daily needs for sodium
Taste
Where is the salt?
No added salt? Salt-reduced? Salt free?
Different Types of Salt
Salt Substitutes
Mineral water
Rating the salt in foods 

Facts

Once considered a simple substance, salt is now confusing many people. Do we need it? How much do we need? Is it harmful? Should we choose sea salt, rock salt, vegetable salt, natural salt, sun-dried salt, iodized salt, cooking salt, salt substitute or just plain common salt? Or should we buy items that claim to be unsalted, have no added salt or are salt-free? (Return)

Salt and Sodium

Some people do become confused by these terms. Salt is sodium chloride; the sodium makes up about 40 per cent of the salt molecule. Sodium occurs natural­ly in almost all foods, even in those to which no salt has been added. When salt is added, the total sodium content increases. Added salt contributes far more sodium than the naturally occur­ring sodium.

If you are following a low salt diet (for example, those with high blood pressure), do not add salt in cooking or at the table and avoid processed foods with added salt. The sodium that occurs naturally, is rarely a problem.
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How much salt?

We all need the sodium and chloride found in salt. Along with potassium, sodium helps maintain the balance between water inside and around the cells, keeps blood volume normal and also controls the acidity balance in the body. Few people need to eat added salt (except tropical regions with moderate temperatures), since both sodium and chloride are found naturally in many foods. All sea foods are rich in these elements, as are meats, eggs and milk. Some vegetables are also adequate sources.

Most people eat too much salt and their kidneys must get rid of the excess sodium. This requires water and the thirst experienced after a particularly salty meal is designed to make us provide the kidneys with the extra water they need to excrete excess sodium from the salt. The kidneys also look after sodium balance at the other end of the scale. If we take in too little sodium, the kidneys will conserve it very efficiently.

Babies have great difficulty excreting salt and even a formula milk that is made up too strongly will contain so much sodium that it puts an enormous strain on their immature kidneys. Babies do not inherently like salt and turn up their noses at their first salted foods. However, most adults keep giving salted foods to children and their taste buds become used to the flavor.

Eating heavily salted foods is also a cause of stomach cancer —this is the most common form of cancer in the world. Stomach can­cer has decreased dramatically in Western countries since people began to preserve food with refrigeration and freezing instead of by salting. 
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Salt and Blood Pressure

The kidneys do a good job of get­ting rid of excess sodium but after years of effort they can fall down on the task and start to retain it. The extra water in the blood then causes small blood vessels to be­come overly sensitive to signals that cause them to contract. The heart must then work harder to force blood through these narrow stiffened blood vessels and blood pressure rises. Not everyone is equally sensitive to the effects of excess sodium, but since we can­not yet predict who will become salt-sensitive, it makes sense for everyone to cut back on salt.
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Daily needs for sodium

Adults should aim for a sodium intake between 1000 and 2300 mg a day. Since about 40 per cent of salt is sodium, this equates to about 2.5-6 grams of salt a day. Children under 12 years of age should eat a little less than this. One to three year-olds should be having 300-1200 mg of sodium and those under 12 months 140-280 mg a day. Babies under 12 months should not have salt added to their foods. A slice of bread with a thin spread of yeast extract could fit into an infant’s diet, as long as salty breakfast cereals and other salted foods were not a regular part of the diet. Prepared baby foods have no added salt. It is best for everyone to avoid salt in cooking and at the table and to choose unsalted processed foods where possible. However, there is no need for most people to go to extremes of avoiding bread or yeast extract or even the occasional anchovy.
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Taste

Once our taste buds become used to the flavor of salt, the liking for it tends to stay. If you decide to reduce the salt in your diet, you need to allow about three months for your taste buds to adjust and gradually learn to like the natural flavor of unsalted foods. Salt cer­tainly adds flavor to foods - it adds the flavor of salt.

Try micro waving vegetables without water, steaming them or stir-frying them briefly either in concentrated chicken stock or in a little oil. You will find they retain so much of their original flavor that salt becomes obsolete.

When making stews or cas­seroles, use less liquid. This leaves more flavor in the meat and vegetables so that little, if any, salt is needed. Herbs and spices, lemon juice and various vinegars can also give flavor without recourse to salt.
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Where is the salt?

Almost everyone knows that anchovies or potato crisps are salty. But few people realize how much salt comes in some break­fast cereals, savory biscuits, cer­tain breads or in foods such as cheese. There is nothing wrong with having a few of these foods and if bread is the only salted food you eat, this will not cause any problems. But when every fast food and most prepared foods are laden with salt, the total does be­come excessive.
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No added salt? Salt-reduced? Salt free?

In response to changing palates, many food manufacturers are reducing the added salt in their products. Now for the confusion! “No added salt” means just that. The only sodium present is that found naturally in the food. Bread with no added salt would have only the sodium from the flour, milk powder (if used) and any grains that have been included.

“Salt-reduced” means salt has been added but in smaller amounts than in the regular product. Salt-reduced breads have 30-60 per cent less salt than that in regular bread.

“Salt free” is an old-fashioned term once used for foods without added salt. As almost all foods have some naturally occurring sodium; the term “salt-free” is in­accurate and is no longer used.
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Different Types of Salt

Many people pay more for ‘sea salt’ or ‘vegetable salt’ assuming they are somehow superior. All forms of salt are sodium chloride and should be used in modera­tion. Some vegetable salts have a strong flavor (usually from celery extract) so that you can use less of them than regular salt. This may help reduce overall salt in­take a little.
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Salt Substitutes

These products are mostly potas­sium chloride. Some have other additions to try to take away the bitter after-flavor, which about 50 per cent of people experience from potassium chloride. No human population has ever eaten potassium chloride, so we have no long-term safety guidelines. For those who have certain kidney problems, potassium chloride may be harmful. It is probably better to gradually give up using salt and let your taste buds enjoy the natural flavors of fresh and well-cooked foods.
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Mineral water

A few years ago, many mineral waters had a high sodium content. Most have now changed. Look for those brands with less than 70 mg sodium/liter.
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Rating the salt in foods (in terms of common servings)

High

Medium

Low

Processed wheat bran
Cornflakes     
Processed rice cereal

Salted crackers
Most canned foods

Processed cheese

Processed meats
Chicken
Salami, most
sandwich meats
Smoked fish
Fish canned in oil or brine

Fast foods
Prepared foods
Potato crisps, snack foods

Wheat breakfast      
Biscuits
Most mixed cereals

Bread, any type       

Eggs
Milk
Hard cheese
Cottage cheese

Fresh meat
Turkey
Fresh fish
Fish canned in water

Canned vegetables

Salted nuts

Butter, margarine     

Rolled oats
Puffed wheat
Muesli (home-made)
Oat-bran cereals
Salt-reduced bread
Canned foods with no added salt

Quark
Salt-reduced cottage cheese

All fruits

Frozen or fresh vegetables
Unsalted nuts
Unsalted butter or salt-reduced margarine

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