AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Salt and your health, Part I: The sodium connection
By now, most health-conscious American men understand the difference between bad fats (saturated fats and trans fats) and good fats (omega-3s and other poly- and monounsaturates). Many also recognize the difference between bad carbohydrates (simple sugars and refined grain products) and good carbs (dietary fiber and whole-grain products). In addition, savvy consumers are finally switching from red meat to fish, poultry, and legumes to get the protein they need.
It's heartening progress, but it overlooks another nutrient that's responsible for more than 100,000 American deaths a year, about three times more than prostate cancer. Perhaps because the problem nutrient is hidden away in processed foods and receives massive support from companies that manufacture and market these foods, the average American consumes 55% more of it today than in 1980. The hidden nutrient is not a fat or carbohydrate, and it doesn't pack any calories. The forgotten nutrient is salt.
A grain of history
In today's world, salt is abundant and cheap, but it wasn't always that way. Salt was hard to come by for our earliest ancestors, who got along quite nicely on about a tenth of today's average use in the United States. In time, people learned how to find salt and extract it from the earth. But it was hard work and salt was scarce, so it became a valuable commodity that was used for currency. In fact, the word salary is derived from the Latin word for salt. Perhaps because it was rare and expensive, salt carried a certain prestige; even today, a successful man is "worth his salt" and a good man is "the salt of the earth."
After the Industrial Revolution, salt became inexpensive and plentiful. It found a valuable role as a food preservative, and the average consumption soared to as much as 7,000 milligrams (mg) a day in the 19th century. Salt has long since outlived its use as a preservative, but our hankering for sodium lingers on, with daily consumption in America averaging 3,436 mg. Because of this acquired preference, salt is a big business: every year, the world consumes about 187 million tons, which is both mined from the earth and claimed from the sea.
Salt and sodium: A glossary
Each molecule of ordinary salt is composed of an atom of sodium (Na) joined to an atom of chloride (Cl); the chemical designation is NaCl. Because chloride is heavier than sodium, it contributes more to the weight of the molecule. But when it comes to health, it's the sodium that counts, whether it comes from table salt or from other sources, such as baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) or MSG (monosodium glutamate).
Because sodium is what matters, food labels list the content of sodium, not salt; it's expressed as milligrams (mg) of …