Salt is pretty pervasive not only in the Western diet but in the media as well. There seems to always be another study that is condemning salt for one thing or heralding its importance, sometimes even in the same article. Not only that, but it’s even historically significant. Salt made preservation possible (and thus food rationing after the big mammoth hunt) long before the days of preservatives and mass-production of ice cubes in nearly every home in America. The body is pre-disposed to love that tangy little zip that comes from salt. And not even all of it tastes like salt.
Ever wondered what makes a Cheez-It so cheesy? The secret ingredient in the herb/olive oil mix you get at a nice Italian restaurant? What is it about nice vinaigrette that helps cut the bitterness of a salad with dandelion greens to let the brightness of the dish shine through? Salt.
In the body, salt helps to maintain fluid balance. It is generally accepted that where sodium goes, water will follow. “Fluid retention” and “water weight” get talked about a lot, usually following a day of salty snacks. This is because the ions in your blood have to maintain a particular concentration. Sodium levels can’t get too high or too low without serious (even fatal) consequences. So, if you have a high amount of sodium in your diet, your body will pull fluid from the cells (or the brain) to help dilute it until it can be appropriately removed. In turn, this will deprive the cells of much needed water and cause a whole slew of problems. A lot of these mechanisms are controlled by the kidneys with a number of different hormones. Incidentally, these hormones also help maintain blood pressure, partly by controlling fluid balance. Cool, huh?
- Les, MS RD LD