A Salt Manifesto

Copyright TooFarNorth/Flickr.com

Salt, sadly, has had a bad rap lately. From a 2009 announcement by Penzeys Spices to a recent mediocre Angelina Jolie movie, it seems that everywhere we turn, we are discouraged in using salt.

I took particular offense to Penzeys’ rationale when I first saw it (and apparently still haven’t gotten over it), which I think echoes the rationale of some health advocates: “I feel things have gotten to a point where the specialty salts are glamorizing the use of salt and, with that, encouraging people to use more of it.”

Yes, too much salt in your diet is a health concern. According to the Mayo Clinic (my go-to Internet health resource whenever I want to self-diagnose any hypochondria), when too much salt builds up in your blood, it increases your blood pressure, which, we know, is bad for your heart. This happens to some people more than others, depending on how their kidneys work and whether they have confounding conditions, so if you are one of those who honestly can’t consume much salt, please stop reading now. It’ll only make you wistful. You have my sympathies.

But human bodies need salt. It’s an essential mineral; without it, that Mayo Clinic article says, we can’t regulate the water in our bodies, and our nerves and muscles won’t function right.

Go back to the Mayo Clinic article. Right-click on it and open it in a new tab. Yes, I’m actually telling you to leave my blog for a minute. Please come back, though, when you’re done. See the little saltshaker chart? For most U.S. diets, we are not getting an overabundance of sodium from “specialty salts.” We’re getting it from processed foods. And that’s why I take offense to that health rationale.

We don’t need to use less fancy salt, we need to eat fewer processed foods. And, I’m going to be bold and daring here, I think specialty salts actually encourage people to use less salt. GASP!

For a variety of reasons:

  • When you have a little package of grey salt, or Sicilian sea salt, or Hawaiian black salt, or even truffle salt, what do you do with it? You can’t throw it on processed foods (or at least I hope you wouldn’t). You have to cook your own wholesome foods, gently salting as you go.
  • Fancy salts, when used correctly as a finishing salt (more on that here), add more flavor to foods so that you can use less salt overall.
  • Fancy salts even make vegetables fun! (Yes, “glamorized,” but in a good way.)

The moral of the story? Use salt, but just enough, and put it on food you’ve cooked yourself, that doesn’t come from a box.*

* Disclaimer: I am not a health professional. If you have any concern whatsoever, talk to your doctor about what’s best for you. You are probably an adult and can make your own decisions. In other words, I am not responsible if you overuse salt, i.e., salt all of your food and eat processed foods from a box.

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