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Our bodies need salt (sodium chloride) to survive. This ubiquitous mineral is essential for digestion, respiration, and maintaining the body's electrolyte balance.

Our bodies need salt (sodium chloride) to survive. This ubiquitous mineral is essential for digestion, respiration, and maintaining the body's electrolyte balance.

Without salt, we would be unable to transport nutrients or oxygen, transmit nerve impulses or move our muscles. Because we are constantly losing salt through bodily processes, it is essential to replace it.

While the US National Academy of Sciences recommends consuming at least 500 milligrams of sodium per day, the typical Canadian daily sodium intake ranges from 2,300 mg to 6,700 mg. The high levels of salt consumed in the typical North American diet through processed food and the overly liberal use of the salt shaker has been linked to health problems such as high blood pressure and calcium loss.

Dietician Barbara Selley, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Being a Vegetarian in Canada, recommends trying to reduce daily sodium intake to no more than 2,400 mg per day.

Deep Sea Food

Salt has a long, illustrious history. Long before it was a permanent fixture on dinner tables, it was traded as a rare and valued commodity. All salt originally comes from the sea underground mines and seawater. Underground salt deposits are the result of ancient seas that have dried up. Food-grade salt is extracted by forcing water down a shaft to dissolve salt, thereby bringing the salt water to the surface. It is then cleaned and impurities removed.

While many people assume freshly ground salt is superior to salt in ordinary shakers, it isn't the case. Unlike pepper, salt contains no volatile, aromatic oils that are released through grinding.

Most common brands of salt are iodized (contain potassium iodide) in order to counteract goitre (enlargement of the thyroid gland). Largely due to this procedure, the condition has almost disappeared in North America.

Salty Fears?

There is still some concern, however, with unnecessary ingredients added to table salt to maintain its pure white colour, preserve its shelf life, and prevent moisture absorption, namely dextrose, sodium silico, aluminate, sodium and magnesium carbonate and yellow prussiate of soda.

Conversely, kosher salt, which is coarser than regular table salt, does not contain any of these additives. Sea salt with no additives that has been solar-dehydrated is far healthier than the highly refined varieties available.

In some coastal regions, salt is obtained by allowing sunshine and wind to evaporate the water from shallow ponds of sea water. Salt's colour is determined by the shade of local algae and clay in the evaporation pond grey and pink salt is found in France and Korea, and black salt in India.

Research scientists who link high salt intake to health problems usually make no distinction between types of salt, nor do they take other dietary factors into consideration. The connection between salt and disease might be less clear-cut if they looked at a low fat, whole foods diet in conjunction with unrefined, natural sea salts, rather than at the conventional modern diet, high in refined foods, and refined sea salt.

We all need small amounts of sodium, so there's no harm in occasionally proclaiming loudly and proudly at the dinner table: "Pass the salt!

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