best natural foods

Are you taking too much salt?

Too much salt is said to cause high blood pressure. But how much, exactly, is too much?

And does excessive salt intake cause really high blood pressure? Maybe not. Because there are reasons to believe that the real culprit is unnatural refined salt and that natural sea salt will not cause this problem.

Click here to read a discussion on whether too much salt really causes high blood pressure.

The proper use of salt is also important. Salt should be cooked together with food and not sprinkled on top of food after it has been cooked. So go easy on those potato chips and salted nuts, including those that have been salted with natural sea salt.

If you have read some of the articles in website, especially about the benefits of sea salt, you will know by now that salt is basically not harmful but healthy. It is necessary for life.

Sure. Too much salt will be harmful. At the same time, we should understand that too little salt is equally harmful. So don't make the mistake of going overboard and avoiding salt altogether. After a while. you will start to become weak and prone to bacteria and virus attack.

With salt, as with anything else, the key is balance. You need the right amount. But what is the right amount?

Expert recommendations

Medical experts and government health authorities will give various recommendations. Some say 2 grams a day, some say 3 grams, some say 2.3 grams. Some put the upper limit as high as 6 grams. Notice that there is no universal agreement? Moreover, these experts tend to change their recommendations every few years. They themselves don't really know how much is too much salt.

In any case, the most popular figure right now is about 2.3 grams for adults, with an advice that certain high risk groups should take less salt than that.

The figure itself is meaningless. How would you know if you are taking more, or less, than that amount? Unless you measure and weigh all your food, and religiously read all food labels to discover the salt content? However, the advice that certain people should take less salt is very sensible - because different people have diferent needs.

Personal needs

So before we discuss what is too much salt, let's take a look at who should reduce - and who should increase - their salt intake.

You should take LESS salt if you...
  • have high blood pressure
  • eat (or used to eat) plenty of salty snacks like potato chips and salted nuts
  • eat (or used to eat) plenty of processed, pakaged and canned foods
  • eat (or used to eat) regularly at fast food restaurants, hawker centres and restaurants.
  • eat (or used to eat) plenty of meat and cheese, especially hard cheese which are high in salt
  • lead a sedentary lifestyle
You may take MORE salt if you...
  • have low high blood pressure
  • feel weak and listless
  • generally avoid salty snacks like potato chips and salted nuts
  • eat mainly fresh, natural, unprocessed foods
  • generally avoid fast food restaurants, hawker centres and restaurants.
  • had been vegetarian or mainly vegetarian for a long time
  • eat plenty of raw salads, fruits and fruit juices
  • exercise and sweat a lot - since they lose salt in sweat

Just to share a personal encounter... Once, I cooked dinner for a couple from India. Both were vegetarians - the husband for a few years but the wife for a few decades, since birth. I cooked for them a macrobiotic meal, which included miso soup.

Naturally, I cooked to my personal taste and felt the soup was sufficiently salty. Not too much salt. Before they started eating, the husband tasted the soup and, without asking his wife, added two tablespoons of shoyu to her portion. He knew her tastebuds. I was shocked at the amount of salt she took.

Was that too much salt? Apparently not for her. She was healthy. She was also old enough to have developed high blood pressure years ago if, in fact, salt causes high blood pressure.

The explanation is this: Vegetables are rich in potassium. So vegetarians, and people who take lots of vegetablea, can afford to eat more salt. The sodium in salt balances the abundant potassium in their diets. Meat, however, is high in sodium. So meat eaters who take plenty of salt, or those who eat plenty of salted meats like ham, bacon and sausages, are in for trouble.

Macrobiotic view of too much salt

Another "salt shock" for me came when I invited macrobiotic teacher Herman Aihara to give classes in Singapore during the 1990s. Herman Aihara had packed some rice balls for his trip and he did not finish them. So he shared them with me and a few other macrobiotic friends upon his arrival.

Rice balls are usually filled with something salty to preserve them from the inside, and wrapped in nori seaweed, again to preserve them from the outside. The rice ball that Herman Aihara shared was filled with shiitake mushroom cooked in shoyu. Oooooo! I had never tasted anything so incredibly salty before.

In the macrobiotic understanding, salt is yang, meaning it has a strong contracting energy. You can see this effect in salted meat, fish, or vegetables. They contract and become smaller, harder and more concentrated.

Likewise, a person who takes plenty of salt would exhibit contracted qualities, eg, a body that is shrivelled up and stiff, or a personality that is overly narrow-minded, serious and stubborn. If these descriptions fit you, you would do well to reduce your salt intake also.

Herman Airhara, despite his very salty diet, did not quite show these traits. He did have another, though - a head of white hair. The macrobiotic explanation is that the strong contracting energy of salt causes contraction at the hair follicles. As a result, the hair is deprived of nourishment and so turns white. Overall, Herman Aihara was healthy though, and lived into his 80s.

Avoiding too much salt

OK, assuming you fall into the group that needs to avoid too much salt. How do you do this? As mentioned earlier, it is not practical to measure and weigh all your food in order to find out how much salt you are taking. Even if you cook your own meals, it is not practical to measure the amount of salt either.

My suggestion is, firstly, to be more mindful of your eating habits. Do you, for example...

Be mindful of how you add salt when cooking as well. More than once, I have seen cookery instruction videos on YouTube where the cook says "Add a pinch of salt" but the video shows the person sprinkling generously, taking a second or two to spread the salt all over. A "pinch of salt" should leave your hands in a fraction of a second, not take one or two seconds to spread around.

Or, if you measure 1/4, or 1/2 or one teaspoon of salt, is it a heaped teaspoonful or a level teaspoonful? Be mindful of such habits.

Light salty taste

In general, your food should have a light salty taste, not a strong salty taste.

But this is tricky. If you are used to eating too much salt, a "light" salty taste to you could still mean far too much salt. The thing to do, then, is to re-train your tastebuds. Avoid salt completely for about two weeks. Go "cold turkey". if you think this is too much of a torture, well, this is what you will be forced to do if you ever land in a hospital with a heart attrack.

During these two weeks, your food will taste horribly bland, of course. But after about two weeks, your tastebuds will become more sensitive. And you will find that even bland foods will start to have flavour.

This same "cold turkey" treatment works also for weaning yourself off sugar, or chilli or any other strong taste. Try it, whether your problem is too much salt, too much sugar or something else. It is a small, temporary sacrifice. But you will be rewarded with more sensitive tastebuds. You will discover that natural foods have far more complex tastes than merely salty, sweet or whatever.

Your food will become more delicious - without having to add too much salt.

And remember! Always use natural sea salt and use it correctly, cooked with food rather than sprinkled over food. If you do this, you won't have to worry too much about taking too much salt.

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