Pop quiz: What is the one ingredient to most any food that everyone worldwide can agree is necessary? I’ll give you a hint-it’s the 6th most abundant compound on Earth. Still perplexed? Here’s another-it begins with an “S” and ends in “alt”.
Salt makes everything taste better; it preserves foods; it’s essential for normal bodily functions. There’s only one problem: humans consume way, way too much of it. In fact, according to a CDC report, Americans consume almost 90 percent more sodium than the body actually needs and at least twice as much as the highest recommended level.
I personally sometimes enjoy a touch of salt in my beer… only when it needs it, of course. So what if I am a self-proclaimed ‘Saltiere’ by putting a touch of salt on everything I eat, sometimes what I drink, and may even be in the habit of salting before tasting. What’s the big deal? I am the salt of the earth. I thought I was just being me, which just happens to be salt… I guess.
The truth is sodium helps maintain fluid levels in our blood cells, helps our small intestine absorb certain nutrients, and it is used as a catalyst to transmit information in our nerves and muscles. On the other side of the spectrum, it causes blood pressure to rise and 860,000 Americans die annually from salty diet related illness. 860,000! Let that stew for a bit.
Whether eating for luxury or necessity, taste obviously plays an important role in how we choose our diet. At what point did the need for flavor replace our drive to survive?
To answer this question, take a journey with me through time and space! For thousands of years salt was equal in value with gold. India developed an entirely separate caste of salt-diggers, while the Romans planned their conquests based off of salt resources (a strong and reliable tactic to say the least). Native North and South Americans had rich saltworks well before Europeans arrived, and these salty locations played a major role in colonial plans of manifest destiny. Salt is the main catalyst for world trade and globalization, period.
Now, in the 21st century, we have become like King Midas where everything we touch turns too salty. And though that’s what we thought we wanted, our salty desires are killing us and our children. Given our history, it makes perfect sense to have the mentality of using salt when it’s available, just as people who lived through the Great Depression never waste anything (the tiny drop of jelly at the bottom of the jar, a few random pieces of cloth, nothing). It’s ingrained in our cultures so deeply, over-salting our food is as reflexive as chewing it.
So what can we do about it? Given that the main sources of America’s high sodium levels are from processed foods (canned, frozen, etc.) and restaurants, cooking from scratch and experimenting with different spices is the best chance we have of reducing our sodium intake. Otherwise, we will just have to be mindful of how much sodium our food contains and do our best to pick from the lower end of that spectrum-that is, only if life is worth its weight in salt.
Dylan Rodgers is a writer with dreams of existential understanding and lyrical nonsense. Share with him in the well of human experience @ dylangers.wordpress.com.