I had the pleasure of visiting the tiny Dutch town of Delden recently. Because it looked like a Dickens Village, especially since it was a white Christmas, we went back for a second time to explore the village a little more; our first time had been for a Christmas Eve service on a freezing night (the 14th century church served killer hot chocolate and cookies afterward. These Euros really know their chocolate.) So during the daylight we walked through the cobble streets and came upon a salt museum. I thought “what the heck is in a salt museum?” My love of museums ensured my whole family would go inside and check out what a visit to a museum about salt would actually entail.
It turned out that it contained a ton of information and facts about the history of salt and its importance from the time humans started walking upright. We have used it to cure and preserve foods, we have used it for centuries as money (the word “salary” was derived from the word salt since it was used as currency so often) and we have used it in medicine, in relaxation, in art and to help build the world around us.
Salt was also, unfortunately, a big reason for slavery and was one of the reasons so many Africans were sold by their leaders, in order to expand the huge salt revenue in the Caribbean. Salt has had a very long history in our world and continues to be a vital industry.
We were able to see how salt is converted into what we put inside our bodies today, how it looks in its natural form and how beautiful works of sculpted art can be created. We were also treated to display cases containing literally hundreds of gorgeous traditional and modern salt shakers which reminded me how every home and restaurant that I know of contains salt shakers that we use without even thinking about it; and therein lies a problem for many of us in the western world.
Our bodies have to have salt – without it we would die. Salt helps to balance our blood and is responsible for the electrical responses in our nerves that allow our muscles to move. But most of us are using far too much salt, mainly because our bodies naturally crave it, but not in the amounts we consume. Using salt has become second nature to us and we subconsciously add it to many of our foods. How many of us are served food and reach for the salt shaker before even tasting our food to see if it needs a little flavor? And how many of us automatically add it when cooking, even if we taste the food first and it doesn’t even need it? Salting everything is a nasty habit we have picked up and overdoing it can cause some serious health issues for us. Too much salt in our diets directly contributes to problems with blood pressure and can cause serious issues with our heart health. It also causes bloating and discomfort.
The daily recommended salt intake for the average adult is about one teaspoon of salt per day. Salt is in everything from savory foods to desserts. Nine out of 10 foods contain salt (including all sweet foods like desserts, candy, soft drinks, etc.), and the majority of us pay little or no attention to whether we’re going over that recommended teaspoon or not. It turns out that most of us are going way over – women ingest more than three times the recommended amount and men almost five times. Salt has become so integral in our diet that we don’t even know what foods it's in (it’s in just about every processed food we eat) and we then unwittingly add it to our veggies and salads in the form of dressings, sauces and seasonings. We also forget that most of our sweet foods contain salt.
Food manufacturers are beginning to take note. Soup makers are offering reduced salt varieties, Kraft Foods have promised to drop their salt content in over 1,000 products by 10 percent and other food manufacturers are following suit.
There are easy ways to reduce your salt intake and the main way is to reduce the amount of processed foods you eat. Processed foods contain nearly 80 percent of the salt we consume. Eat granola or whole grain cereals for breakfast and read the labels first. A little salt is okay (we do need it, after all) but keeping lunch and dinner filled with whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables as well as lean, fresh proteins will do a huge service when it come to salt reduction. Drinking plenty of water can also help to dilute your salt intake. When cooking and baking, eliminate salt from your recipes. Even a few “pinches” of salt can end up as a teaspoonful and you won’t even notice the difference by cutting it in half or eliminating it altogether. Adding salt is a habit many of us have. Humans are creatures of habit so the best way to break one habit is to create another. If it takes about 14 days to get used to a new habit, spend those days adding flavors with herbs, spices and other no or low salt seasonings. By the end of the two weeks, salt can be reduced in your diet by an easy 50 percent.
Salt is needed to live; it’s in our DNA, it’s in our cultural bones and we have a long history of using salt for a variety of purposes. The salt museum doesn't lie! We have merely become overly dependent on a product we only need in small doses. By decreasing our intake or salt and losing our addiction to processed foods, we can ensure that salt enhances our health, instead of threatening it.
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