Salt has been a prized commodity for centuries. Roman soldiers were paid in salt, and the word “salary” is derived from “sal,” the Latin word for salt. Salt is comprised of sodium and chloride, and its chemical formula, NaCl, is familiar to most people.
Sodium, which occurs in all foods, is essential for health and dangerous in excess. Sodium deficiencies, although rare, can be caused by excessive sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea. Symptoms include weight loss, weakness, and muscle cramping.
When people think of sodium, most think of blood pressure. The common perception is if you have high blood pressure you must decrease sodium in your diet. If you are not “salt sensitive,” sodium is not an issue and you can eat all the potato chips and French fries you like.
Actually, nothing is further from the truth. For optimal health, everyone should limit sodium while keeping potassium consumption high. It’s because the ratio of these two minerals affects every cell in the body. In a sort of see-saw balance, potassium helps keep sodium in check. So, even if your blood pressure doesn’t rise when you eat salty foods, you are still putting yourself at risk for certain diseases if sodium and potassium are out of balance.
There is overwhelming evidence that a dietary excess of salt coupled with a lack of potassium is possibly the single largest contributor to ill health in the U.S. In addition to heart attack, stroke, and hypertension, one’s dietary potassium-to-sodium ratio is believed to be a factor in osteoporosis, asthma, ulcers, stomach cancer, cataracts, kidney stones, and possibly other diseases that appear unrelated. The good news is that by increasing potassium in your diet (vegetables and fruits) and decreasing salt intake, you are creating a healthier balance that can lower your risk of a dozen or so diseases.
Most of the sodium in the American diet comes from fast foods and packaged foods with less than 10 percent coming from the salt shaker. So, before you reach for the convenience foods, consider the numbers. The Daily Value for sodium is 2,400 milligrams. A large Hungry Man frozen dinner contains a whopping 5 grams!